"You have to be able to accept failure to get better." — LeBron James
It's hard to watch your kids' team get crushed. But remember, this is their lesson, not yours. As difficult as it is to see your kids go through this, you've had your share of losses, rejections, and hard knocks. So take your heart out of the fire. Your kids don't need you to internalize this defeat as though it's your own. They need your emotional guidance, so that they can put this into perspective.
I know. It's heart-wrenching to see that look of humiliation on your kids' faces when they are getting their butts kicked, and they still have a half a game left to play. But it also presents an opportunity for them to learn some vital emotional skills: resilience, empathy, and grace in times of struggle. Few skills come for free. Growing pains are real, and watching your kids feel them is never easy.
Here's how to be the rock your kids need in this situation:
Stop freaking out
Literally the only thing that you can do to help your kids here is to control your own emotions. If you're unhinged, that's going to freak them out. So find a valley of calm, even if you're kind of faking it.
Remind yourself why playing sports is a valuable experience for them: it's an emotional rehearsal for other things your kids will go through. They will get their hearts dashed by future crushes. They will blow auditions and fail tests. This happened to you. It will happen to your kids. Life is riddled with challenges. Sports helps kids develop the grit and the emotional fortitude that will prepare them for that.
Mentally generate a list of your great failures
As you watch your kid's team get trounced, don't deviate from your usual cheering pattern. Act how you always do at games — be casual and cool. Applaud the good stuff. This way, your kids will sense that things are normal. Because this is normal. All athletes have troves of stories about times things didn't go their way.
Prepare a list of your own failures, so you can discuss them with your kids — sports disasters, student counsel-election defeats, job interview nightmares. Conjure up your best, funniest stories so you can show your kids that, despite the sting, you were left standing. Thinking this through gives you something to focus on while your kids are getting their butts kicked.
After the game: let your kids lead the conversation. Let them get out everything that needs to be wrung out. Listen. Don't preach. Applaud their wherewithal for finishing the game.
When your kids are ready to listen: after your kid has unleashed their storm of sadness and anger, let them know you've gone through your own defeats, and it came out OK.
They may also need to talk through what kids on the other team said. That part can be hard. But again, keep your emotions in check. The lesson here is not to vilify those kids; sports administers quick karma, and those kids will eat their words soon enough.
Your kids will be on the trouncing team at some point too. And you want them to remember how this feels, so that they will be empathetic towards the kids on the losing side. So teach them that. Instead of speaking ill of the kids who said the mean things, work through what they could have said that would have been more helpful so that your kids have a script to work from when they are in that spot.
Kids truly benefit from the emotional lessons that sports impart. So coach their emotional skills along with their physical abilities.