What do You Say to Your Kids After the Game?

Those who know me personally know how competitive I am. I strive to win and exceed in everything I do. So when my son finishes his sporting events, you may be surprised as to the only question I ask him.

The default question some would think to ask is “Did you win?” or “How many points did you score?” Take a second to think about the deeper meanings behind the question. Have you thought that your question may undermine the concept of teamwork?  Your question could inherently create a “me” mentality, creating an individual who can be difficult to work with.

Shawn Anchor, an American author and speaker known for his advocacy of positive psychology, explains,

We need to break the vicious cycle of a me, me, me mindset that we see infecting our society. We need to stop asking, “How many points did you score?”   


If you have kids, you want them to be superstars.  I have seen countless parents send their kids to expensive private schools, hoping the competitive atmosphere would turn them into superstar academics whom no school would turndown.  Yet these hyper-competitive environments operate according to the misguided notion that in order to be “winners” there must be “losers” as well. As famed basketball coach John Wooden once wrote, The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.  


In basketball, for example, you would think that shooting percentage would best predict the outcome of a game, right?  But in fact a large BYU study found that the ratio of assists to turnovers is much more predictive of success. That’s because lots of turnovers means players are hogging the ball so they can score, whereas lots of assists mean the players aren’t trying to make individual shots; they are trying to get the collective win. 

The Key Question

When asking about your child's game, focus on their contributions to the team rather than how they fared individually. The perfection question is "What did you do to make your team better?"

Shawn Anchor explains further,

As Steve Kerr, a former chief learning officer at Goldman Sachs, wrote, “Leaders are hoping for A (collaboration) while rewarding B (individual achievement).  


Pursuing the collective win not only helps us perform better in the short term, it allows us to maintain resilience over time as well.  The more interconnected, the more a single setback or negative event will be cushioned by other people. Similarly, the more people we have in our ecosystem to share stress, challenges, or burdens with, the lighter those burdens will be carried for each individual.  Occasionally, superstar players will carry the team on their shoulders for the last two minutes before the clock runs out.


But the only reason they have the strength to do so is that they shared in the energy expenditure throughout the game. In work, like, sports, or anywhere else, the way to win is to create a system in which members can assist each other, carry each other on their shoulders, and make each other better.   


The conclusion of a decade of my work is clear.  You can be a superstar; you just can’t be one alone.  What you need is a star system: a constellation of positive, authentic influencers who support each other, reinforce each other, and make each other better.   

Putting The Mindset to Test

I have been personal training and coaching football for almost 2 decades. I apply these concepts for adults and for the kids I coach in youth sports programs.

I have a great example from my son’s 4th grade flag football team. After every game, I ask a few players at random, “What did you do to make the team better?” In the beginning of the season the players are nervous to answer because of their embarrassment in relation their success or lack of statistical contribution.  The athlete may be nervous to announce that they scored 4 touchdowns despite knowing some teammates never touched the ball that day. I compliment the athlete who scored a lot for their contribution to the team by reminding them we can’t win if we don't score.

I then follow up the same question with another athlete who never touched the ball that day who isn’t sure of how they helped. I remind the team that the athlete who scored the touchdowns only scored the touchdowns because 2 defenders had to cover the fastest kid on the team as he ran a vertical route. In other words, 1 player took 2 opponents out of the play. I remind the team that its unlikely we score if that doesn’t happen. Suddenly a sense of pride came across the face of the player.  Despite no scoring statistics, he contributed as much if not more to the team.

By the end of the season, the players are all running their exact routes I need them to placing stress on the defense. The opposing team could not tell who was going to get the ball because every player looked as if they were getting it.  By doing that, we are in a very good position for scoring, which our team did extremely well.

About half way through the year, a parent commented to me about my coaching style.   

He said:

I don’t know what you are telling my son but he is definitely buying in big time. I commented to my son that unfortunately that he didn’t get the ball in that game like he did the previous weeks.  His son replied, that’s okay because I helped the team score all the touchdowns today. I asked, how? I ran the post to take my guy with me. Because the defender covering me thought I was getting ball, I took him out of position to make a play with my teammate who had the ball.

That was music to my ears. I know that my players truly get it.   

What Should You Do?

Ask your children the following question when they are involved in any team activity.

What did you do to make your team better?

When you ask them, they will answer in a way that puts the team first. It doesn’t matter if they were the leading scorer or a decoy on a play, each player contributed to the win. You are teaching them that superstars can still carry the team at the end of the game, but the team has to perform together during the rest of the game to put yourself in that successful position.

This doesn’t just apply to parenting and sports. It can be applied to your job in the entire industry you may work in.  Creating a sense of team with the team will inherently elevate the productivity of all.


Steven Zahn

ACE & NASM Certified Personal Trainer

Pre and Post Partum Certified

Dragondoor Publications: HKC Russian Kettlebell Certified

Youth & High School Football & Track Coach

Health and Fitness writer for Goals.com

For information on 1on1 Personal Training or Nutrition Coaching, feel free to contact me at szahn@lifetimefitness.com.

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