I stumbled across this great article by student leadership development expert Tim Elmore. In it he discusses research on what parents can say both before and after the any minor sports activity to encourage their kids, without making everything about performance (either positively or negatively). Elmore suggests:
Based on psychological research, the three healthiest statements moms and dads can make before their children perform are:
I love you.
...And after the activity:
Did you have fun?
I’m proud of you.
I love you.
It gets even better. Researchers Bruce Brown and Rob Miller asked college athletes what their parents said that made them feel great and brought them joy when they played sports. Want to know the six words they most want to hear their parents say?
“I love to watch you play.”
That’s it. Nothing aggrandizing like “you’re an all-star,” and nothing discouraging like “here are a couple of things I noticed that you can work on.” Just “I love to watch you play.”
My kids are all grown up now, so are my grandchildren for that matter. None of them were overly involved in sports activities, but I hope that somewhere along the line in the game of life they knew that I loved to watch them play. There's great joy in watching kids have fun, no matter the activity or how old they are...And that joy continues for a lifetime!