Gomates logo Sign in
Sad Lego child riding alone in a car, next to three happy Lego children riding together in carpool.

How to boost kids’ social and emotional skills by carpooling to sports

You’ve encouraged your child to play sports. That’s a positive developmental step on its own. Research shows that participating in sports improves their physical fitness, mental well-being, and social skills. Getting your child to practices and long-distance games is another matter. Sometimes transportation feels like wasted time for you and your young athlete. Fortunately, carpooling with other families turns the ride into an opportunity for improved social skills and emotional growth. Here are five ways you can use shared rides to support your child’s development.

1. Driving the carpool helps you relate to your child and their teammates

When you drive to practices and team travel events, you’ll get a rare glimpse into your child’s social life. You can also use the travel time to cultivate a supportive community.

In middle school, children tend to connect more with peers and start to withdraw a bit from parents. Driving in a carpool is a perfect opportunity to foster your child’s friendships without them being completely isolated from you. Kids often act differently with friends than around their parents. Curiously, when riding together they all seem to forget about the parent in the driver seat, so you get to experience the kids being themselves with each other. You might even see sides of your child you didn’t know existed!

Regular car trips also make your child’s friends more familiar with you. As they navigate the tumultuous tweens and teens, kids sometimes need to talk with adults other than their parents. Riding together breaks the ice. Experiencing this safe and supportive space can help kids feel more comfortable dropping by your house or reaching out for advice.

2. Staying home on some days gives your child space to become independent

Your child needs your support, but they also benefit from independence. One of the biggest benefits of youth sports is building self-reliance. You can encourage this by stepping away sometimes, so your child has room to take a step forward! Sending them in a carpool with another family provides added opportunities to make decisions and take responsibility.

Are you concerned they won’t know what to do without you? Most likely, your child already understands your expectations and how you would react to circumstances. If you or your child is uncertain, go to the first event and make yourself available in case they need you. After that, let them try it on their own. Traveling without a parent strengthens self-confidence. Trust your child to make good decisions, and rest assured that other chaperones are around as a backup.

Busy parents also profit from skipping a sports weekend now and then. Think of all the other things on your back burner. Rather than act as a helicopter parent, take the opportunity to catch up and get grounded. Reducing your stress leads to better parenting.

Young baseball player swings a bat at a baseball over home plate. A boy mimics by swinging his own bat, while other teammates watch from a bench in the dugout.
Children gain self-confidence through sports, especially when parents give them space to be independent.

3. Modeling positive behaviors helps them develop self-regulation and empathy

Kids put a lot of stock in what they see and hear behind closed doors — car doors in this case! Strive to show respect to players, coaches, and referees. By demonstrating empathy you’ll help the young athletes learn how to handle negative feelings, while also providing an environment where they feel comfortable and safe.

“Most kids tell me that they don’t mind some feedback from mom and dad ... but very few actually like it on the ride home.”

John O’Sullivan, Changing the Game Project

As the parent driver, it’s often better not to say anything at all. After practice or a game, teammates often have great reflective conversations in the car. You can help them grow simply by listening and providing support. Save your feedback for later, after your child has had time to process the event. Even after a tough loss, the ride home can help children remember what they love about their sport.

4. Being prepared as a driver gently encourages confidence

Uncertainty can contribute to stress among the athletes and you can take a few simple steps to avoid this, especially for away games. First, know where you are going. If you are using Gomates, check the route map and review any special notes from the team manager, so you can go to the drop-off spot without confusion.

Second, bring some extra supplies. Although each athlete should bring what they need, kids sometimes come unprepared. (Surprise!) It’s easy to carry water, snacks, and a first aid kit just in case. You might even bring an extra game jersey and socks if you have them.

In case you arrive before the coach, bring along a ball so the athletes can start warming up right away. Some kids feel a little awkward or uncertain when arriving in a new place, but they are used to playing together. Tossing or kicking a ball around helps them transition into the surroundings, while also getting ready for the game.

Row of kids’ baseball helmets and baseball bats leaning against a fence

5. Letting the children be themselves promotes social skills without pressure

Your child and their teammates already enjoy playing together on the court or field. Carpooling is an excellent way for two or three kids to interact without peer pressure from a larger group. It also gives them a chance to debrief after games or practices. Friendships and deeper connections will develop from regularly spending a little time together in the car.

When you give them the opportunity to ride together, kids will naturally find an atmospheric balance. A huge range of behaviors are normal. Even a single trip can include sing-alongs, telling funny stories, quiet study time, listening to music, and interesting conversations. As the adult in the car, you don’t need to step in unless the tone gets negative or you sense a problem. The ride home will naturally lend itself to conversations afterwards. Wait until then to help your child process feelings and work on relationship skills.

The simple act of sharing rides provides natural tools for positive parenting. Insight from the driver seat will help you understand your child and support their healthy development. Letting them ride with another family allows your child to approach new situations and gain self-confidence. Regardless of who is driving, the team carpool gives your child a safe space to improve emotional skills while deepening friendships.

Start your own team carpool with Gomates. It’s free!