Bobby puts his helmet on, picks out a bat and heads to the plate. As he scans the stands he knows what he’ll find. Or rather, he knows what he won’t find: his dad. He steps into the batter’s box and tries to overcome his disappointment and concentrate on the pitcher. Oh well, it’s not like Dad has ever shown up…
In over 30 years of coaching Little League, Pop Warner, city leagues and even high school football, I have seen this situation play out over and over again. I never got used to the look on the faces of these young men and women as they noticed they were alone. Maybe it hurt me because I knew how they felt. I can count on one hand how many of my baseball and football games my dad ever saw. You tell yourself before the game that you know they won’t come, but in your heart you know that you really want them to show up. You tell yourself, “Maybe today is the day…” And once again your hopes get dashed.
In one of the high schools where I coached one of our players blew up his knee at an away game. When I asked the player if his dad was at the game he said, “Nah, he had a date tonight…” A date? And that was more important than your son’s high school football game? It amazed me when I called his home and found dad sleeping, obviously drunk, and barely concerned about the season-ending injury to his son. It was all I could do not to offer the dad free dental work!
I’ve also seen dads who were so involved in their kids that they went overboard. You’ve seen them, the guys who are standing behind the dugout screaming at their some because he struck out or made an error. The ones who are vicariously living out their own jock fantasies through their kids. Inevitably, they chase their kids away from the thing they most want them to embrace. I wonder sometimes if I wasn’t too tough on my own boys. I tried to be there for them and at times may have pushed them a little hard. Ahh, the pain of hindsight…
There is a balance. As a coach, let me give you some things coaches and kids need from dads.
Dads, you have to be at your kids’ games.
Take an hour of vacation, cut the lawn some other day, make a personal sacrifice, but get your butt to their games.
Once you’re there, be supportive. They have a coach, let him coach. Your job is to support your kid. If they strike out or make an error, they didn’t do it on purpose, so why would you make them feel worse than they already do? A few words of praise and encouragement will go miles in building up your kid, while your criticism will tear them down faster than you can imagine. If you’re embarrassed by your child’s performace, that’s on you. You’re the one with the problem, not them.
Be honest about your kid’s abilities.
Let’s be honest, a strikeout where the kid takes a cut at the ball is a great at bat for some kids. A play where they get in the right position, do their job and still fail may be a huge improvement for them. Acknowledge their effort!
Don’t talk crap about your child’s coach to them.
They look at their coach as a role model, a mentor, someone who believes in them. Don’t rob your child of that because you, in all your infinite wisdom, think they should be doing it differently. If you’re not the coach, shut your pie hole. If you’re not the one making the time commitment and sacrifice to coach other people’s kids, don’t criticize the ones who are.
Getting the itch to coach again… Jerry