Coaching your own child, or how to double the chances your name will be brought up in therapy
If you’ve coached youth sports, unless you’ve appeared on a sex offender web site or are a paid professional for a hot-shit league you more than likely are there because your child is on the roster. That’s certainly been my experience. I mean, coaching my own children, not appearing on a sexual offender web site.
I started with my 11-year-old son’s basketball team in second grade, and have continued with his fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade basketball teams. I was an assistant coach for my 9-year-old daughter’s softball team her first year out, and then managed her team last spring and the most recent fall. More than likely, I’ll coach my 6-year-old son’s T-ball team in the spring.
Before each season, I tell my kids that I’m always their father, but don’t expect special treatment on the team because there I am first your coach. My 11-year-old got the message so loud and clear, he stops calling me Dad and calls me Coach from the moment we step out of the car on our way into the gym. He even does that with my brother-in-law, who is my assistant. I can’t tell if he’s doing this out of respect, or if he’s subtly mocking me. I’ll assume respect, of course.
So far, it’s worked well. After last spring’s softball season, my daughter drew a picture of me with my league cap on and a shirt reading “Coach.” Over it she wrote, “My Dad Is My Hero.” Not braggin’, just fact.
Still, even a daughter-certified coach-dad-hero such as myself can do things to make his kids bristle a bit — mostly, forgetting I’m their dad, not their coach, when we’re playing around in the back yard. Or forgetting I’m not a coach when I’m at a game as a parent. I’ve noticed my 6-year-old son’s bowling scores have shot up since I stopped giving him advice and left it to the coaches supplied by the alley.
This is a good article about some of the joy and pain of coaching your own children. It was written by Don Edlin, who runs a web site called Quality Coaching Baseball that I would highly recommended for any coach/parent who wants to learn some basic baseball drills, strategies, and player-coach etiquette. The article is more than a guide. It’s a revealing look at what coaching your own children can teach you about your relationship with them, and what it can teach you about yourself.
His conclusion, which is less Captain Obvious than you might think when you’re deep into the experience of coaching your own child:
Many parents with good intensions let youth sports drive a wedge in the relationship they have with their child. I hope, if nothing else, this article has given you motivation to think about the relationship you have with your own child. Take a step back and see if your expectations and interaction are age appropriate. If not, make a change in your approach. You may think that your child could be the next Roger Clemens or Derek Jeter but you must keep in mind that the odds are against you. Only 1 in every 100,000 kids that start playing baseball will make the major leagues. Every one of those kids will want and should have a good relationship with their parents. Make sure that athletics is something that binds you together and doesn’t split you apart.
Why, that last sentence gives me a segue into the fun stuff: how parent/coaches have succeeded in pissing off or crushing the confidence of their children through sport.
Which would be the bad parent/coach and child sports interaction, assuming (probably incorrectly) the people in the above picture are related? A) “Here’s how you hold the ball to shoot. Now give it your best shot.” B) “I’m around if you need my help later working on this on home. But you can shoot around for fun by yourself if you’d rather.” C) “If you miss this shot, you’re not my son anymore.”
— While working as a scorekeeper for a relative’s league, I saw one coach who insisted on keeping his son at point guard, even though every time he crossed the midcourt line the ball was stolen from him. The slumped shoulders and the nervous dribbling made it clear this kid did not want to play point guard, but this coach kept sending him out. The only advice he gave was: “Run the plays!” (This was third-grade basketball — why in the hell are you running plays?) A coach’s job is to put players in a position to succeed, and there’s nothing wrong with moving your kid elsewhere if he’s not, and if he’s clearly bothered by it. Later, when my oldest son, who had previously shown himself to be a good ballhandler, struggled as a point guard in fourth grade, I moved him out of the position. He plays it now, with more confidence, but there was no point in hurting him and the rest of the team by keeping my son at point guard because I was so set on him being spotlighted with the ball.
— Here’s another lesson I learned watching a parent/coach-child freakout: If a child asks you not to put him or her in the game or in a certain position, don’t — especially your own child, because god knows what sort of door-slamming might ensue when you get home. I was working a concession stand during a volleyball tournament (had to as part of the deal to have my kids on a team at a Catholic school) and witnessed a tight match between two sixth-grade girls teams. Near the end, the mom/coach puts in her daughter, who yells loud enough for the whole parish to hear, “DON’T PUT ME IN!!!!! DON’T MAKE ME SERVE!!!!!” Of course, she still goes in, and serves the losing point into the yet. Whereupon, she leaps high enough to touch the ceiling and screams: “I TOLD YOU NOT TO POINT ME IN!!!!! YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME!!!!!” as she, her mom and her teammates run into the concession area. I got a point-blank view of the mother consoling her, saying, “You’re right, dear. It’s my fault. It’s my fault.” I thought, “There should be some interesting dinner-table conversation in that house tonight,” then, “Please take this elsewhere. You’re killing our popcorn sales.”
— For a time my oldest son tried wrestling, and I can say I’ve never seen so many daddy-son issues being worked out as I have in that sport. Anyway, one in particular caught my eye. A 7-year-old match was going on, and the father/coach (I heard the wrestler call him “Dad” earlier, so that’s how I knew) was pretty intense. I don’t know wrestling well, but the son made some move he didn’t like, because suddenly the daddy-coach went from intense to psychotic, spending the rest of the match positively screaming at this poor kid — who was winning the match! At the end, the son, who held on to win, went through the end-of-match ceremony by first shaking hands with the opposing coach, and then instead of shaking hands with his own coach, took off in a full sprint in the other direction.