I am lucky from time to time to have the occasion to speak to coaches all over the country. One of my points of emphasis is dealing with parents of athletes. I tell them that there are only two rules they must never forget when dealing with parents of athletes.
RULE #1: ALL PARENTS ARE CRAZY
RULE #2: NEVER FORGET RULE #1
On May 13, 2016 at 12:52 pm, my time as a parent of an athlete, came to an abrupt and painful end. My girls’ soccer season ended at that precise time and date during the quarterfinals of the Arkansas 6A Girl’s State Soccer championship, in El Dorado, Arkansas. Our team lost a hard fought game, 2-1. Earlier in the year, my son decided that he wouldn’t return for his sophomore season on the Arkansas Tech football team. As a parent of an athlete, I was done.
After all those years of going to baseball, soccer, football, volleyball, and basketball games as a parent, I realized that a huge part of my life as a parent had come to an end.
About 15 years ago, we helped Kevin tie his shoes, put on his fancy new uniform, and drove him to a tiny little soccer field in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. That was the beginning of some of the best times I’ve ever had as a parent and as a human being. When I was a bachelor, I remember my buddies telling me what fun it was to watch their kids play sports. I thought, blah, blah, blah…….I couldn’t imagine it could actually being fun driving all over the place and watch little kids play sports.
To be 100% honest, I still can’t imagine that watching young kids play sports could be much fun at all. The key word in all of this is the difference between watching kids play sports and watching MY kids play sports. I enjoy watching nearly any kind of sports; but, I enjoy watching them played at a higher level than the youth leagues. Watching my own kids is a whole different deal.
After dealing with parents of athletes for over 38 years , I can tell you that most parents are a very poor judge of their own children’s athletic ability. I would rank most of them somewhere between horrible and hilarious. For some reason, parents take it personal when I tell them, in so many words, that their children are not very good athletes because their gene pool is so poor. I would even go so far as to say this. The worse a parent was as an athlete, the worse they are as a parent of an athlete, from a coaches’ perspective.
I have been lucky enough to coach several athletes whose parents played at the highest levels of competition. While it is a small sample size, these former NFL athletes were some of the best parents I ever had. While generalizations are never 100%, it seemed that these parents “got it”. On the other hand, I have had dads that “wouldn’t hit the water if they fell out of the boat”, rip me up and down and all around because of some perceived favoritism or my lack of ability to judge talent.
With all that being said, I can now admit that MY kids were simply amazing athletes.
They amazed me every time I watched them play. They didn’t amaze me because they were blessed with great athletic ability, although I THINK(but I could be wrong…..see above) all three of them had some ability. They amazed me because they were mine. I just loved watching them play the game. I loved watching them compete. I loved watching them play the games with their friends. I loved watching them lose and learn to deal with it. I loved watching them win and learning how to deal with that as well, and I loved watching them have fun, playing a game.
They have given me great memories. Memories that I will take with me to my grave. A point here, a kick there, a volley over the net, all the pictures that are stuck in my brain, forever.
I will also miss the friendships that I developed on the sidelines with the other parents during that 15 year span of time. I already miss chasing those soccer balls(only if we were behind and time was running out) with my buddies, Jeremy and Ben.
I also think that it is possible that I haven’t told my own kids how much I appreciate them for letting me come along for the ride. We didn’t win every game(but we were lucky to win a few), we didn’t hit every winning kick(but we did hit a couple of them), and we didn’t win every championship, but it sure was a great 15 year ride. A ride that I will always remember and to a certain extent, a ride that I will always miss.
The great Bob Hope said it best, “Thanks for the Memories”. The also great, Kobi Bryant also said it almost as well, “Moments never come back”.
One of my coaching buddies just found out he was going to be a father for the first time. Here are a few ideas I wish someone had told me 15 years ago.
- Don’t yell during games. Don’t yell during games. Don’t yell during game. Did I say, don’t yell during games? All parents of athletes should read Mike Matheny’s book, “The Matheny Manifesto”. Mike Matheny is the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. During the time between his major league career and becoming the manager of the Cardinals, he served as his son’s Little League baseball coach. He gave the parents a set of rules to follow if he was going to be their kids’ coach. This set of rules has become a book and EVERY parent of an athlete should read it. One of his main points is that yelling at your child during a game, creates pressure on the kid. That includes, “come on, Billy”, “eyes on the ball, Wally”, and “way to go Sally”. I have thought that positive encouragement was ALWAYS a good thing. After reading that book and attending a few youth games, I believe that Mr. Matheny is 100% correct. He says if you want to encourage your kid, clap your hands……..period.
- You are the parent, be the parent, The coaches are the coaches, let them coach. All a parent does when he coaches his kid is confuse the kid. I have seen it at every level, from youth league to high school. I remember youth football Dads coaching their kids during water breaks. I have coached football for several years and been lucky enough to have won a couple games. I have NEVER coached my kids during their games. Part of it is because I know it is confusing and the other is that I really don’t know very much about the “other sports” anyway. I don’t understand the infield fly rule any more than I can’t tell the difference between a “libero” and a chili relleno. I know that when I coached my own son, it was confusing for both of us. I would be talking to him and he would ask me, “Dad, are you wearing your coach hat or your Dad hat?” I remember the worst thing my dad ever said to me concerning my poor play was, “Son, I ‘ve seen play better.” There are not a lot of kids I know that can say the same thing about their Dads. Early on in my kid’s athletic career, I decided that as long as their coaches were not abusive or teaching dangerous techniques, I would let the coaches coach. I knew that we could always “fix” the issue in the future.
- Don’t ever be publically critical of officiating. When you do this, you give your child a built-in excuse. Trust me, your kids will have no trouble finding excuses without your help. I was at a soccer game one time when one of our Dads was ripping the 12 year-old(maybe 14 year-old) female soccer official. I finally said, “that’s enough”. He looked at me and said, “She missed the call!” I just looked at him and said, “she’s a 12 year-old girl.” He shut up for about 5 minutes and after making another crack about her lack of officiating skills, this little girl blew her whistle, stopped play, and issued the Dad a red card. She said, “Sir, the game will not continue until you are gone.” I would bet my entire but somewhat meager savings account that that guy “wouldn’t hit the water if he fell out of the boat.”
- Never be too tired. My kids, especially my son, loved to play in the yard. Most of the time, when he wanted to play catch, swing a bat, or have me play soccer goalie so he could kick some balls, I was ready if not eager. The key word there is MOST. There were a few of those rotten days when I thought I was worn out and begged off. I would give ANYTHING if my son would drive home from college today and say, “Dad, let’s play some catch.” I’m pretty sure that window in our lives as father and son has closed. It will be over for you faster than you think.
- Don’t be a critic. There are plenty of critics. Be a Dad. There are too few Dads. Your son or daughter, if they participate in athletics, will not be in need of another critic. There are coaches whose job it is to make critical judgments. There are so-called fans who are willing to offer even our youngest athletes their critical opinions, and as they go higher in the athletic food chain, there will be plenty of people ready to offer their criticism from the stands, the newspapers, or sports talk radio. My opinion of people who call in to radio shows to criticize college athletes are showing the world that when they were in school, “they wouldn’t hit the water if they fell out of the boat.”
- Enjoy the ride. I was lucky that our ride lasted about 15 years. It was a blast. Of course, there were a couple of times that it really wasn’t a blast, but those were few and far between. We spent many hours in the car driving from place to place to play soccer, or basketball, or football, or volleyball, or baseball. We never did it so that our kids could make the all-star team, the NFL, get a full-ride, or play in the World Cup. We did it because we could do it together and because it was FUN. I know parents that have spent way more money traveling all over the country in search of that elusive athletic scholarship than the scholarship itself is worth. If you want your child to get a scholarship, my advice is to enroll them in an ACT prep class, take the test as often as possible, and then enroll them in another ACT prep class. You will get a lot more “bang for your buck”. We traveled around a little bit because it was a fun thing for our family to do. Make the experience for everyone, not just for you. Be your kids’ biggest fan, like my Dad was to me, because I can tell you from experience, it will be over before you know it.