All Parents Are Crazy
Updated: Sep 8, 2019
I am lucky to have the opportunity to speak to coaches all over the country. One point I often emphasize is how to deal with parents of athletes. I tell the coaches there are two rules they shouldn’t forget when dealing with their players' parents:
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 two daughters' soccer season ended during the quarterfinals of the Arkansas 6A Girls State Soccer championship in El Dorado, AR. Our team lost a hard fought game, 2-1. Earlier that year, my son decided he wasn’t returning for his sophomore season on the Arkansas Tech football team. My season of being a parent of an athlete was over.
After years of going to baseball, soccer, football, volleyball, and basketball games as a parent, I realized a huge part of my life had come to an end.
About 15 years ago, we helped Kevin tie his shoes, put on his new uniform, and then 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 in my life. 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 how fun it would be driving all over the place and watching little kids play sports.
To be honest, I still feel the same. The difference is watching kids play sports vs. watching MY kids play sports. I enjoy watching nearly any sport, but I enjoy watching a higher level than the youth leagues. Watching my kids is a whole different deal.
After dealing with parents of athletes for over 38 years, I can tell you most parents are a poor judge of their child'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 their child is not a very good athlete 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 were as a parent of an athlete, from a coach’s perspective.
I have been lucky enough to coach several athletes whose parents played at the highest levels of competition. These former NFL athletes were some of the best parents of my career. While generalizations aren’t foolproof, it seemed these parents were understanding. On the other hand, I have had dads that, “wouldn’t hit the water if they fell out of the boat.” They rip me up and down because of some perceived favoritism, or my lack of ability to judge talent.
With all being said, I can now admit my kids were amazing athletes.
They amazed me every time I watched them play. Not because they were blessed with great athletic ability, although all three of them had some ability. My kids amazed me because they were mine. I loved watching them play the game and compete with their friends. Watching them lose or win and learning to deal with it was amazing to see. I loved watching them have fun.
I have great memories I will take to the grave. A point, a kick, a volley over the net--these pictures are stuck in my brain forever.
I will miss the friendships I developed on the sidelines with the other parents during those 15 years. I already miss chasing those soccer balls with my buddies, Jeremy and Ben.
I don’t think I have told my kids how much I appreciate them for letting me come along for the ride. We didn’t win every game, we didn’t hit every winning kick, we didn’t win every championship, but it sure was a great ride. A ride I will always remember and a ride I will always miss.
The great Bob Hope said it best, “Thanks for the memories” and Kobi Bryant said, “Moments never come back.”
One of my coaching buddies just found out he was going to be a father for the first time. Here is some advice I wish someone told me fifteen years ago.
Don’t yell during games. Don’t yell during games. Don’t yell during games. 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 kid's coach. Matheny wrote a book on these rules 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. This includes, “Come on, Billy! Eyes on the ball!” and “Way to go, Sally.” I thought positive encouragement was always a good thing, but after reading Matheny’s book and attending a few youth games, he is 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. When a parent tries to coach their kid, they confuse their kid. I have seen it at every level, from youth league to high school. I remember in youth football, dads coaching their kids during water breaks. After coaching football for several years, I have been lucky enough to win a couple games. That being said, I have never coached my kids during their games. Partly because I know it is confusing. On the other hand, I really don’t know very much about other sports anyway. I don’t understand the in-field fly rule any more than knowing the difference between a libero and a chili relleno. When I coached my son, it was confusing for both of us. I would talk to him and he would ask me, “Dad, are you wearing your coach hat or your dad hat?” The worst thing my dad ever said to me concerning my poor play was, “Son, I‘ve seen you play better.” Not many of the kids I know can say the same thing about their dads. Early on in my kid’s athletic career, I decided as long as their coaches were not abusive or teaching dangerous techniques, I would let the coaches coach. I knew we could always fix the issue in the future.
Don’t ever be publicly 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 when one of our dads was ripping the twelve 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 twelve-year old girl.” He shut up for about five 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 savings account this 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 is most of the time. There were a few of those rotten days when I thought I was worn out. 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’s over 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 doesn't need another critic. Some coaches' jobs are to make critical judgments. Even so-called fans offer our youngest athletes their critical opinions. 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 is they are showing the world when they were in school, “they wouldn’t hit the water if they fell out of the boat.”
Enjoy the ride. I was lucky our ride lasted about fifteen years. It was a blast! Of course, there were a couple of times it was hard, but those were few and far between. We spent many hours in the car driving from place to place to play soccer, basketball, football, volleyball, or baseball. We never did it so 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 have spent more money traveling the country in search of the elusive athletic scholarship than the scholarship is worth. If you want your child to receive 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 kid’s biggest fan, like my dad was to me. I can tell you from experience, it will be over before you know it.