My wife and I married in our mid-thirties. Over the next five years, we had three sons. When our boys were young, we had no real desire to go anywhere or do anything unless it involved our family. Traveling and entertainment were a low priority unless it involved a Disney character, the Power Rangers and the like. My serious passions such as hunting and fishing were put on hold until my boys were old enough to go with me. We were old in comparison to most parents. After all, my wife and I were 40 and 43, respectively, when my youngest son was born. This age was reflected in our attitude of “been there and done that.” Parenting was our exception to this outlook. We had never done the parent thing before, and we really enjoyed it.
My wife had the kids registered for every sport that came around while they were young. Supportive of the programs and willing to volunteer, I coached the boys in kiddie soccer, which I knew nothing about, and T-Ball which was a blast. I even coached my two oldest when they were eight and six in flag football at the YMCA.
Unfortunately, we lost every game. When we were on our way home from the last game, I questioned my kids about the season. My oldest son, Rip, finally opened up and told me that I was the worst coach he had ever been around. I turned to my middle son, Crews (the tenderest of the three), and asked him if he had heard what Rip just said to me. He replied, “Yes, sir. You are the worst coach I have ever had, too. You made us losers.” What they did not understand was that Rip was the only kid on my team that could throw or catch.
That, my friends, was the last game I ever coached, which is probably why I still have a great relationship with all three sons.
While coaching in these early years, I could get a sense of who those parents were going to be. Those were the parents that would want a word with me after the games. They would ask why their kid was not playing shortstop or not batting in the first four positions in the lineup. This was T-Ball for God’s sake. I would look at these parents incredulously and wonder if they were serious. Yep, they were. I would try to be as nice as I could and tell them we would make a change in the next game. It was easy to be somewhat patient because I knew that my baseball coaching career would not survive past T-Ball. Parents that persisted to be those parents as their children advanced in age not only developed an annoying reputation, but also put their kids in jeopardy of being spurned or disliked by teammates. Such parental assertion calls into question the true skills of the child. Does the child have the talent or did the parent influence the placement of the child? Kids know the answer to that question. Don’t fool yourself. As a coach, I witnessed it happening in T-Ball. In later years from the sidelines, I found the actions of those parents destructive. I would not be one of those parents; I would not assert my views on the coaching staff. Instead, I contemplated how I could be a good sports parent.
Little League was when even the most normal of us would get amped up. I would leave work early to go throw pregame batting practice to my kids when they were as young as eight. My oldest son, Rip, caught the brunt of most of my intensity because he was the oldest, talented and large for his age. I would critique his play after his games and many times he would get defensive and cry. Fortunately for our relationship, he had the guts to cut me off around the age of 10 and say “Daddy, MomB (my mother) said that I am a much better athlete than you ever were at this age. Why do you get on me so much?” My heart absolutely broke at that moment. What was I thinking about riding this young kid about his performance? Who was I to give him grief? I was never a professional athlete or college athlete for that matter. That evening I brought all three boys into the room and said we needed to have a chat about sports. I apologized profusely for being a sorry daddy, and told them how proud I was of each of them. I promised that I would never say another negative word about their performance for the rest of their playing days. I asked them if I could yell encouraging words from the stands, and my oldest, Rip, and my youngest, Christian, said that would be great. My middle son, Crews, said he would appreciate it if I would “button it” during his games.
For the remainder of my kids’ playing days (they were pretty good high school athletes), I never ever said another discouraging word — but they did. If my kids had a subpar game, I would point out the good things they did, and I could usually name many. Without fail, when I would point out the good things, all three of my kids would point out every mistake that they made in the game. You see, our kids know better than anyone when they make a mistake or play poorly. We do not have to tell them. All we need to do is love and support them and let them know how proud we are. As a coach, I learned how important it was to put the best interest of the child ahead of the parent. As a parent, I learned how to put this practice into play.
If you and your wife were not professional athletes, it is highly unlikely that your kid will be a professional athlete. It is pretty unlikely that many of your children will ever play Division 1 college ball. My advice to each of you is to stay positive and enthusiastically supportive. Kids do not want you to be one of those parents. Listen to your kids. Learn from your parenting mistakes in the world of youth sports. Make your children proud of you. Don’t be that sports parent. Enjoy every minute of their playing days, because it really goes by in a flash.
Stephen F. Chambers is an internal medicine physician.
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