“NOW PLAY SOME DEFENSE!!” the dad yelled as his 14 year old son ran down the court after hitting a three point shot to tie the game. I sat on the sideline watching this boy’s face turn from jubilation to sadness. The excitement of the shot he’d just nailed was wiped off his face as fast as it took the ball to swish through the net. No matter what this boy did his father was there to point out what he’d done wrong.
Watching this father coach his son by tearing into his every wrong move brought back a flood of memories. I know this boy’s father who is the basketball coach at a local high school. He’s a good man. So is my father who was a high school coach for many years and coached me in basketball, baseball and football. But I can relate to how this boy felt tonight because I’ve been in that same situation a few times. Like the time I played my first football game in 9th grade. I caught the only touchdown our team scored and was so excited to tell my dad who wasn’t able to watch the game. He picked me up from the game and when we got to the car he turned to me and said, “Coach said you played poorly on defense”. Excitement dashed. Touchdown forgotten.
When your father is the coach you’re expected to be a good athlete. I was able to get into the school gym to practice any weekend I wanted. My dad would spend hours working on my shot, tossing baseballs and footballs so I could improve my skills. For that I’m very grateful because I know he made me a better athlete which lead to earning an athletic and scholastic scholarship to college. I knew I had to be better than my competition or my dad would start the other player. He was careful not to play favorites when it came to starting games and playing time.
But there are downsides. By far the toughest part to manage was the coaching didn’t end when the buzzer sounded or the last out was recorded. In fact, most of my coaching took place at the dinner table. When I played a good game, the meal was enjoyable. When I didn’t play well, I just wanted to be left alone. I know my father meant well. He wanted me to reach my full potential just like his dad demanded of him. To his credit, he backed off me as I matured and moved onto the varsity teams.
I have a good relationship with my father today. As good as it’s ever been. The good times we had in athletics together far outweigh the challenges we had. As my children begin to play sports I continually remind myself that how I react to their performance can have a lasting impact on how much enjoyment they derive from the experience. Watching Luca play soccer last year, Kim had to remind me to chill out a number of times as I yelled for my daughter to be more aggressive with the ball.
One of my goals as a father is to find the positive is my children’s performances. Be it sports or music or school or whatever.Even if they misjudge a pop fly or miss open shots or play the wrong key, I can encourage my kids by searching for the good. Even if that means saying, “Hey, you really hustled out there today. Great job.” I don’t want to be like the mom in American Beauty who, after watching her daughter perform cheers tells her, “You didn’t screw up once!”
I recall a time when our basketball team was playing in the state tournament. We played the first half very tight. Our shots weren’t falling and we all hung a heads as we filed into the locker room. My father sensed the tension and the pressure we’d placed on ourselves. He ended that half time discussion by saying, “You’re not making a million dollars to play basketball. Let’s go out and have fun because that’s what it’s all about”.
That’s great advice I need to remember as my kids pass through the inevitable ups and downs of athletics. And life.