Samuel Butler once said parents are the last people on earth who ought to have children. Attend a few youth sporting events and you begin to understand that sentiment.
I’ve spent the last seven years on the sidelines, or in the stands, watching my son play football, soccer and basketball. Assuming college sports are not in our future, I have reached the halfway point in my career as a sports dad. All signs point to seven more years of soggy spring rains, summer sunburns, early fall chills, and winter bleacher butt.
I often ask my son to think about a practice or a recent game and grade his effort. Since I am at the halfway point in my career, it’s only fair I grade mine. After careful consideration, and completely ignoring input from my wife, I give myself a solid “C.” Room for improvement, sure, but well north of the overly aggressive sports psychopaths we have all encountered before.
The key, as with all things in life, is to find balance. There is no problem with cheering on your player or team. Screaming until your voice turns hoarse, or an eye pops out, on the other hand, is not advisable.
Officials, on occasion, need encouragement, especially after blowing a call. When encouraging an official, perhaps it is best not to frame your sentiments in the form of a question regarding their eyesight or general IQ. Of course, personal style comes into play.
I find my personal style is somewhere between an amped up rec-league dad and a former player/coach turned parent. This is hilarious, mind you, because I was in the band all through school. The only sport I played growing up was that of a competitive eater at the all-you-could-eat Chinese buffet, a sport in which I routinely set all kinds of records. I coached my son in the early years, the years where it was mostly herding cats.
In those early years, the only skill a coach needed to possess was the ability to organize snacks and drinks at the end of the game. So, yelling in the stands today at my son to avoid the half-court trap or to attack on the offensive third of the soccer pitch, carries the same weight and credibility as me yelling at Picasso to use more burnt sienna.
Sitting next to any parent recording the game, and then watching the video afterwards, is a great way to gauge your level of sports dad. If that recording would need more bleeps than Eddie Murphy on prime time, or if you used any of George Carlin’s seven dirty words during the game, you should reevaluate yourself. If the recording reveals that you routinely call your child by a coaching nickname during the entirety of the game, you need a time out.
See, I recently learned via this method that my son’s nickname during basketball games is “Jesus, don’t pick up your dribble!” That is not OK, not OK at all.
Again, it’s about balance. When I find myself inclined to yell at my son to pick up the pace, or to hustle, a balanced approach would be to remember that he has run more in the last 20 minutes than I have in the last 20 years.
I give myself a “C,” and I am also giving myself a break. Being a sports dad is a lot like a sport, a sport in which there is always room for improvement. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, being a sports parent is 90 percent mental, the other half is physical.