April 16, 2015
Watching Dads Coach
It’s tough being a dad. Nobody gives you a manual on the best way to do it. Most dads aren’t psychologists who specialize in childhood development. Most dads are just trying to do the best that they can with what they know. So I hope that any dads who are reading this don’t take offense to this post. I am not writing to be critical. I am writing to shed light on a situation that I have observed countless times over.
In the sport of wrestling, and I’m sure that it is similar in other sports, dads are crazy. They want their kids to win so badly that they push them. They yell at them. They are harder on their kids than anybody else, and I get it. They want their kids to succeed. They want them to win. They want them to know what it feels like to get the satisfaction of accomplishing something after they have worked very hard to get it. But, sometimes, I look at the way dads coach their kids, and I look at the way dads talk to their kids, and I look at the way dads treat their kids when they don’t feel like their kid is working hard enough or executing technique correctly, and all that I can think is “If I coached these kids like that, or talked to them like that, I would not have any kids to coach.” Let me share a story to illustrate this point.
I was coaching a pair of young kids in an individual workout one day. They are both around 6 years old. I spend a lot of the time just working on body control and athleticism more than delving deep into the finer points of technique. They’re 6 with short attention spans. One of them comes in on a regular basis, and the other does not. The one who does not come in regularly was struggling to master some of the tumbling that we were doing. We were limited in time so we kept advancing fairly quickly through the routines. As this young boy struggled, I saw his father get increasingly agitated that his son was unable to go through the routine as he continued to do things incorrectly. Eventually this concerned parent stepped out on the mat and tried to show his son the finer points of the routine. Pretty soon the dad was trying to do a headstand, but his son couldn’t get it. I didn’t expect him to. He hadn’t been in enough to do it, and that was fine. What was important for him to do was just to make the attempt. I knew that he couldn’t keep up, just like I couldn’t keep up if I decided to run a marathon tomorrow.
I felt like this well meaning dad had started to take his son’s athletic ability as a personal issue. Like as if his son not being able to do a headstand was a poor reflection of his parenting skills or something. I had the feeling that the dad wanted his son to do well to impress me, the coach, and that if his son wasn’t doing as well as the other boy that I was judging him. I sent the boys to grab a drink, and this gave me a minute to chat with this well meaning father. I let him know that he didn’t need to worry that his son wasn’t able to do everything perfectly. I let him know that the most important thing was that his son enjoy the practice, otherwise, he would never stick with it long enough to even get good at it. I told him that if he encouraged his son and let him know that he was happy to be there with him that it would be more beneficial than trying to fix his headstand. I reminded him that he’s six, and that there is a lot that happens between 6 and world class athlete.
After our conversation, he seemed to be content to watch quietly. His son did fine throughout the rest of practice, and he had fun wrestling with his friend. Practice was a success.
So dads, the next time you are trying to coach your kid, think about how you’re doing it. Would you coach all of the other kids in that room similarly to the way that you are coaching your child? If a coach was coaching your child the way that you coach them, would you be happy with that coach, or would you want to ring their neck for being so hard on your kid? Would you enjoy a practice being coached the way that you coach your child? Hopefully by asking yourself these questions, you can coach your child effectively and have an opportunity to grow closer together doing something that you both enjoy. They’re only young once, and it goes by so fast.