Either Coach Or Shut Up, Dad.
By Tom Danehy
MY INVOLVEMENT IN youth sports is well-documented (meaning that I can squeeze several columns a year out of it), and it takes many forms. I coach high school girls basketball, Little League baseball, Bobby Sox softball, and YMCA basketball. In fact, I'm pretty much coaching one thing or another year-round.
Gee, I never really looked at it that way before. I guess my wife is right--I am weird.
Anyway, I even enjoy youth sports when I'm not coaching or watching one of my own kids play. A true sports fan can get a kick out of any sporting event if he takes the right approach. I know there are some people who can't go to a high school basketball game without thinking to themselves, "These guys aren't as good as the NBA."
Well of course they're not as good as the NBA. But neither do they commit as many traveling violations.
One can enjoy youth sports on several different levels. You can watch the blossoming of skills. Or revel in the intensity as the kids try to win one for their school. Or snicker at the obviously pervasive influence of TV on young athletes as they display mannerisms of their heroes.
But if you really want to have fun, watch the parents in the stands.
I'm not talking the stereotypical Little League Dad, screaming at the ump. That's so last season.
I'm talking the mom or dad who has transcended yelling at umps, embarrassing their kids, upsetting the coach and causing the other parents in the stands to form a vigilante committee. I'm talking the latest scourge: The parent who wants to coach his kid from the stands.
I saw this phenomenon up close the other day. I went to watch the Flowing Wells' freshman girls softball team against Salpointe. There were girls on both teams whom I had coached in Bobby Sox, and the Salpointe pitcher was on my basketball team last winter.
The game was played in oppressive heat (Reason No. 327 why basketball--an indoor game--is superior) over at Salpointe. I sat on the Salpointe side and made small talk with some of the parents, then just settled back to watch the game.
First of all, if you think politics makes strange bedfellows, you've got to see what youth sports does. Some of these kids' ball teams bring together the oddest assortment of parents imaginable. Doctors, construction workers, women with tattoos.
They all sit around and make polite conversation, with the level of politeness generally in direct proportion to how good the team is. They learn the other kids' names and go out of their way to compliment kids on a first-name basis.
Oh, occasionally, you'll hear someone say, "Good job, Number 15," after which another parent will lean over and say, "Her name is Destiny."
(Yes, some Flowing Wells parents actually named their kid Destiny, pretty much dooming the poor kid to a life of enduring really bad pick-up lines at cowboy bars.)
As I watched the game, I noticed a lot of subtle activity in the bleachers. I wasn't quite sure what it was at first, then I realized some of the parents were coaching their kids from the stands.
This one dad was positioning his daughter at shortstop before every pitch. Another tried to shorten his daughter's swing in the middle of her at-bat. Still another was calling for certain pitches from his Flowing Wells' pitcher daughter. I didn't know the kid or the parent, otherwise I would have conducted a case study right there on the spot.
I don't know if the coaches were aware of what was going on, but it was hilarious. It was like 10 different patrons of the arts trying to conduct a symphony from the balcony.
I told my friend Brian Peabody about it and he told me that one year he was contractually obligated to coach baseball at Emily Gray Junior High, where he teaches.
He said that one time, he was motioning to his center fielder to move over a few steps. The kid moved, but then he suddenly moved back to where he had been.
Brian moved him again, but the kid did the same thing. Brian moved him a third time, then a movement caught his eye. He turned around and saw the kid's dad was moving him with hand motions.
So Brian yelled at the kid and motioned for him to move in closer. Then closer still. Then to move in some more. Pretty soon the kid was standing right behind second base. Brian waved him in some more. The dad is going nuts by now. Brian waved at the kid to come in some more, to where he was standing right behind the pitcher's mound.
Finally, he had the kid come all the way in. He pointed to the bench in the dugout and said, "That's your position now. Your dad can move you anywhere he wants along the bench, but don't stand up until the game's over."
For some reason, the dad was less than thrilled.
I know this one parent whose kid is a pretty decent ballplayer. This parent shows up for games a half-hour early, sets up a lawn chair near the dugout, pulls out an official scorebook and gets ready for the game.
During the contest, this parent questions umpires, talks to coaches, and coaches the kid ad nauseam. Stuff like: "Watch the pitcher's pickoff move" and "the umpire is calling the high strike."
Like this kid hasn't been around Baseball enough to know this stuff.
It's one (bad) thing to live vicariously through your kids. It's another to try to supersede the kids' coach. If you want to coach, coach. I do. Come to think of it, that's all I do. Just ask my wife.
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