BY MICHAEL JOHNSON
“GO! Go! Keep going! GO GO GO!”
And thus sounds the fevered war cry from parents who are in it to win it. As athletic, Type-A parents, most gather at the sidelines to clap and cheer and cajole with a wild look in the collective eye.
Some onlookers quietly (or not so quietly) look forward to living vicariously through the miniature athletes each week. Those who have competitive juices often excitedly twist and shout for their offspring to make that goal, hit that buzzer beater, or remain tough against steadfast opponents.
Now, imagine you are one of those parents, and while volunteering to coach your child’s team, the athletics director at the pre-season coaches meeting tells the crowd to avoid yelling “GO!” from the sidelines.
“Excuse me?” you think to yourself. “Yelling ‘GO’ is every parent’s God-given right and responsibility!”
After further review and consideration, one can understand the intent behind getting coaches to nix the constant wail of “GO!”. The best coaches will give specific, helpful direction and encouragement as opposed to the generic plea to just “Go, Go, Go”. Assuredly, the validity of this lesson has not been lost.
For 65% of his life, I have been my son’s soccer coach. Let it be known that someone also duped, or lovingly convinced, his father into being the basketball coach for the first time this year as well.
The trials and tribulations of being the dad/coach are numerous. You root with a bitten lip and clenched fist at your side for your son to shine brightly. You hope he surpasses your own athletic prowess or deficiency at his age.
Being the coach of your son’s team is a constant flux of elation, humility, self-awareness, and equity. You want your child to excel, but not exhibit any signs of boastfulness. It is easy to raise your arms in protest of his mistakes on the court or field of play, so that you show no favoritism and keep him vigilant about always improving. But you also temper that well-meaning frustration with a reasoned approach to keeping spirits high and not raising the ill-placed suspicions of the crowd, wondering if you are a tyrant at home and if perhaps Social Services should be contacted.
Yes, a coach who exudes a tough-love approach may be tempted to shout “Good Lord, son! What the heck was that?!”. But instead, one should take the more modest approach with “Go (there’s that ‘Go’ word again) get ‘em son! You got this!” It is a tricky balance, for sure.
The amount of playing time for the coach’s kid is also a balancing act for the well-meaning coach. As a coach, one goes through a series of mental logarithms to calculate the right amount of playing time, so as to soak up as much joyful time watching your own child, while also not raising the ire of fellow parents or, even more intimidating, your child’s own mother. The conscientious parent/coach will always tiptoe lightly on this fine line of equitable treatment of his child and the other kids who are also seeking glory.
The parent-coach/ child-athlete relationship is also one to be turned off at appropriate times. It is awfully tempting to keep post-game conversations going which detail the victories and defeats in depth. And yet, thorough analysis of why the Monkeys lost to the Cheetahs seems altogether unnecessary. One can easily fall into the trap of grilling your child-athlete about a particular decision made during a contest. It is easy to overdo the postgame analysis to the point of distraction.
Having the coaching “hat” removed after the game seems to be an important factor in balancing the child/coach relationship. My son has never been terribly interested anyway in rehashing with his father the endless nuances of the victory or the defeat.
In the end, there have been studies that suggest that being a child’s coach and also his or her parent in fact leads to positive outcomes. At the center of this relationship, quality time with your child is key. A finely tuned, well-balanced mix of mentoring, fairness, fun, and encouragement can be the order of the day. Coaching your offspring brings about a sense of joy; sharing the flurry and fury of competition keeps you accountable to each other. Coaching as the parent-coach gives you and your child something to which you can look forward together. It’s a dynamic I relish, even if I am no longer allowed to scream, “Go! GO! GO!”