There are very few parents capable of balancing the role of parent-coach. In fact, I have been on a sojourn the last several years on learning how to be a supportive, positive, and less intense sports parent (I have come a long way). My husband, Kevin, has coached my daughter’s competitive basketball team since she was in the fourth grade. He is exceptional. He knows the game, he knows his players and he knows how to treat our daughter, Sophi, like she is just another player on the team. Where I tend to be a little hotheaded, critical, and slightly maniacal, Kevin is patient, calm, and rational.
Over the years, he is shaped and molded his group of girls into a winning and fundamentally sound ball club and he has done so without acting a fool. He doesn’t yell at the referees, he doesn’t throw his clipboard (although he did throw his pen ONCE), and he doesn’t engage his parents in negative banter about players, playing time or performance. He has only been issued one technical foul. As part of my journey towards psycho sports parent transformation, I have learned to refrain from these once regular behaviors:
- Calling or texting Kevin during a game to tell him my ideas for plays or defensive strategy. He no longer takes my calls during games.
- Yelling at referees when they are complete idiots. I have developed a respect for the folks in stripes, even the blind ones with fluff where their gray matter should be.
- Confronting offensive parents/coaches/coaches wives from the other teams.
- I have changed my spirited cheering from Seriously?!; You have GOT to be kidding me!; If that is a walk, I can dunk; Damn it, Sophi, Get in the Game; to the uplifting encouraging words of: Defense, ladies; Nice job; Get big defense; and Niiiiiiiiice!
Note: The inside of my mouth is often bleeding by the third quarter from biting my tongue, but I am a work in progress.
The finesse in which Kevin coaches is what makes the recent series of events blog-worthy. Sophi had a rough game last week. It was the school team, which means Coach Kevin was in the stands with the rest of the parents and spectators. It was a home game and a decent size crowd for a girls’ game. She struggled. She managed to get a few shots off and pull down several rebounds but the rest of her game was quite messy. She came off the court fully aware of the mistakes she had made and was probably already trying to forget the game in its entirety. But Coach Kevin took a detour from his usual supportive route and recounted nearly every mishap. The ride home from the game was tense.
Kevin’s recap of the game consisted of a verbal highlight reel of her blunders and bobbles. Sophi and I rode in silence, both stunned by this critical recap from the usual docile daddy-coach. I felt compelled to say something, but usually when I feel compelled to say something it turns out to be something inappropriate. So, while Kevin ranted, I texted Sophi instead:
Me: The hardest thing in the world besides losing someone you love is taking criticism. Don’t let this defeat you. Build on it. He is doing it because he loves you and he believes in you. It’s what drives him. It’s like getting a shot when you are little. The shot hurts a little but not as bad as getting polio.
Sophi: OK. You don’t make any sense. What does my bad game have to do with polio?
Me: Polio is bad. Your game was bad.
A swing and a miss for Mom.
The week continued. Sophi was quiet and withdrawn, Kevin stoic and silent. The weather was grey and cold and as the snow accumulated, so did the snow days for the kids. I came home one evening and inquired how Sophi’s snow day had been. She replied, “Well, Dad did call me this morning and apologize for being so hard on me about the game. It started out promising but his apology went off the rails.” When I pressed her for details she complied:
Dad: Hey, Sophi. I just wanted to call and say I am sorry for being so hard on you about the game the other night.
Sophi: Ok, thanks, Dad.
Dad: I really didn’t mean it was the worst basketball game I have ever seen you play in your entire life, I meant it was the worst one this season.
Dad: But, really, why did you have to throw the ball away??? Your passes were sloppy. There were so many people there watching. It was embarrassing.
Sophi: (Thinking to herself) You have got to be kidding me??? This is his apology?
Dad: So, anyway, I just wanted to call and say I am sorry and tell you that I love you.
A Swing and a miss for Dad.
After Sophi’s highlight reel of the apology, we were both laughing and shaking our heads. We didn’t know exactly how to process this side of Kevin the Coach. Sophi was laughing, but her walls were still up. She wasn’t ready to forgive his trampling on her wounded ego. The standoff continued. After nearly a week of eye-rolling (Sophi) and stubborn silence (Kevin), I demanded reconciliation. Kevin set out to make things right with his girl and according to him they had a ‘great talk’. Considering the debacle he had made of the apology, I wasn’t exactly ready to take his word for it. However, Sophi did confirm that he had made successful amends and was now back in his starring role of ‘Best Dad in the World’.
I wonder how much of Kevin’s deviation from his positive daddy/coach role was even about the basketball game. His little girl is growing up. The two of them have always been exceptionally close. Lately, her attention has been further divided by her friends, her phone, dances, and her need to always be on the go. Recently, a handsome young 17 year-old fellow has also emerged onto the scene (heavy sigh). Perhaps, Kevin was consumed solely by Sophi’s less than stellar performance on the court, but it would be my wager that there was a host of other things fueling his frustration. I am her parent too. I feel the weight of the how fleeting these days actually are. I, too, wonder how it is that more often I find myself left out of the huddle and forced into the stands as a spectator in her world. I think as parents we all swing and miss sometimes. We lose sight of what is really important. When I take the time to reflect on all the laughter and love we have shared as parents and I look at the remarkable young lady Sophi is growing into, I have resolved myself to accept that my role is changing. I sincerely hope Kevin recognizes his role in Sophi’s life is also changing, but is as vital as ever. Girls never outgrow needing their daddies. He might have an occasional ‘swing and a miss”, but when it comes to being a great dad, he hit that one out of the park!