This post is courtesy of my good friend and former college teammate, Dr. Jason Pittser. Pitt and I have been on a path of mindfulness together for the last two years and I think it has made us both better men, fathers, and husbands. His thoughts about what is really important when we coach our kids were so impactful, I wanted to share them here. For any man who has ever coached or ever will coach his kids, pay attention!
The Parent Coach
I love sports. Athletics have always played a large role in my life. I believe there are many beneficial aspects to participation in sports, and I’ve been fortunate to experience several of them. These days, my athletic participation consists of a few weekly workouts, and also playing with my two sons (ages 6 and 3) as they develop a love for sports. I still enjoy competition and helping my sons become better athletes.
This past winter, I was the head coach of my oldest son’s kindergarten basketball team. Among the many challenges of coaching 5 and 6-year-olds was the issue of finding a balance between being a loving parent and demanding coach. I’m certain that this is a difficult balance to find for a parent of any child at any age. I recall my father saying that he had been a player, a coach and a sports parent, and that by far the most difficult thing to be was the parent.
My son Jace, although not a “basketball prodigy,” has shown potential and seems to have an excellent understanding of the game. As a result of him being one of the better players on our team, I had expectations of how he should perform. All season long, he had a bad habit of failing to come to a stop with his feet set before shooting the basketball. In one particular practice, I decided to emphasize the importance of coming to a balanced jump stop before shooting or passing. We did drill after drill to get the point across. At our next game, Jace’s first shot attempt was a running one-handed fling without a jump stop. I corrected him on the court and emphasized the importance of doing it the correct way (he made the shot, which probably discredited my coaching to some extent). Just before halftime of the same game, he did the same running shot without a jump stop. On our way to the locker room, I pulled Jace aside and asked sternly, “Are you going to keep doing things your way, or are you going to listen to your coaches and do it the right way?” He looked up at me, apologized, and then said, “Daddy, can I sit on your lap in the locker room at halftime?” I stood there in a moment of clarity provided by a 6-year-old whose biggest concern was being able to sit on his daddy’s lap and feel loved.
I’ve heard many comments over the years from people who have coached their sons in sports. Opinions and methods vary, but most dads mention how they are always cautious to not show any favoritism toward their child. I can definitely see the wisdom in that. I’ve even heard some say that their goal is for the other boys on the team to be glad they aren’t sons of the coach. I fail to see the wisdom in that and worry about the message that sends to a son. What I have tried to do is stay mindful of the fact that I am his father, and he needs to know that he is loved unconditionally at all times…whether I am coaching him or not, whether he is performing well or not, whether he is 6 or 60. He needs to know that he can sit on my lap, literally or figuratively, anytime he wants to. As long as I live, I need to be present enough to see him for what he is (not what I think he should be) and parent without concern of how it might look to anyone else. Nothing takes precedence over the fact that I am his father, certainly not a sport.
I get the feeling that finding a balance between being a loving parent and results-focused coach/parent will be a lifelong search. And I’m not sure that the two are mutually exclusive. I’m fairly certain that they aren’t for our Heavenly Father. He provides us with a blueprint for a blessed life, yet still allows for consequences when we fail to follow it; however, His grace trumps everything, and He is always available for us to sit on His lap and be loved. So, I hope to model that same relationship to my son at all times, even as his coach. If that means that Jace won’t be as good of a basketball player as he could be, then I guess the NBA will have to find a way to exist without him.