If you’ve tuned in to any sports network or browsed websites (and even if you haven’t), chances are you’ve heard and/or read something about the loud-mouthed, overbearing, boisterous, media-hungry, attention-grabbing, me-me-me father of future NBA lottery pick and UCLA basketball player Lonzo Ball.
And as if someone knew I was getting ready to pen type a piece on sideline dads, Chicago Cubs MVP third-baseman Kris Bryant’s father has offered up some excellent sports-dad advice for Mr. Ball.
I’m a former Division I college baseball player and also coached for six years (though not simultaneously, like Frank Robinson or Joe Torre). Currently I’m an assistant coach to my oldest son’s little league team. While the product on the field is at a different level, along the sidelines and in those bleachers “sideline parenting” is a real thing and manifests itself in different ways.
The traits each of these dads displays can be applied to all sports (and to sideline moms, too). You’;re sure to encounter each one during your child’s sporting career.
Don’t be these dads:
- (Not) Coach Dad: So you didn’t sign up to coach but still insist on barking out, mouthing, or physically acting out instructions and how-tos to your kid, who then focuses their attention on you rather than their coach and teammates. Coaches hate this, and if you think you’re being slick and we don’t see it, we do. Believe me when I say that coaches of all age levels, paid or volunteer, male and female, do the best they can and try like hell to keep every player engaged, even if they aren’t sure why the kid is there. It’s our responsibility to teach them technique, sportsmanship, team play, and situational awareness—and most important, we want them to have fun. The “advice” you give might completely contradict what the coach has said, and that will confuse your kid.
- Parking-Lot Dad: You conveniently park near the coach’s car and nonchalantly speak to the them after the game, offering up your “advice” or asking why they batted Joey third or didn’t bring Johnny in to pitch sooner. And if it’s playing time is your beef (assuming it’s high school and up), do you really think right after the game is the best time, when emotions are at their peak? Instead, offer to discuss it another day. (If your kid has an issue with their playing time, there’ll be warning signs. As a parent, you’ve got to know how to read them.)
- Vicarious Dad: You (likely) stunk at sports when you were younger. But your own ups and downs are way higher and lower than your kid’s—and honestly, if you’re this dad you look like a fool. Your kid strikes out with bases loaded and their (not your) team is down one—and you’re over there kicking invisible rocks, sullenly walking towards the outfield to be alone. This makes the situation about you and taking away from what it’s actually supposed to be about: your kid.
- BOOOOO! THIS DAD: If this is you, you need a lesson on the sportsmanship aspect of sports. There’s a difference between good-natured cheering and yelling “support” to your kid while simultaneously making them want to crawl into a hole because you’re embarrassing them. So don’t yell, and while you’re at it, all that grunting, booing, shaking your head, throwing your arms up in disagreement or disgust—those are other things that will make you look like an idiot.
Be these dads:
- Photo Dad: Usually positioned behind your DSLR, you’re always taking photos during the game. Eighty percent are of your kid—which is cool—but you’ll definitely get action shots of other kids, and you should offer them up before the season ends. That’s even cooler.
- Quiet Dad: You and your kid are super reliable, you get to every practice and game, you never give anyone a hard time, you always ask if anyone needs help, and you don’t question the coach’s decisions.
- Cool Dad: You’ve got all the newest gear, you always have a coffee in your hand for those early morning games, you bring the newspaper for between-inning breaks, and you exude coolness. Your kid might suck, but you’re always there. Smooth.
Look, every dad is trying to be the best dad he can be for his kids. But listen: As Charles “Peanut” Tillman said at the Dad 2.0 Summit back in February, “be at your best on command.” If your eight-year-old is distraught after making the final out of a big game, pick them up and offer support. Don’t be upset that they failed in their at-bat. Keep your emotions in check and focus on your child and their feelings. Be at your best on command. Something else Peanut said: “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Sometimes, especially on the sidelines, that’s all your job is.
As kids keep leveling up in sports, the competition gets better and more intense, the stakes get higher (starting position in HS, a scholarship opportunity in college), and—in my experience—parents’ behavior gets more outlandish. College coaches want a smart, athletically talented student athlete with a blue-collar work ethic. And then there’s this:
Great Ballplayer + Overbearing Parent =
Moving on to the Next Recruit
Don’t believe me? Check out USA Today’s take on how sideline parents are evaluated.
In the end, we all want what’s best for our kids. Sometimes we’re so blinded by what we want for them and how much we want them to succeed that we don’t allow them just to be kids playing a game they love. Let ’em.
Ryan shares his experiences as a dad at Home-Field Dad and at Instagram @rdarcy1981.