About four weeks ago, I stood in complete shock watching a fellow sports dad berate his six year old softball playing daughter. First, for not making an easy play from pitcher to first base (actually, there are no easy plays when you’re six). Second, for crying after he laid-into her for the poor fielding. It was one of those, “Do I say something?” moments. I half expected a What Would You Do camera crew to jump-out from behind the dugout telling me what a jerk I was for watching that unholy episode transpire.
What an asshole, I thought after seeing this dad’s behavior. I even called my wife from the field to tell her how horrified I was, and exclaim (aloud this time) what an asshole the guy was.
I’m what you’d call an old dad. I didn’t have my first child until I was 37. I had my last at 41. I have three total. In a few years, people will start saying, “How nice that your grandpa brought you to school” or “I wonder why her dad couldn’t be at the recital.” Because of my ripe old age, I like to think I’m above that kind of “youthful exuberance” – i.e. yelling at your kid for a bad throw. Or to put it another way, above being an asshole at my children’s sporting events. I have perspective, a greater understanding of life and what’s important. I’ve seen things…experienced things… I know better.
About three weeks ago, I stood angry and flustered as I watched my 6-year old daughter strike-out…off the tee, for god sakes. We’d practiced this at home, and I’d admonished her a hundred times: “Keep your eye on the ball.” “Keep your elbow up.” “Keep your legs spread slightly for balance and bend your knees.” “Take your time.” Did she do any of those thing? No. Was I on the verge of flipping-out right there on the field and being one of those fathers I despise? Yes. Did I realize then and there how easy it is to be an asshole while your kids are playing sports? Yes.
I’m self-aware enough to know how ridiculously competitive I can be. It’s not always pretty. I will try to make everything a game. If it’s possible to create a winner/loser scenario, I will. From a game of Who can fold towels better and more quickly, to Lego-building contests with the kids – it’s all fair game. I just figured when it came to my kids and their sports, I’d be able to control it. In that moment, thank goodness, I was able to keep my true feelings under wraps to the outside observer. I was, however, jolted by the inner battle that was raging. I guess being an old dad doesn’t have that many advantages, after all.
As my daughter and I were driving home, I was replaying the scene in my head. I determined it’s wasn’t enough simply to recognize that I suck just as much as every other dad out there (maybe more), I had to create a plan. I thought back to a 9th-grade sex-education lesson. The instructor had said she wasn’t there to judge whether we should have sex or not. But rather, we needed to make a decision on the matter and then have a plan of action. Not having sex meant avoiding the situations that may lead there. Choosing to have sex meant bringing a condom and being safe. To think that you could just “wing-it” was a plan for all sorts of unexpected/unplanned trouble. I’m digressing a bit, but the point is, show-up with a plan. Here was mine.
I would resolve to focus on three things:
First, I will focus on giving ultimate deference to the coaches and umpires.
Keep in mind, for my particular situation, the coaches and umpires are all high school age young women. I could easily succumb to a false narrative that goes something like, “I played high school and college baseball.” “I coached high school baseball for several years.” Clearly I know what I’m doing, and they don’t.
But that’s the thought process of an asshole.
Instead, I must recognize these girls are here volunteering their time to provide my child with an experience they would remember fondly – maybe for the rest of their lives. I was able to practice this very thing in a subsequent week when my daughter took the field at second base with the glove on her right hand (she’s right-handed). My first instinct was to yell out to her to switch her glove hands. Why wasn’t the coach instructing her?, I thought. But first, I waited for a few pitches. Then seeing the coaches didn’t recognize what was happening, I called to one of them discreetly. “Coach”, I said. “Second base has their glove on the wrong hand.” She thanked me – then called out to my daughter and told her to switch hands. Disaster averted.
Second, I will focus solely on being encouraging to my daughter.
She’s six. Trying to give her instruction during the game would be entirely counterproductive. Certainly trying to yell it out while she was at bat was both unhelpful and made me a look like a jerk. No, it actually would make me a jerk – by definition. Instead, I would make every attempt to praise the effort and make it fun. Whether it be a strike-out off the tee (uggh) or an errant throw – high fives all around.
Third, I will focus my daughter on encouraging her teammates.
When another teammate got out, or got on base, or did whatever – I reminded her to shout “good job, <insert name here>!” Or when a teammate came into the dugout from being at bat or on base, she should be there with a ready high five. When she was sitting-out an inning during the normal rotation – she should be at the dugout entrance shouting “atta girls!” to her teammates. And if she made a bad play, or got an out, she’d keep her head high and remain encouraging to the other members of the team.
Having this game plan helped. I was ready for the disappointment that came when she followed exactly zero of the coaching tips I gave her at home, which occurred any time the ball came near her.
I’m sure many parents can relate. The dad that I describe above, along with me, were not the only parents to take things a little far. It wasn’t long after my epiphany that jerk #3 reared his ugly head. This dad not only yelled at his kid when she didn’t run to first base quickly enough and was thrown out, but he also yelled at his wife for telling him to settle-down. Everything taking place in front of all the kids and parents in attendance. He was also wearing a fanny pack front-and-center. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.
The thing is : Asshole sports dads are everywhere. Make sure you have a sure-proof game-plan to avoid being one.
Morgan Price is a father of three living and working in Southern California. He enjoys making-up crazy bed-time stories with his kids and ensuring they are bilingual in both English and Sarcasm.