Game Off

7 Dads On Watching Their Kids Suck At Sports

"He spent the entire time with his arms and hands inside of his goalie jersey like he was in a straitjacket."

Originally Published: 
A child sitting on their dad's shoulders, holding a soccer ball, as dad walks across a soccer field.

Sports play such an integral role in so many father-child relationships. What dad, true obsessive or not, doesn’t envision sun-spotted afternoons playing catch, Field of Dreams-style? Or cheering as his son snatches a spiral from a wideout’s hand, or daughter pump-fakes her way past a point guard during the league championship? Visions of athletic dominance — or at least memories forged on a field — dance in so many of our heads.

It’s an interesting time, then, when fathers come to the realization their kids have zero interest or ability in sports. For some, it’s a real shot to the crotch; for others, it doesn’t matter all that much. But losing that shared interest does tend to sting for a little while.

Here, seven fathers across the country weigh in on what it was like to realize that their kids weren’t athletic — or even interested in sports.

1. Kyle, 38, Atlanta

“A few minutes after my son was born, I took a photo of him laying inside my baseball glove. I thought it was a funny photo, but it also shows how much I wanted him to love sports. But Christ, the kid can’t play. I sent him to sports camps when he was little. I fielded grounders with him for hundreds of hours, we spent weekends at the batting cage. But, no. He can’t track a fly; can’t round the bag. The thing that really annoys me? He gets so nervous out there. That’s what I was trying to avoid — that inability to not focus — but he’s a spacey kid.

He got cut this year from his middle school team. He’d made the team the year before but only because they didn’t cut anyone during tryouts — just not a big turnout. He didn’t play much at all. This year they had a decent turnout and he was the first to go. I don’t think he really enjoyed being on the team the year before — he would just kinda ride the bench and look at his phone — but I think it was hard for him to get cut because he liked being with his friends. Not having that was hard. I also think it was hard for him to tell me he was cut. I think he knew I’d be disappointed. And yeah, I was, but I didn’t act like I was. Or at least I didn’t think I did.”

2. Steven, 39, Idaho

“He’s 8 now, but we tried to get him into sports when he was about 5 or 6. It’s a hard thing to come to terms with. He likes to play, but nothing has ever clicked. He’s just not that type of kid. As a father, I want him to perform well. Of course I do. But, I also want him to have fun. I’d try to sneak in a few pointers here and there, but I always knew that having fun was the most important thing. I think him sucking is expected, really. He’s a kid! Sure, I’d see other parents whose kids were on travel teams, or whatever, but that never really fazed me. I didn’t get jealous, or envious, or anything — it takes a lot of effort to get your kid to a pro’s level. I’m 100% okay that my son is not going to be the next Rory McIlroy. It made me proud enough to see that he was a good sport and, more specifically, a good teammate.”

3. Jeremy, 43, New York

“My oldest son never cared about the competition or intensity of group sports. He was always like, ‘What is everyone getting so worked up about?’ I was fine with it, though. I have two sons, 17 and 14, and I just want them to do something that fulfills them. If sports isn’t it, then that’s fine. My other son, the younger one, is actually very involved in sports, and very athletic. That’s where the pressure comes from — from the competition itself, and from parents playing favorites and bullshit like that. But, I can’t stress this enough: I am proud of my kids because of who they are, not what they do when school gets out. As long as they found something that engages them, interests them, and makes them feel confident, that’s all that matters.”

4. Theo, 48, Fort Worth, TX

“My kid, who’s 15 now, ain’t got a speck of athletic ability and it was hard [to come to terms with this] — pretty goddamn hard. I’m from a town where it’s very Friday Night Lights, where being good at sports is one of the best ways for you to have a moment before you started your time on the farm. If you’re lucky, it’d get you out of town. I got out by getting a baseball scholarship. There were other avenues, of course. But when you’re as poor as I was growing up, you don’t see many options. You play sports.

So when my son displayed no interest, I took it hard. At first, he wouldn’t so much as try to catch a thrown ball — he’d bat it away or just watch it roll past him. When t-ball came around, he’d rarely make contact with the ball on his own. And when he did, he’d just kind of looked around. He did other things, of course. He played guitar and he liked tools — really liked tools and machines. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bug me for a long time that he wasn’t good at sports.

When he was 7 or so, I remember going through a spell where I would bring him outside and force him to throw the football back and forth and run patterns with me for a few hours. I was not nice to him and kinda yelled at him the whole time just to try. All I wanted him to do was try. But I realized he was trying — in his way. So I let it go. He watches games with me now. But playing never did stick. I think he knows that deep down it still bothers me, and I guess it does. But he’s a good kid. He still likes tools, and spends a lot of time in the workshop. I’m happy about that.”

5. Julian, 32, New York City

“I’m a hockey guy. Season tickets to the Rangers, league play, all that. But sports in general mean a lot to me. Giants football. Mets baseball. My son’s young but already showing signs of not being interested in sports. He just doesn’t really care. It’s weird. Or at least I thought it was. It bugged me at first because of how important sports are to me. But seeing how much smarter my son is than his peers and how much interest he has in a lot of other things, I’m not bothered at all. He’s obsessed with tools, cars, and trucks. The kid can literally name any model of car that passes on the street. Isn’t that cool? I think It’s amazing. So, I realized, who gives a shit if he doesn’t ever want to be good at sports? Granted, it’s early to know, but who cares? He better be a New York sports fan, though.”

6. Ed, 37, Cleveland

“My son used to be super uncoordinated. He’s come into his own recently, but he used to be pretty hard to watch. Honestly, I always felt proud of him because I knew he was trying his hardest. But, deep down, I definitely had my doubts. He was just so awkward and didn’t take direction very well. So, I didn’t know how things would end up. When he first showed signs of improving at basketball, I believe my inner monologue was something like, ‘Holy shit, did he just sink that shot from downtown?!’ He’s 8 now, and I always loved him for playing his best but, in the beginning, I just didn’t see it working out for him. He recently hit a game-winning shot. When we got in the car after he made it, I couldn’t stop replaying it over and over and talking about it. I saw on his face that he knew it was special.”

7. Matt, 38, Florida

“We tried to get our youngest son into many different sports, both team and individual. Soccer, flag football, baseball, basketball, golf, tennis — all of them. My first recollection of him not being athletically inclined was when he tried soccer at the YMCA and he was selected to be the goalie — he spent the entire time with his arms and hands inside of his goalie jersey like he was in a straight jacket.

Sports didn’t really play a huge part in my childhood, which is why I think my son’s athletic ability — or lack thereof — doesn’t weigh too greatly on my mind. This issue that I found the most difficult is the fact that my older son — he’s 12, my younger is 10 — loves every thing sports and, because of that, friends and family just assumed that my younger son would too. I can bond with my older son watching sports on TV, for example, but I have to find other activities to include my youngest.”

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