Two Decisions That Made My Dad The Best Sports Parent

My dad and I - arguably my favorite picture of us.

As my dad's birthday approached, I began writing a piece talking about the life lessons he instilled in me as a sports coach. I was finishing it up today, and found myself wanting to throw it away and start over.

I could write a book on the lessons he taught me, but as I reflected, I found myself wanting to focus on two decisions he made not as my coach (which he was for four years), but as a sports parent. I think they were two of the toughest decisions he ever made with my youth sports career, and I also feel they were two of the most valuable ones in regards to my development as a player and person.

Decision 1: He let me choose my own path.

Baseball was my dad's sport. If it wasn't for a head injury he suffered at the age of 18 he probably would have continued playing. On top of that, it was the one sport I'd say I had a natural ability at playing. When I was younger, our little league was divided into age groups spanning over 2 years: So 10U/12U/14U were the options.

I was undersized for my age, but I had good hand eye coordination and there wasn't a position I didn't enjoy playing. I remember playing as the 'younger' age, and by the end of the season I had become one of the more talented players on the team. My dad would always tell me how next year I'd be the older one, and then I'd really thrive.

The only problem was, I didn't want to play - I liked the sport, but I burnt out of it quickly, as I didn't like sitting in the dugout half the game.

He told me he felt I would enjoy it more when I was the older kid, but I put my foot down - and he let me. His only thing was I had to pick another sport, which I did.

The following year, I decided I wanted to play again. I can't imagine his frustration that I missed out as playing as the older kid, but he signed me up as an 11 year old playing 12U. Started the season in the middle of the pack, by the end I was the 3rd/4th best player on the team. I'm sure he was excited to see what I could do as the older kid.

Only problem was, I decided I didn't want to play - same conversation, same result.

I did this three times -  every time playing as the younger kid, every time missing out as the older kid.

I know deep down, there's a small part of him that wonders what I could have done with the sport. I cannot imagine how much it had to drive him crazy to do that once, let alone three times. I also know he simply wanted me to do what I wanted to do, and so despite his own feelings on the subject, he allowed me to make my own choices, which I'll always appreciate.

Speaking of making your own choices...

Decision 2: He allowed me to fail.

In junior high, I was a slightly bigger fish in a very small pond. I was a starter on our basketball team, and I LOVED basketball. I worked my butt off when we were at practicing/competing in games, but I didn't go above and beyond to play when I wasn't at mandatory practice.

I remember it like yesterday: Burger King drive-thru, 6th grade. My dad is calmly trying to tell me I need to start putting more work in if I want to continue playing. I don't remember what my response was, but it wasn't going with his advice. He responded matter-of-factly: If you don't start practicing more, you won't make your high school team.

I balled my eyes out. How could he not believe in me/support me?

I played the next three years at my junior high, then proceeded to get cut not once, but twice in high school.

It had to be hard for him to watch. He had to know I was setting myself up for failure. But he let me make my own choices. Getting cut was extremely painful: It was also the catalyst for the work ethic I brought to volleyball. I needed that reality check in order to realize what it took to reach my athletic goals, and if I didn't have that happen to me, I know I wouldn't have made it nearly as far in volleyball.

My father has been and always will be in my corner. He is my #1 fan and one of the greatest coaches I've ever had. But on top of all the support he's given me, I simply appreciate that he allowed me to do what I wanted to do, he allowed me to fail when I needed to, and he always knew the right balance on when to crack the whip and when to coddle. I may always quote famous coaches like John Wooden and Lou Holtz, but the majority of my youth sports philosophy is centered around the things he taught us over those four years. Some lessons were immediate, others like the ones above I couldn't appreciate until I was older.

In today's world of youth sports, I think it's even tougher to be that parent that doesn't 'go with the Jones's.'. It's hard not to push your kids towards their talents instead of their passions - especially when they're not very talented at their passions! But if he forced me to play baseball, eventually I would have quit. If he forced me to do more practice/drills for basketball, I may have burnt out. It had to be tough in the moment, but we both talk about everything above and realize how lucky I was that it played out as it did.

Allow your kids to choose their path. Allow your kids to fail. They'll be stronger down the road for it.

Happy birthday Dad - I love ya. Thanks for everything you've done for me, as well as the things you didn't do.