One of the things that you will encounter as you and your child get involved in youth athletics is something that we old-timers affectionately refer to as “Daddy Ball”. “Daddy Ball” occurs most prominently in leagues made up of seven to eleven year olds in just about any sport, and depending on how it is handled by the coach and the parents, it can have a detrimental effect on the whole sporting experience for all involved.
To put it plainly, “Daddy Ball” is the act of a coach (who also happens to be a father of one of the players) providing his son or daughter with more and better opportunities than the other children on the team. These could be opportunities of position, such as playing quarterback or shortstop rather than right tackle or right field, or they could be opportunities for additional or inequitable playing time. Sometimes the coach’s child is a good athlete and gets the typical preferential treatment afforded to the “stars”. Other times the coach’s child is not as good as some of the other kids on the team but still gets the “star” treatment. Either scenario constitutes an example of “Daddy Ball”. This can also extend to the other dads that are assisting the head coach and have his/her ear. Unfortunately, youth sports can be your child’s first introduction into the world of nepotism.
The fact is, at these young ages we need Dads (and Moms) to step up and help coach our children. It is a time consuming and often thankless task, but one with many rewards for those parents that decide to participate in their children’s lives in that manner. It is difficult to juggle a work schedule, practice schedule and parent expectations. Most coaches who get criticized by parents about their child’s position or playing time probably would like to responded by paraphrasing Jack Nicholson as Colonel Jessup in “A Few Good Men”:
“Parents, we live in a world that has children and those children need to be coached by men with clipboards. Who’s going to do it? You? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for your child’s playing time and curse his position; you have the luxury of not knowing what I know – that your child’s playing time, while minimal, wins games, and his position, while literally out in right field, wins games! I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a parent who drops their kid off for me to coach and then questions the manner in which I coach him. I would rather you just said “Thank you”. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a clipboard and coach a team… Either way, I don’t give a $#@% what you think your kid is entitled to!”
Like I said, sometimes coaching can be a thankless task, and there is no doubt plenty of complaining by parents who think their child is the next Michael Jordon or Walter Payton. This is why it is so important at these early ages to make sure that everyone is getting equal opportunities to play, and ultimately to learn the game. Even in leagues where scoring and won/loss records count, we can’t lose sight of the fact that these are young kids, not professional or even high school or middle school athletes. A coach can either help cultivate a love for the game that could spur an average athlete on to great things, or he can squash any desire to play the game through the inequitable treatment of his players.
Kids aren’t stupid. They know which kids are the better athletes and which kids struggle. They also understand the nature of competition and that winning is more fun than losing. What we adults sometimes forget is that kids care about the team atmosphere and the game itself far more than the outcome. I can’t tell you how many times one of my teams has finished a game and one or two kids ask me if they won. I’m not talking about five year olds – I’ve heard this from kids up to eight years old! As they get older they start to focus more on the outcome, but early on it’s all about playing with their friends and having ice cream after the game. They just want to play…
What “Daddy Ball” does is erode the team environment that makes sports fun in the first place. There will be time enough as these kids get older to ride the pine, come in for mop-up time or just get cut and not make the team. What they need in the early years is exposure to as much of each sport as possible, to learn the fundamentals, to learn what it means to be a member of a team and to learn how to win and lose with class. Coaches that play their son or daughter excessively and at the expense of other parent’s sons or daughters are eventually going to find themselves with parents unwilling to have their child play on that team and children who just don’t want to play for them. The good news is that this might actually convince a “Daddy Ball” practitioner to change his ways. The bad news is there’s a whole new crop of Daddies just waiting to fill the void…