Which came first? The parent or the coach?

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The other day, I had the opportunity to listen in on a conversation where a parent was saddened because her son’s hockey team, although having talent and giving maximum effort, lost every game. I can identify with this because 1) I have been a part of an “0 for -” team in recreational, prep, and college league, and 2) I have coached an “0 for -” team.

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I was so in shape back them… #dadbod

I agree, it is difficult for any parent to watch their child go through the pains of losing, it is even more difficult when, despite the effort and patience, it keeps happening. I did not want to add my two cents to the conversation, but I had totally forgot that Facebook notifies the person when you watch their live feed. Oh, hi Coach Woods. Dammit! I am caught! Welp, I guess I should add my humble tidbits to the conversation:

“Create a culture for the kids to love the game of hockey at this point. Let them make lots of mistakes. It is tough to see them lose, but how awesome will it be for all of those boys to stick together through their senior year? Wins and losses will work itself out. (Do I always take my own advice. No. Parenting is hard).”

Note: I think the most important portion of my opinion is the fact that I sometimes do not follow my own advice because, “Parenting is hard.”

I think it is important to say that I thoroughly enjoyed sports. Not just one sport – any sport that I could afford to participate in. Sports helped me achieve things that I (don’t believe) would have ever been able to do alone. It was sports that allowed me to travel; it was sports that introduced me to people who would influence my life; it was sports that paved the way for an affordable education; and, it was sports that allowed me to interact with a network of people – some of which I hold dear to this day.

Why did I play sports? It was just what you did if you were from my neighborhood. If you didn’t play sports, you were headed for trouble; and my mother and father wasn’t having any of that!


Fifteen years later, I am the coach of my oldest’s basketball team. It is one of the hardest things that I have had to do in my life. It is terribly difficult to balance being a father and being a coach (as it is just as hard for her to balance being a daughter with being an athlete). Lots of talks, lots of tears, lots of silent treatments – on both sides. On one end, I want her to be successful in whatever she does (yes, especially in sports), on the other end, I want her to thrive socially. She should have fun with the game and let it take her to places that she thought she would never see in her lifetime – just as it did for me.

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The ever-so-watchful eye of dad.

So, how does a Language Arts teacher and researcher figure out how to keep priorities in check? He goes online to Amazon. He browses books. He orders books. He reads books.

So, I looked to the mecca of athletics and character, John Wooden.

John Wooden, coach of the UCLA Bruins.

John Wooden, ten-time NCAA national champion coach.

John Wooden, motivator and all around wholesome guy.

Yup, that John Wooden. And why the Hell wouldn’t I listen to someone who has won so many championships with so many hall of famers. Maybe some of that expertise would rub off on me. It didn’t happen, but, I did find a poem in his book (Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court) that I try to remember every time one of my children steps into any competition (and yes, you have seen this in a previous post):

A Parent Talks to a Child Before the First Game

This is your first game my child. I hope you win.
I hope you win for your sake, not mine.
Because winning is nice.
It is good feeling.
Like the whole world is yours.
But, it passes, this feeling.
And what lasts is what you’ve learned.

And what you learn about is life.
That is what sports are all about. Life.
The whole thing is played out in an afternoon.
The happiness of life.
The miseries. The joys. The heartbreaks.

There is no telling what will turn up.
There is no telling whether they will toss you out on your first minute,
or whether you will stay for the long haul.

There is no telling how you will do.
You might be a hero.
Or you might be absolutely nothing.
There is just no telling. Too much depends on chance.
On how the ball bounces.

I’m not talking about the game my child.
I’m talking about life.
But, it is life that the game is all about.
just as I said.

Because every game is life.
And life is a game.
A serious game.
Dead Serious.

But, that is what you do with serious things.
You do your best.
You take what comes.
You take what comes.
And you run with it.

Winning is fun. Sure.
But Winning is not the point.

Wanting to win is the point.
Not giving up is the point.
Never being satisfied with what you’ve done is the point.
Never letting anyone down is the point.

Play to win. Sure.
But loose like a champion.
Because is not winning that counts.
What counts is trying.

There you have it. I think this is exactly what I was looking for; I wholeheartedly believe this. Except, I am not sure how to instill a “want to win” in my daughter without my wanting to win becoming greater than hers. Shit.

Next, I chose a book by John O’Sullivan, Changing the Game: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes, and Giving Youth Sports Back to our Kids. Well, that sounds like just what I was looking for. And, for the most part, it was.


The lesson that I took away from the text was that I should envision the future that I want for my future child and to match my actions with my vision. Did I want my child to get a scholarship to a Division 1 school? Hell yes (also acceptable is an acceptance letter to an Ivy League institution). But, is that goal worth the possibility of my child hating a sport because of me? Absolutely not.

Since my kids are young (and I have four tries to get it right), stay tuned to see how I do with this venture. Right now, I am barely keeping my head above water.

Parenting is hard.

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