Coaching eight year olds is stressful business.
Is my practice plan focused on what they need to learn and on the building blocks that will let them develop the fastest? Are the right kids in the right spots in lineup and the right positions? Have I prepared the kids enough for game day? Have I prepared myself enough to keep ahead of the game and slow it down? Stress, stress, stress, and more stress.
The most stressful part? Coaching my own kid.
Domingo Ayala (if you don’t know about Domingo, google him and get ready to laugh a lot) may have nailed the player’s view of Daddy’ Ball or, better, at 8U, the non-coaching parent’s point of view. But the view from the parent-coach’s seat is a whole lot grayer.
During the season I had two questions circling in my head. Was I being unfair to him, or the others, with where he played and batted in the lineup? And was I being harder on him than I was on the other players?
I was so set against being the Daddy Ball coach, in my lineup for our first travel game, my son was catching and batting seventh. Catching I had no qualms about. Though he may not have the strongest arm on the team, he catches the pitches and isn’t afraid to block the bad ones keeping the game moving and our pitcher in a rhythm (when I went to switch catchers in that first game, the ump asked me to keep him in). Batting him seventh was an appeasement to Daddy Ball and being worried about what the parents would be thinking. He makes a ton of contact and he’s fast so he should be at the top of the order. My two assistant coaches are great (choose your assistants wisely) and both said he should lead off and that’s where he hit to start the season though he would have hit in the bottom of the order if they hadn’t intervened (eventually I dropped him to the two hole where he flourished.)
I have a running joke with one of my assistants that his kid, who is our best player, makes it easy for him to be a coach. No one blinks an eye when his kid is at shortstop and batting third. Not that parents should blink an eye, but we all suffer from some form of Delusional Parent Disorder (so eloquently described by former NBAer Keith Van Horn), some more than others. So my stress level was through the roof whenever I put #20 (he choose 20 because of Jorge Posada) at short or, even worse, had him pitch. I had my heart in my throat whenever the ball was hit to him which I wish I could say was because I wanted him to succeed as I think is normal for any parent. It wasn’t. It was because I worried if he missed the ball the parents would think “Daddy Ball.”
Luckily, he had a good season. He got some big hits for us (a game tying homer to his credit), he put the ball in play a ton (second in runs scored and third in balls in play batting average), and he led the team in fielding percentage, gobbling up every grounder hit his way and throwing strikes to get the outs. Good on him! I say luckily he had a good season because I felt like it was lucky for me so I didn’t have to worry about DPD or Daddy Ball. Problem is, he shouldn’t have had to live up to the higher standard to which I held him.
I didn’t hold any of the other kids to the same standards. I didn’t give their errors or strikeouts another thought other than how they affected the particular game we were playing at the time. When our best player made an error playing short, I didn’t think “he shouldn’t play short again.” I wasn’t being fair to #20. And I didn’t realize it until the season was over.
At our season end party, I mentioned the Coach’s Kid video and my fears about Daddy Ball. I had more than a few parents tell me what a passionate, good player #20 was and that he played where he should have throughout the season which left me with mixed emotions. I was happy from him that they saw what I saw, how hard he worked and that he played well. I was a bit saddened that I couldn’t loosen up from my own fear of being the Daddy Ball coach that I wasn’t able to treat him the same as the other kids.
When I sat the kids and the parents down at the beginning of the season to level set on playing time, team goals and the like, I mentioned a very common goal at this age of everyone improving, including the coaches. I told them it was going to be a learning experience for us all and that we coaches wouldn’t get it all right but we would learn and get better. After that season end party, I told my son that I’d messed up and that I would try my best to not be so hard on him next year.
Here’s hoping I deliver on that promise, and I get better as the parent-coach because there is just no separating the two.