By Michael Holland
There’s the old coach, sitting on the top row of the bleachers watching the game. He smiles slightly, watching the players move gracefully across the field. He admires the intensity of the coaches as they offer quiet encouragement or bark out directives. He remembers his early days on the sideline, and those even earlier days when he would move onto the field to coach up players.
My life as a father has been filled with great opportunities to capitalize on coaching moments. During those earliest years, I coached my kids right next to them on the field of life. They needed that level of encouragement, direction, and protection. As they grew, I stepped back, though I was still on the field with them.
When my kids moved up through late middle school and into high school, I drew back to the sidelines, coaching them as best I could from a short distance. I was still in charge, but I gave them the space to make their own decisions; it was more controlled guidance than side-by-side coaching. They made their own calls to change their path. Sometimes I could offer quick corrections to those calls, but other times, the play was already underway.
My oldest two kids are now in college, and I’ve surely moved my coaching up to the bleachers. Like the old coach, I’m watching from afar as they live and learn on their own. I can see their plays developing, but can no longer hear them make the calls. And they cannot hear my instructions. But they look up into the stands and catch my eye, giving me a wave or a head nod, and I smile with encouragement.
And then there is that moment when my kid jogs off the field and jumps the fence so she can reach the bleachers. She hustles up the stairs and sits next to me and then it comes, a moment when she wants some coaching, adult kid to dear old dad. I listen to her intently. When it’s time, I pull myself together and offer up some fatherly advice: “I love you. I trust and support you. You make great decisions and I know you will make the best decision. I’ll fully support and love you either way.”
I’m not sure which level of fatherly coaching has been the hardest on me, but I can see that it has been good. As I moved from coaching on the field to coaching from the sideline to coaching from the bleachers, I was able to provide my daughter with the space and opportunity to figure out how to make decisions. And no matter what, she’ll always be my daughter. I will always love her, and I will always support her.
I finished reading this with tears in my eyes. What a good coach you are! My grandchildren are blessed to have you.
I’m a 19 year old freshman at Wesleyan. Coming from Niskayuna and The Albany Academy, both high intensity jock cultures, I feel that it’s refreshing to read your perspective on youth sports and parenting. Hopefully I’ll take this with me.