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For fathers coaching their sons in soccer, there's an extra challenge

Archbishop Curley coach Barry Stitz had a long talk with his son, Ben, just prior to varsity tryouts this summer.

Stitz had to explain that as the coach's son, Ben was inevitably going to be "under a microscope."

After coaching his son for Fewster F.C., a club team, the coach knew his son, a freshman, had the tactical ability to be a varsity player. The challenge would be the physical rigors of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference, competing against players three or even four years older and carrying the same last name as the guy in charge.

It won't be an issue this season. The Friars' varsity roster will include just one freshman at the start of this season, and it won't be the coach's son.

"This kid is technical enough to be on the varsity, he has the soccer IQ that shows he should be on the varsity," Stitz said. "Physically, he is just not quite there yet."

The decision for Ben Stitz to begin the season on junior varsity underscored the incredibly tough calls fathers must make as coaches for their sons and daughters. And the games sometimes don't end at the field.

The car rides home can be full of debate or just awkward silence. Agonizing choices have to be made with rosters and playing time. Barry Stitz and his son were well aware of those obstacles when Ben chose to attend Curley.

"I'm not naïve and he's not naïve either," Stitz said. "I told him to be ready for that challenge. I also promised him that because he was my son, and that he ultimately came to this school, it was not going to be a disadvantage for him, either."

Stitz has eight players in his program that played for him at Fewster, which won the Maryland State Cup at the Under-14 level this year. Of those players, he'll have three on varsity and five on junior varsity.

Stitz will watch his son's development from afar this season and rely on some of the junior varsity coaches to make him better each day. It's delicate balance and Stitz understands the dynamics of serving as a father who wells with pride as his son gets better and as a coach, who knows what the player will eventually bring to the program.

"Probably over those last seven years, I've probably been a little tougher on him than some others," Stitz said. "I also don't keep praise from him because he is my son, as well."

Mount Saint Joseph coach Mike St. Martin was also ready to send his freshman son, Brett, to the junior varsity this season. However, his assistants insisted Brett had played well enough in practice and various scrimmages to earn a spot on the varsity.

St. Martin ultimately agreed. He also coached his son at a local club in Mt. Airy that competed in the Baltimore Beltway Soccer League. But the stakes at Mt. St. Joseph are much higher.

"Even though everyone graded him out to be on varsity, is it fair for me to put him on J.V. just because his name is St. Martin?" he said. "So, it wasn't an easy decision. But as a player, all of the coaches, and me included, thought he should be on [varsity]."

The Gaels also graduated 14 seniors last season, so there was room on the roster. Six freshmen made the team this year.

Brett also plays basketball and lacrosse and that also helped him deal with the physicality of varsity soccer.

"I think it's great for injury prevention," St. Martin said. "Eventually, you're going to have to choose. But at this point, I think all three sports have something to offer that you can use in each sport as far as vision with basketball and the physicality of lacrosse. It helps."

Calvert Hall coach Rich Zinkand is experiencing a similar scenario. Zinkand also coached his son, Trevor, at the club level for Fewster and decided it would be best for his development to play his first year at the freshman-sophomore level to get extensive playing time.

Zinkand also understands the dynamic of being a young player going against older athletes, who might be gunning for them as the coach's son.

"You don't want them getting hurt," Zinkand said. "You don't want them challenging some of these guys, as the coach's son, who in the back of their minds say I'm going to put him in his place. You worry a little bit."

Stitz said his son, Ben, will have to be ready for such challenges. The Curley coach expects his son to respond well.

"There are going to be a few more challenges he might have that a few of the other kids might not have, in regards to proving himself," Stitz said. "I know he's a good player. He knows he's a good player. He is going to go out there and show it. He'll stand on his own two feet."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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