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Bird Brown: Life lessons can be learned through sports

Another one of those humbling, punch-in-the-face moments came to me a few weeks ago.

I know I’ve been writing about the many “lasts” of my sport-parent career over the past year as my youngest ended his high school career, ended his club career, and ended his competitive sports career.

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But this one I wasn’t ready for.

I first coached my oldest son when he was a four-year-old at the Carroll County YMCA where he got to play soccer, basketball and T-ball. I coached him in up until he went to high school. I coached my middle son until the end of his club career (I was coaching the girls team when he played in high school). Now it’s the end of the road for the youngest.

For the first time since the fall of 1996, this year I will not be coaching anyone on any of my teams with the last name Brown. I coached for several years before I started coaching my own sons. God willing, I’m planning on continuing to coach for as long as all of my replacement parts (and the ones to come) hold out and allow me to. But the ability to be a part of their sports experience has made my life so much more enjoyable.

The kids I’ve coached, the parents I’ve met, the friends I’ve made, and places that sports have taken me have all been because of my boys.

Although I grew up in a sports-crazy family, my interaction with my father on an athletic field was minimal for a number of reasons. He was a career soldier who spent two tours in Vietnam and countless hours in training and field operations. I also was the youngest of four children and my father was often coaching one of my brothers, so I would catch him between innings or after the game was over.

So, one of my favorite memories was when I was a teenager and I was fortunate to have my father coach a baseball team that I played on with my best friend. At practice, I would line up at third base and between pitches I would dodge the stones being tossed in from left field by my friend Jeff. My father never caught him, but I pick up that ONE ROCK and — bam!— I was caught.

What is it about being a coach’s kid that makes you different from the rest of your teammates?

First, as a coach’s kid you are expected to display a level of behavior above the expectations of the rest of your teammates. Your antics on the field at practice or games can dictate the behavior of the rest of the kids. If you lead by example, the rest of the kids will keep their behavior in check. If the coach allows his child to get out of control, the team discipline will fall by the wayside. Regardless of a player’s involvement in any issues that may arise, you will be held to a higher standard when punishment is handed out as well.

Secondly, you need to realize that you are in a no-win situation no matter whether you are the coach or the coach’s kid. When coaching your kid, you are going to handle things in one of two ways. There is the coach that plays his kid to the excess, well beyond her abilities. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the coach that penalizes his own kid over concern about the appearance of favoritism to his kid at the expense of her teammates.

No matter which end of the spectrum you may fall in, it is rare that a coach is able to find a perfect balance between playing time and her kid’s abilities.

The person that is able to find this delicate balance is no longer considered a coach — she’s called an artist.

Finally, you will always face your critics — parents and players that question your position on the team — who somehow justify your success with the fact that you are related to the coach. Whether you are selected to make a travel team or you are put in a key position, say shortstop on a baseball or softball team, there will always be those that don’t give you credit for your abilities. Unfortunately, it’s something any coach’s kid needs to deal with.

Possibly the most difficult role to play in youth sports is that of coach’s kid. A young player can easily mistake the coaching instructions and evaluations by his parent-coach as a questioning of his parent’s love for him.

It is our role as parent-coaches to delicately tread the line between constructive criticism in athletics and the unconditional love for our child inherent in all of us as parents.

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General Douglas MacArthur wrote words that resonate with many parents, “Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid, one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.”

What better way there is to learn some of life’s greatest lessons than through sports?

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