Our morning pickleball sessions at Southern Prairie Family Fitness Center frequently involve discussions of activities the previous weekend, which often includes talking about attending grandkids’ sports activities.
Sometimes I hear about the experiences of watching their children coaching their grandchildren, and some of the conversations that transpire from that.
It made me think, because I used to invite my parents to weekend travel tournaments I coached my sons in before they passed in 1993 and 2000. I hadn’t given much thought to how intense I was as a young coach, and how I probably got on my boys pretty tough in front of their grandparents. They never said anything to me about it, but now in looking back I feel kind of bad about how that may have affected them.
I think I’ve gained a lot of perspective over the years. I used to let my competitive intensity get the best of me at times and I’d like to think I’m better at controlling that now at 65 than I was at 35 or even 45.
If you know local guys like Derk Wichhart, Ryan Steinkamp or the Hy-Vee pharmacist, Jim Ide (I still call him Jimmy), those were guys from my first St. Malachy teams back in the late 1990s. Jerry Katzer called me one night and said there was a pretty good group of boys at St. Malachy that wanted to restart basketball there. They needed a coach.
I agreed to do it, because I had two sons in younger grades that I knew would be coming up to future teams, and I liked the idea of that school having its own team again. (Since then we merged into one Creston team and I joined the coaching staff at Creston Middle School.)
I was blessed with great coaching partners in those early years, both in basketball and baseball. If I could do one thing, though, I’d sit down with folks like Paul Goldsmith, John Walsh, Paul Pals and Mark Eblen and apologize for how hard I was on their sons. I thought I was supposed to hold my own sons up as examples and was often harder on them than most of the others, and I tended to do that with my assistant’s sons as well.
As I look back at it now, that wasn’t really necessary. One thing I’ve learned in my 60s compared to those earlier days is that you can be demanding without being overbearing, or unfairly harsh on them. At the time I thought I was instilling models of discipline and accountability by being extra tough on the coaches’ sons, but it wasn’t fair to them as individuals.
It’s a fine line to walk with your own child. As I see it now, they deserved to be inspired and uplifted by their good moments on the court as much as the other kids, instead of taking such a hard stance with them all the time. I’m lucky neither one of them quit on me, to be honest.
It was so much easier to coach in a more relaxed fashion once my own kids had moved on to their high school coaches. I could handle Dick Bergstrom, Jim Calkins and Vic Belger being tough on them, and they wouldn’t have to come home and hear more of it from the same person. I could be the supportive and encouraging dad now, instead of the coach always in search of improvement.
Now, I’m discovering the pure joys of watching a grandchild play. You just sit back and enjoy them, and love them, without the responsibilities of parenthood.
I admire anyone who takes on the task of coaching young kids. It’s not easy. You’re open to being second-guessed from the stands. But, time gives you perspective.
If my sons get into coaching down the road, I hope they’ll appreciate how pops has grown in the role over many years. Each turnover or missed defensive assignment isn’t the end of the world. Are the kids having fun playing? Are they learning how to be good teammates?
That’s what I think about more now, rather than collecting all of those championship trophies from weekend tournaments, or beating a longtime rival. It’s still fun to win, don’t get me wrong. But I put more value now in how those young people view their relationship with me on a long-term basis.
When I hear someone approaching 40 years old now greet me with, “Hi coach!” it’s the greatest sound in the world. I hope I helped them in some way during our time together.
What I’ve found in recent years compared to my earlier years in coaching is that kids today are sometimes under a lot of pressure, from a variety of angles throughout the course of the year. I have focused more on fostering a comfortable environment to work hard, but work together, with respect for all parties involved at all times.
Being a little older helps you realize what’s really important. I wish I’d had some of that knowledge when I was deep into it as a young man, but I guess that’s the journey in life. It takes awhile to get there.
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