Daddy Ball

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

We hear the phrase often: “Daddy Ball.” It is a derogatory term describing a situation where a parent becomes a youth coach for the sole reason of promoting his own child. The accusation is that the child gets benefits in terms of playing time and position that he or she wouldn’t have received had someone else been coaching the team. But what if it’s not true? And what if it is?

Those of you who have read my articles through the years know I have done a lot of volunteer coaching. I coached three boys and a daughter primarily in baseball and softball, but also basketball, soccer, flag football, roller hockey, nearly everything they played growing up. So I’m quite sure there were times people looked at decisions I made regarding my kids and chalked them up to preferential treatment or, “Daddy Ball.”

So my first question is, where were those parents when the league asked for coaches? I didn’t do anything sneaky to become the coach. I volunteered. Same as they could have. I find it tough to think of someone who is not volunteering to accuse an individual who is of having anything less than admirable motives.

Are there parents who manipulate and “game” the system to ensure their children have advantages? I’m sure there are, though I can’t really remember a case of ever seeing it blatantly. Maybe I was blind to it because it was something I was doing myself.

I think there is also possibly an aspect of jealousy. Of course, anyone who is watching their child play behind the coaches’ kids is going to automatically believe that the decision is not based on merit or fairness, but is “Daddy Ball.” And, if one of those parents were to take the helm of the team and put their child where they believe he deserves to be, that’s what everyone would be saying about them.

Mike Matheny, the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, was asked to coach his young son’s baseball team a few years back and he wrote a preseason letter to the parents that has become rather famous. The part that stood out to me was when he asked that all parents get involved and work with their children away from practice. He said that in his experience, the common denominator of every player he’d ever seen make it in the pros was that they had someone to work with them as youngsters. It seems to me that wanting to be the coach for your kids is an extension of this. Sure, I wanted to give them advantages. Not unfair ones. None that were unearned. I wanted to give them the advantage of my attention, my time, my knowledge of the game and my coaching. I didn’t feel anyone else could do a better job and so I sacrificed a lot of hours and career opportunities to do it. If that’s “Daddy Ball,” so be it.

When my children were just beginning to play recreational sports I remember speaking with a friend of mine whose sons were all older and in college. He had coached them in baseball all the way through high school and said that one of the main reasons he believed he had such a close relationship with his boys was all that time they spent together in the dugout. I made up my mind then and there that I’d coach my kids as long as I could.

And speaking of a letter to parents, as I write this I think of a bit I might put into a letter of my own, should I ever become a volunteer coach again. It might go something like this:

In an effort to avoid the perception that I am giving preferential treatment to anyone I will be asking for a democratic vote before each game to determine the batting order and playing positions. All parents who have attended every game and observed every minute of each practice will be eligible to vote.

I wonder how many votes I’d get.

I guess the answer could be to not allow parents to coach their own children. But then we’d have no more rec soccer, basketball, softball, football or baseball. So maybe another solution is to tone down the insults and use the phrase “Daddy Ball” less and the words, “Thanks, Coach.” more.

Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and current volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com

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