Parents and fans are passionate about the game down here.
When it comes to parents in the stands, I’ve seen lots of good but I’ve also seen plenty of the bad and even the ugly.
A few years ago I covered a game in which a few parents took things too far and it culminated into players and coaches leaving the field in order to confront their own fans. It even got picked up nationally by the website, Deadspin.com.
Although this is an example taken to its extreme, I saw plenty of other bad behaviors on a weekly basis. I would see far too many dads (and moms too) who took things way to serious. They often forgot that it is a game, meant to teach young men (and the occasional young women) values like hard work, teamwork and discipline.
As much as some dads don’t want to accept it, their playing days are long since gone. Living vicariously through their kids can take the fun out of the entire sport for kids. And having fun is the most important aspect for playing any sport in high school.
So here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the last decade of covering high school football that will keep you from looking like an asshole on Friday nights and ensure that your son (or daughter) enjoys the experience:
Don’t question the coach: So let’s say little Johnny has been working really hard all summer, he does everything he is asked in practice but when it comes to game time, he doesn’t get much actual time on the field because he shares a position with the player that was named All-Area by the local newspaper last year. Naturally, it is a frustrating situation for him.
As a dad, what do you do?
Do you explain to your son that that is just the way the game works? That you have to pay your dues or practice until you become better than the guy in front of you? Maybe you help him learn a new position in the offseason or motivate him to put in some extra work in the weight room next spring.
Or, do you fire off a rambling email to the football coach explaining why their son should be a focal point of the offense/defense. Perhaps throw in some subtle insults directed at the coaching staff and cap it off with a thinly-veiled threat of legal action because said coach is harming his family financially by costing little Johnny a potential college scholarship?
You’d be amazed how many parents choose the latter of those options.
Ask any veteran football coach and he will have more than his share of stories of overbearing parents trying every way imaginable to get their kids on the field.
And not once has it ever actually worked. So don’t do it.
Tone it down: There are always a few groups of parents in the stands that take things a little too seriously.
You know who I’m talking about. They likely have the custom-made jerseys and face paint. Probably a cowbell or three and a variety of other noise makers. Maybe it’s the dad who stands at the fence screaming the same thing at the top of his lungs over and over for four quarters.
Teenaged boys can be easily embarrassed. As a parent, you should respect the fact that maybe they don’t want the first impression that girl they have a crush on from chemistry class gets of his parents is them in facepaint and screaming like crazy people. Your kids have enough on their minds trying to remember blocking schemes of a wing-t spread.
And never be the obnoxious parent who screams profanities or rags on other players. There is a good chance that kid’s parents are sitting within earshot.
Also, never be the parent that brings a vuvuzela to a game. That just makes you a horrible human being all around.
Be a fan, not a coach: Are you the dad that is trying to give your kid pointers from the bleachers?
Maybe you are telling him to watch out for the short route over the middle despite their coverage assignment being for a 2nd-and-long pass play. Now your son is trying to keep two things in his mind at a time when a split-second decision is often required.
So what happens if he picks the wrong decision because he was too concerned about a screen pass while his man ends up with a 60-yard touchdown catch down the sidelines? Who gets the blame?
It won’t be the guy on the other side of the fence.
Not listening to his coaches is a surefire way for a player to get benched. Don’t do anything that could compromise that. Most teams welcome volunteer coaches. If that is something you want to do, then volunteer.
Otherwise, just be a fan supporting your kid and his team.
After the game be a dad, not a fan: This can be a tough one for a lot of dads.
If you are passionate about the game of football you are probably a somewhat knowledgable fan. Your instincts will be to play Monday morning quarterback after the game.
But your kid’s game isn’t your fantasy football team. You don’t need to rehash and analyze every single play. Your son probably is well aware of how his missed block in the fourth quarter allowed the opponent’s running back to break off a score in a crucial stretch. He doesn’t need you to remind him.
Chances are he feels bad enough about it already. If he wants to talk about it, he will. When things like that happen, it is important to remember that your duty is as a father, not a coach.
Your only job in that situation is to foot the bill for a post-game cheeseburger and maybe a milkshake.
Stay off social media: Opponents trash talk each other on Twitter all the time. It’s become a part of the game in this hyper-connected world.
But they’re teenagers. As an adult, you should know better.
Yet, you’d be surprised how many parents take to Facebook or other forms of social media to vent about what is going on with a football team. I’ve witnessed conversation threads advocating a change in quarterback and entire groups calling for the ouster of a coach. There’s been numerous instances of adults interjecting themselves into petty squabbles among teenagers. Nothing good usually comes of it.
I can see all those posts. Everyone can. Including the coach you are trying to get fired. That’s not going to help your kid in any way.
Don’t bug the local reporters: Granted this one is personal but it also is good advice.
True story: I remember covering a game in which one team’s quarterback, nursing a three-point lead in the last few minutes of the game, was chased out of the pocket deep in his own territory.
Instead of just taking a sack he tossed up an ill-advised pass into heavy coverage. It was predictably picked off and returned for what ended up being the game-winner for the other team.
The kid was devastated.
There was no way to sugar-coat what happened. As a reporter, all you can do is report exactly what happened since it was the pivotal point in the game. That’s what I did.
On the following Monday morning I was treated to a long, profanity-laced email from the player’s father essentially blaming me for embarrassing his kid in the press. I got called some choice words just because I —rightly— called that the play that cost the game.
For that I was a “bottom-dweller” that “didn’t focus on all the positive things his son did in the game.” Of course there were the ubiquitous statements about how college coaches were going to read that and it could cost his kid a scholarship. I’m sure in that father’s mind he was protecting his kid as he hits send after CC’ing the school’s athletic director and principal. Not only will that sort of thing make you look petty, it can also cost your kid in other ways.
Remember that time is a scarce resource for any sportswriter. There are probably a couple dozen players on a dozen other teams that are worth writing about. Don’t give that reporter a reason to bypass your kid when it comes to writing features about things like his academic record or other good deeds he may do or when it comes time to select All-Areas teams and the like— you know, the kind of stories college recruiters are actually interested in.
One of the great things about sports is that it teaches life lessons like being gracious in defeat. No matter how hard you try, sometimes you can’t shield your kids from the disappointment of losing.
Odds are that your kid is never going to play in the NFL. As much as you might think otherwise, he’ll likely never even play in college. His time in high school is likely to be the culmination of his football career. Don’t do anything that would make it anything but fun.
As with all this advice, it is all about setting a good example for your kids because someday he’ll be the one in the stands cheering on his own kids. Do you really want him to be “that parent” who keeps yelling at your grandson’s (or granddaughter’s) coach about what a fucking moron he is?
Does your kid’s team have some of the obnoxious parents mentioned here? Join in the discussion on Twitter using #badfootballdads