Coaching as a Metaphor for Fatherhood

Roger PAnalyst IAugust 18, 2009

This article originated from

My little boy turns six months old today. It’s been the wildest—and best—ride of my life. He’s got his mom’s blue eyes and my hair that won’t lie down, and when I get home from work he beams like he’s won the lottery.

Hands down, best thing I’ve ever done.

In the pursuit of being a good father I’ve read a lot about parenting styles, and everyone compares fatherhood to something else. Is a father a friend? I suppose so. Is he a teacher? Yeah, at times.

But looking back over my own childhood, my dad was a coach. And I think that’s the most appropriate metaphor for fatherhood.

Most coaches were once players, just as every dad was once a son. A coach can thus speak from experience; he knows exactly what his players are going up against, because he’s been in their shoes before.

His new position on the sideline also affords him the valuable big-picture perspective of watching the action unfold from a distance.

Every coach, thus, has a playbook. He knows there are certain looks that his team is going to see every week, and he’s constructed ways for them to come out on top every time.

More importantly, each coach has also taught fundamentals. It’s these tools that allow each player to make their own decisions, when they inevitably find themselves in a situation not found in any playbook.

But at some point, the players must go out on the field.

This is when the winners are separated from the losers—not in training camp, not in practice, but in the game. And while the players wage battle, the coach can mostly only do one thing.

Watch. And hope he taught them enough.

It’s the same for dads. Every child inevitably goes to school, leaves the house, and goes outside of his parents’ protecting, guiding hands.

When that happens, should a dad be just a friend?

My own dad and I went to ballgames, shot baskets in the front yard, and did things that friends do. But a father has to do the hard things that a friend doesn’t: He disciplines, he protects, he calls you out when necessary.

A father that is a friend first probably isn’t giving his children the tough love they need sometimes. Those were some of my most formative moments.

How about a teacher?

My dad was also a good teacher, but that’s not enough either. The idea of a teacher-father suggests to me a hands-off approach, a teaching of theory without practical application. While I learned a lot from my father—who is, incidentally, a teacher by profession—he’s always been much more involved with the non-academic aspects of my life than any teacher ever would be.

But a coach...

Like a coach, a dad has played the game before. He’s assembled his playbook, and taught everything he can. And then when it’s game time, he’ll send his “players” out into the action—still trying to encourage and direct, but knowing that now it’s in their hands to do what he has taught them.

I’m seriously not looking forward to the day my little boy puts on a tiny backpack and heads out to start first grade. I can see myself shouting from the sidelines, at times unheard over the noise of the game, wishing I could sometimes go out there and just do things for him. But a dad, like a coach, stays on the sidelines.

While athletes face blitzes, the pick-and-roll, and knuckleballers, kids are up against peer pressure, drugs, sex, and pornography on the Internet. And if I’m a good dad, I’ll have taught him what play to run when he sees these things coming.

My coaching career is only just beginning. My lone player is now only going up against the likes of teething and toys that fall out of reach. But every time he smiles that big smile that has exactly two teeth in it, I understand why coaches do what they do.

I love this game.