Daddy Ball

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Picture this scenario: It’s a beautiful Saturday spring afternoon and you are at the local youth baseball fields. Your son has a baseball game against a rival team and his coach has the best infielders playing except for one, the shortstop. This is a kid who needs a cutoff to make it to first base and fields grounders so badly the left fielder gets more forced outs than he does. In addition, he bats cleanup and plays the entire game while everyone else has to platoon or sit the bench, including your son. If you have not guessed it by now, the shortstop is the coach’s child.

Daddy ball! It’s a practice that has existed from the beginning of youth sports; a parent volunteers to coach their kid’s team and shows favoritism to his/her child by placing them in the most desired positions for the entire game. It exists at every level of every youth sport for both genders and it has been a topic of frustration for parents ever since a parent picked up a whistle to coach a team. Anyone who has ever played organized sports as a kid has played on one team or another where the coach’s kid plays quarterback or carries the ball every play and starts both ways.

Let me say this, nonprofit youth sports leagues depend solely on volunteers to help run their leagues from concession stand helpers to board members and team coaches. Anyone with a desire to help and donate their time is usually welcomed as leagues are always in short supply of these people. Coaching experience is rarely necessary and in most cases all that is required is a clean background check and a whistle. Some leagues require a coach to have a child on the team, as in the case for my local youth baseball league, and some leagues do not which is the case for my local youth football league. My sons play in both and the level of coaching experience and quality varies from team to team and league to league. Regardless of the sport or league these people should be applauded and thanked for their effort and selflessness. These are men and women who give of their time to help enrich the lives of children and that is a very noble and altruistic endeavor.

Let me also say, in reference to my first scenario, that playing children in positions where they are unfamiliar or do not excel is a great way to enhance their experience and fun. As long as it is coupled with proper coaching technique and is safe for the child and the rest of the team, it is a vital practice in cultivating their desire to play sports throughout their childhood. I applaud the coach who is not afraid to play the shortstop who has to two bounce the throw to first or handing the lineman the ball to make a touchdown. It is a mark of a good coach who is more concerned with development than winning every game. Rarely do children play the same positions in high school they play in youth sports so good youth coaches will teach their players multiple skills. I am not talking about that coach here.

Ok let’s lay it all on the table and be honest with ourselves. We all have our daddy goggles on at one time or another and our view of our children’s skillset is always going to be greater than they truly are and that is ok. We are parents and we love and hope our children will succeed and excel. Look at the refrigerator door, the painting done by little Johnny is no Monet and will not be hung in the Louvre any time soon but that does not stop us from believing he is an artistic prodigy. It also does not stop us from believing our child can pitch or start at point guard every game. It becomes a problem when we are in a position of power or influence and we let those emotions intercede with our higher responsibility, the welfare and development of the entire team.

Although Daddy Ball does exist it might not be as clear as we think it is. Is it wrong for a coach’s kid to play shortstop even if he is not the best? What if another child played the position he/she was equally as unskilled? Would that coach be applauded for developing a player yet criticized for playing his own? And what of the coach’s child who is made an example so as to avoid accusations of daddy ball? Should that child suffer the bench more than any other?

Let me give you another scenario: A very good player gets to start and play the whole game, deservingly, but mistakes made by her are far less tolerated by the coach than mistakes made by other players. Teaching moments are replaced by criticism and she rarely gets praise for outstanding play. She is a good player but the love of the game is not always present with her. Yes she too is a coach’s child.

I would say, in my experience, I have seen this scenario much more often than the former one. The majority of coaches’ children put in much more time practicing than anyone else. The bar is raised higher for them and the pressure to succeed and prove to everyone they deserve to be in that position is great. These coaches also go to great lengths not to favor their children yet with that said the very nature of their child starting at a position draws criticism and accusations of Daddy Ball.

Here are some “Dos” and “Don’ts” if you suspect your coach of playing favoritism and negatively affecting the team:

  • Do step away from the highlight reel of your child and take an honest look at the makeup of the team, the players and your child. Ask yourself some hard questions. “Yes I want my son to play quarterback but should he?” “Does she want to pitch or do I want her to pitch?”
  • Do consider becoming a coach yourself. Many times the Daddy Baller is the only guy willing to do it. It looks bad to criticize others when you will not step up yourself. Grab your whistle and get out there; its worth it. It will also give you a new insight to how the game is managed and you might just see that dolling out play time is much harder than you think.
  • Do be excited about the position your child is playing and encourage them to do their best even if it is not the position they or you desire. You hold the key to your child’s happiness in sports. If you have a negative attitude about your child’s position then your child will too and thus have a horrible experience. Nothing positive can come from this behavior and it will carry over to other endeavors including school and work. No coach will ever award a child with a bad attitude especially a promotion to starter.
  • Do support the team. Get involved, help, and cheer for all the players not just your child regardless of your feelings about the coach.
  • Do talk to your coach. If your kid wants to pitch ask him what needs to be done to get a shot at pitching. Be prepared to work with your child outside of practice. Its fun and your kid will improve dramatically. Also be prepared to hear honest evaluations of your child’s skills and be open to it, not defensive.
  • Don’t quit. I have seen parents literally walk on the field and drag their children away never to come back. This will accomplish nothing but teach your child that it is ok to be a quitter. Nobody likes a quitter.
  • Don’t talk  among the other parents how much you dislike the coach and his decisions. This is a cancer to the team. This accomplishes nothing and will benefit no one including your child. Never speak badly of the coaches or any other child.

 
Daddy Ball happens, we all have been witnesses to it, but there are ways to address it without affecting the team or our children’s experience. Also as parents we must be honest with ourselves; is the coach playing favorites or do we have an exaggerated perception of our kid’s talents? If we put the team first, address the issue as adults and realize this is about the kids having fun then everyone can enjoy the season and youth sports.

5 Comments

  1. Brian's Gravatar Brian
    September 19, 2015    

    Sorry, but most of your altruistic statements fall flat. There’s no excuse for Daddy Ball
    whatsoever. That’s a lot of excuses and rationale to support DaddyBall that you are spewing.
    Volunteering does not give anyone the right to justify playing their own kids more.
    You either volunteer because you want to or not. Yes, there may be times when kids dont play because there are not enough coaches; however that pales in comparison to the vast number of lost opportunity for
    other people’s kids sitting the bench or being subjugated.

    Best to play on legaues that do not allow Daddy Ball coaches.

    • The Coach's Gravatar The Coach
      December 1, 2015    

      Hi Brian,

      This post was to give a different look at what parents deem as Daddy Ball and in no way do I give one excuse for the practice. In my experience parents are quick to throw that term around at the slightest hint a coach’s child gets one second more play yet they have no desire or inclination to volunteer themselves. I also never once said that volunteering gives anyone a right to play children unfairly nor did I imply it. Volunteering is altruistic and those who do not volunteer do not know the complexities involved in coaching a team. I am merely pointing out that before you start accusing this person of being unethical, first realize you did not step up to coach your child he/she did and you do not know the details of coaching this specific team. Finally I point out that Daddy Ball does exist and I illustrate the steps to address it. In my experience kids don’t get the playtime their parents think they deserve because of other reasons not because the coach is playing his/her kid more. Thanks for reading the blog.

      • August 20, 2016    

        I totall agree! I have been coaching youth sports for years and it never fails that every year there is at least 1 Dad or parent that think their child is Bo Jackson- yet the reality is they are one of the worse athletes on the team. It’s mind blowing how so many parents can’t see and assess where there own kids talent levels are at that given time on their lives/. Can they become good athletes? Absolutely- but it will take hard work and lots of reps but as of today your son or daughter is not their “Yet”. Key word is yet- These parents always seem to make it about the coaches and not their own Childs current ability, work ethic etc.

  2. Diana Carter's Gravatar Diana Carter
    June 6, 2019    

    Here is my scenario. My child has played in a local little league since Tball. He has had some great coaches. He has done well excelling at the game. He has played almost every position except catcher. He is currently in his first year of kid pitch level. He is a new player that has just moved up from Cball (coach pitch). He has pitched in several games this year and has done phenomenal. The coach has actually let him pitch several games instead of his own child. Other coaches have commented on what a phenomenal year he has had. He has progressed with batting as well, made a few singles, a double, a few RBI’s. Played second base some and made a few outs, has played centerfield and caught a few fly balls. Our team infield has older boys 4-6 grade. He is the youngest pitcher on our team. Our team just won the championship for our local little league. His father works long hours 6 days a week and often 10-12 hour days. He is not really into sports and doesn’t know every much about baseball. My child works on his own practicing by throwing a tennis ball against our garage and fielding it, throwing a ball into a target to practice pitching. He is very self driven and motivated. He unfortunately was not picked for our allstar team even though he is just as good, maybe better than many of the boys who were picked. He is very down on himself. The boys that were picked all have dads who coach for our league and are all on travel teams together as well. How does a child who is very athletic and excels progress in this league. His current coach is great however he is not involved in travel leagues, etc. It is very disappointing to him since he did have a phenomenal season.

    • The Coach's Gravatar The Coach
      June 9, 2019    

      Hi Diana,

      Thank you for your reply. Don’t put too much stock into “All Star” teams. In my experience it has been more of a popularity contest than a compilation of the top players. Regardless, it sounds like your son is disappointed he did not make the team.

      My advice is to set that as a goal for next year and come up with a plan, with him, on how he can achieve it. It is going to mean putting in the extra work. It means working on his five tools.

      There are five criteria on how players are assessed. These criteria are called tools. You might have heard of someone being called a “five tool” player.

      The tools are:

      Hitting for average
      Fielding
      Arm strength
      Speed
      Power

      I placed them in the order of importance as they pertain to children. Actually, fielding and hitting are equal in importance, in my opinion. I put power last as this is dependent on age and hitting technique. Age will dictate whether they hit the gym and train for power but a young child does not need to worry about this tool just yet. Arm strength will come with age too but proper throwing technique is essential, early on in his development.

      How does your son develop these tools? There are many different resources.

      Private lessons – This is a great resource but it is expensive and you have to make sure you are going to a good coach. If you go this route, get references.

      Videos and blogs – If you search on YouTube you will find a rich resource for youth baseball development. Here is one website that speaks on the tools. http://fivetoolschool.com

      Playing – I am not a big advocate for year round single sport playing. I believe kids should play at least two sports. With that said, your son can practice in the off season with anyone who has a glove and some extra time. There are some great drills out there he can perform to develop his tools and all you need is a little space and some dedication.

      Here are some drills I have used in the past. Let me emphasize that proper technique is most important for each drill. Your son can run faster, throw harder and hit farther with good technique than any drill he uses.

      Hitting for average – Hitting off the tee is the number one, basic development drill.

      Fielding – Ground balls and pop flies are the most basic of this for hand eye coordination. Work on this first then move to proper body position and accurate throwing.

      Arm strength – Long toss is a good drill. Do not over work his arm and don’t get caught up in becoming a pitcher at a young age. Parents tend to see this as a status, that their child is a pitcher, at the cost of young arms.

      Speed – Sprints are the basic speed building tool. You can add resistance later. Outfield speed will also be helped by angle drills. Base running improvement will come with experience, as they learn to read a pitcher.

      Power – This is going to be a lot about technique but general calisthenics like push ups, pull ups and sit ups will work wonders with strength, at any age.

      Here is some of the basic equipment you will need:

      Baseball Tee – If you don’t have one, get one.
      Bucket of practice balls – You will be surprised how fast you go through them.
      Rubber bases – These help in determining distance and dimensions of the field if you are not practicing on an actual diamond.

      These are just some tips for your son to achieve his goal of making all stars. We have only scratched the surface of youth development here. This will not guarantee he will make the team but it will help him to become a better player. Remember mom, regardless if he makes the team or not, let him know how much you love to watch him play. Good luck and let us know how it goes.

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