“He never made it as ball player, so he tried to get his son to make it for him. By the time I was 10, playing baseball got to be like eating vegetables or taking out the garbage, so when I was 14, I started to refuse. Can you believe that? An American boy refusing to have a catch with his father.”

— Kevin Costner as Ray Kinsella in “Field of Dreams”

There is no playbook for dads after their cherished son or daughter comes along to strengthen the bonds of any sturdy union.

Tony Blasi

That could be said for moms. They should be given a medal or a free vacation to the tropics for lugging around that wondrous bundle of joy. It is a tough gig, and I know for certain that dads couldn’t handle being the courier of such a delicate package. Mother Nature knew all along that women are braver and far more capable than the male species when carrying a child. We just don’t have the stomach for it.

But this is Father’s Day, where a dad might receive a tie, bowling ball, a fishing rod and given free rein of the TV — just for a day. Of course, if dad is a sports fan, there is a good chance he’ll encourage a round of catch with his young son or daughter.

Sports teaches teamwork and other interpersonal skills like leadership, responsibility, dependability and often brings the entire family together — or, sometimes, this outlet for children can put a strain on relationships, too.

When my son moved up the chain of education and headed for Edward Little High School, I suggested he play a couple of sports to fatten up his college applications. I didn’t care if he was a superstar or just another kid doing his best. He had no interest in football and I answered, “Good, you will live longer.” It is not for everyone, and it is a rough sport, where getting knocked around like a candlepin is part of the fun.

So my son chose swimming, outdoor track and became a ski patroller at Lost Valley and eventually Titcomb Mountain.

I was elated with his choices because I knew he was in good hands with solid EL coaches like swim coach Scott Morrison and track coach Ryan LaRoche, who is now the athletic director at Leavitt Area High School. They are good mentors who know to handle young athletes with kid gloves.

My wife Terri and I went to all the meets and kept a low profile. We offered words of encouragement. We never, ever lambasted him for his performances. We figured he was just having fun.

I have seen parental pressure in action and it is a nasty sight, as well as embarrassing and devastating to a kid’s confidence. It makes me cringe. 

I won’t name the school, but there was a moment when a young athlete didn’t fare well at the plate. The athlete was disappointed, but as the kid headed to the bench, the athlete saw his or her disgruntled dad and yelled “Don’t!” before the father could say a word. There was only silence between the two. I quietly applauded the athlete for taking a stand.

My father told me years ago that he would never hassle my coaches. He knew better. Dad was a baseball coach for 43 years in Revere, Massachusetts. He had seen it all and always held his ground, and the school’s athletic director Silvio Cella always had his back. 

I have seen parents chant in unison as they spewed barbs at referees during a game. Their children looked toward the stands with that, “Are you serious?” look. I witnessed a father being told to leave a game after harassing officials.

I know this topic has been discussed for ages, but parental pressure lives on in the hearts of some dads who have forgotten that playing a sport is supposed to be their child’s moments on a field. That’s the rub — and I have seen it in action after covering sports for more than three decades.

Robert T. Muller, Ph.D., who is a professor of psychology at York University, wrote a 2015 eye-opening piece in psychologytoday.com that:

“According to Frank Smoll, Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington, parents play a pivotal role in determining whether a sport is a fun learning experience or a nightmare. Smoll calls it ‘frustrated jock syndrome’ when parents attempt to relive their own past successes. Smoll’s research found that children respond most favourably, not to coaches and parents who punish undesirable behaviours, but to those who sincerely reinforce behaviours that are desirable.”

It never occurred to me to become a “glory days” athlete, someone who sought to relive my life through my son. His interests became mine through the years. I had no problem that Lego robotics was more interesting to him in junior high than a bat and ball. The after-school program, which turned kids on to creativity and computers, is taught by Jim Rowe — a gifted teacher at Auburn Middle School.

I love the game of baseball — especially when I listen to the Red Sox on the radio — but I knew I was no Sultan of Swat and walked away from the sport in high school. My father, the baseball coach, was fine with me playing three other sports.

There is nothing wrong with taking a subtle, hands-on approach when teaching the nuances of a sport to your child. But if your athlete has a bad day on the mound, hold your tongue and back off at the dinner table. Castigating a child after a bad game will void any relationship you have with your child. There will be other games, and to really put it in perspective, nobody died.

So to dads everywhere this Father’s Day, let your young athletes play — and try to stay out of the way — especially during a game. 

That laid-back approach worked for my father and he passed it on to me. What we both received in return was love, respect and admiration from our sons.


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