Most youth baseball teams, minus a few exceptions, are coached by a dad or group of dads who have kids on the team. As a result, Daddy Ball is a real concern among parents.
And it’s understandable. If a coach is going to give preferential treatment to his own kid, that could hurt your own son’s opportunities and development. And if this same treatment also applies to the assistant coaches, you could be in for a long season.
Ideally, the coaches will be neutral. But the truth is that there is another side of the coin to Daddy Ball that is equally as bad for the team.
Coaches are understandably self-conscious about the potential perception of Daddy Ball. They don’t want parents to think that they’re treating their own son favorably or giving them opportunities that weren’t deserved.
The result is often an overreaction. Instead of being neutral, the coaches are hardest on their own kids.
This is just as common as — if not more common than — Daddy Ball. And coaches will openly admit that they do it. The thought is that being tougher on their own kids is preferred by parents over Daddy Ball.
But the reality is that this is just as bad. It may even be worse.
I have a goal as a coach that if you show up to one of our games, you will not be able to spot my own kid. If he’s playing shortstop, pitching in the big game, or getting the juicy hitting opportunities, it’s because he’s earned it. He doesn’t get away with having a bad attitude. I don’t treat him differently — including treating him more harshly than others.
Granted, it’s always easier said than done. It’s not easy to separate fatherhood from coaching. We have high expectations for our own kids. But when we’re on the field, my son calls me “Coach,” not “Dad.”
If you’re tougher on your own kid, think about the message that it sends…
It’s Confusing to Other Players
When a typical kid makes an error or strikes out, the coach remains positive. He tries to keep the player’s spirits up. Doesn’t want to hurt his confidence.
When his own son has those same negative results, the coach — now “Dad” — freaks out. He yells. He makes personal attacks. He punishes the player. He makes him run. He pulls him from the game. He embarrasses him.
He treats him in ways he would never treat another player.
These may sound like extreme scenarios, but they all happen. Every day.
We’ll get to how this impacts the coach’s kid in a minute. But think about how it impacts the other players.
They’re suddenly petrified. If they strike out next time, is this how Coach is going to act? Might the coach embarrass him in front of his teammates, too? He sees the tears in the eyes of the coach’s kid. Is he next?
It also creates confusion regarding rules and expectations. What is allowed? What is not okay? What actions will be punished?
By not treating all players equally — even if it means being harder on the coach’s son — it sends confusing messages about what is allowed, what isn’t, and what the punishment will be.
It Sets Expectations for Behavior
The coach who treats his own son more harshly is almost always driven by emotion. Yelling, throwing things, hurling personal insults at his own son that he wouldn’t use with other kids.
The coach doesn’t realize it, but he’s modeling proper behavior. While fear is one potential reaction, these kids may also start reacting emotionally to their own failures.
Even worse, they may start reacting emotionally and selfishly when their teammates fail. These reactions are often the foundation of a toxic environment.
Your Kid is Going to Burn Out
Think about it. What if another coach treated your own son this way. Would you stand for it?
Some coaches may say “yes.” But since these coaches are treating other players differently, I’d have to think they aren’t being honest with themselves. They’d pull their kid out of the dugout in a heartbeat.
Why? Because emotional and verbal abuse often leads to burnout. In an attempt to show that you’re not giving your son preferential treatment, you’re burning him out and making him hate baseball.
He’s going to quit. And if he doesn’t quit, he’s going to check out mentally.
It’s Not What Parents Want
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve brought up the topic of Daddy Ball around other coaches or spouses of the coaches and immediately hear back that they’re tougher on their own kid. That’s no defense. That’s nothing to be proud of.
And the truth is that parents of other kids on your team don’t want that either. You may think that they appreciate it, but they don’t.
Parents want consistency. They want fairness. They want clear rules and expectations that apply to everyone.
Most parents are understanding that the dad/coach dynamic is a difficult one. They know that you will slip up. You’re human.
But they want to see an attempt to treat everyone on the team fairly, including your own son.
How Do You Do It?
Even if you’re a coach who looks in the mirror and realizes that you may be treating your own son unfairly, the question ultimately becomes how you fix it. It’s not easy.
The main thing is to simply have the goal. “If someone shows up to watch our game today, they will not know which player is my son. I won’t give my son preferential treatment. I won’t treat him more harshly.” My wife is sick of hearing me make that type of statement, but it’s good to constantly remind yourself.
Something that truly does help is to make sure that you and your son are on the same page. When you step into the dugout, you are “Coach” and not “Dad.” You will need to work just as hard as everyone else. You have to earn your opportunities. You won’t be given anything.
Take it a step further. I also help my son understand how difficult my job as the coach is. I let him know how he can help me. Set a good example. Have the best attitude. Work harder than everyone else. Make it so no one can ever doubt why you get the opportunities that you have.
Something to try: Consider your baseball cap your “Coach Cap.” When you step into the dugout, put on the cap. When you step out of the dugout after the game, take it off. You’re now Dad again.
I’m not perfect. You may have been able to accuse me of treating my son differently at one time or another. But I do try hard to be consistent. It is a priority of mine to treat everyone fairly and separate my job as a coach from my job as a parent.
What examples have you seen of coaches treating their own son more harshly? Or what do you try to do as a coach whose son is on your team?
Let me know in the comments below!