Daddy Ball – The Painful Reality of Youth Sports

What do I mean by “daddy ball”? I refer to a situation in a youth sports such as baseball, football, soccer, hockey, basketball or any other competitive youth sport where a parent coaches the team and plays his son above where he falls athletically. In short, daddy ball refers to the coach’s child playing either preferred positions or increased playing time, in exclusion to other more athletically gifted competitors.

Having raised two sons I can say that there is not much as painful as watching a coach play the game to advance the talents of his own child. When a game is played and it clearly revolves around the coach’s son, unless he’s the best athlete on the team, it’s daddy ball.

In baseball, you may see the daddy ball coach’s son batting ahead of players with higher batting averages, playing shortstop or pitching frequently and not getting the job done. In football, it usually involves increased playtime and the position of quarterback or running back or you may see in most short and goal situations mainly one boy getting the chances to be the hero and score the touchdown — of course, the coach’s son.

Regardless of the sport, the concept is the same – when a child gets playtime or position that he does not earn through his own hard work and athletic ability or if others who can get the job done are not given the opportunity-so the coaches son can play more- it is daddy ball.

I regard coaches who play their son above where he falls athletically as cheating his son, the other boys, the team and himself. What do I mean by that bold statement?

A coach who does not make his son earn his position has in effect trained the boy to expect something for nothing. Continued over time the boy expects things to be handed to him and has little incentive to put in the hard work necessary to beat out other young athletes and truly earn what he gets.

Would that be the type of employee you would like to hire out of college? So I say, the coach who did not make his son truly earn his position on the team has cheated his own boy.

It is easy to say that the other teammates who may have higher batting averages, or otherwise were better able to play a spot were cheated because the coach’s son got to play it.

Young boys hold few; in as high regard as their coach, if they put in the work, have a good attitude and can beat out another kid- they deserve to play the spot.

A coach, who will not play the best boy for the job to work another agenda, improving his own child’s ability, should not be coaching the team.

Daddy ball also serves to cheat the team, as a team, because when boys are not played where the fall athletically, the team will be less competitive and the boys will be less motivated. Resulting in a team that is not all it could have been.

Well how does the coach who plays daddy ball cheat himself?

A coach who plays his son above his athletic ability to the detriment of more qualified boys has failed in its primary mission as a father, that is to adequately prepare his son to leave the nest and stand on his own 2 feet. When children do not experience earning by their own efforts and truly competing, they suffer.

How do you avoid daddy ball?

The main way to avoid daddy ball is to coach the team your self. But if you do, take careful objective measure of each child’s athletic ability and play it accordingly, lest you fall into the daddy ball role as a coach.

A way to lessen the impact of daddy ball is to get your son on a team coached by a father whose son clearly is the best athlete on the team. In that situation, it will be hard for the coach to play the son over more athletically inclined children.

Or if you can afford it, the best way to avoid daddy ball is to play your children with a coach who does not have children on the team. This will either be a paid professional coach or someone who truly loves the game. If you choose the paid coach route, ask hard questions of the paid coach before joining the team as some paid coaches seem to feel obligated to the dad who helps coach or put the team together and you may well find your son back in the same situation you were trying so hard to avoid.

It has been my observation that coaches that play daddy ball are usually in denial about the situation. Typically, they have eyes for one boy on the team, their own.

Some coaches feel that by coaching the team they have earned the right to play their son where ever and however they want and for the reasons set forth above, I say, find another team.

Speaking with the daddy ball coach has little chance of success because it involves his own son. If you do speak to the coach, be very careful to keep the conversation about facts and not opinions.

In baseball, that may mean keeping batting statistics your self or other objective measure depending on the sport and situation. You can hand the coach the batting averages for all players on the team and he will get the message with out a word spoken.

With the daddy ball coach, the best option for your child may be to finish out the season and more carefully select another team next year.