JUDGING from recent studies of the college recruiting process, there are more than a few sports stage parents out there. I should know. I was one of them. Yet beyond being constantly told to back off by friends who were frenetically pushing their kids in school, I found scant little coaching for parent coaches.
Some good things came of my fanaticism. The boys and I spent an enormous amount of time together, and in the end this helped nurture a level of intimacy and comfort with one another that I am not sure we would have had if I had spent those hours at my computer.
But there were psychological cuts and bruises as well. When my youngest son, Philip, was a freshman in high school, he was lighting it up as quarterback. After talking it over, we decided he would transfer to a school that was nationally famous for developing great passers. Although we had to travel 90 miles round trip a day, we figured it would all be worth it when the time for college came.
Though only 5 foot 10, Phil had a bazooka arm. And in his first scrimmage at his new school that more or less determined whether he would play or sit the bench, he tossed six touchdowns. When he came off the field and yanked off his helmet, he could see tears rolling down my cheeks. Sick to say it, but it was one of the happiest moments in my life.
Still, you have to wonder what a 14-year-old thinks and feels when he sees his dad get so jacked up from a few touchdown passes in a scrimmage.
That is a lot of power to give a child. Worse yet, that kind of elation could easily stoke the fear: I see how happy Dad is when I succeed; what happens if my talents go cold?
Phil made it into a top-notch program at the Air Force Academy but then transferred to a small Division III school. When he was playing in college, he once got so tensed up that he threw two interceptions in a row.
After the game, which hardly felt like a game to him anymore, I put my arm around him and tried to support him, but he knew very well that I was catatonic with disappointment. I can only imagine the disappointment he felt in himself as he listened to my trying to stutter some words of consolation.
He knew I loved him, but that’s not all we want from our fathers -- we want their respect and admiration. And with father coaches, that nod or embrace of approval can be so visceral and so powerful that the need for that wink or that smile can easily become a strange and heavy burden.
Gordon Marino, a former assistant football coach at Yale University, is professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.