A father is a provider, a protector, a rule-setter, a friend. They are an educator and exemplar. They are also—whether their kids play sports or not—a coach. Because we have to coach our kids through so much in life. We coach them through new experiences, through the games of school and work and relationships, through life’s challenges and troubles.
This role of coach, as essential as it is, is difficult because of all the stereotypes we have of coaches. There’s Mike Dikta, there’s Phil Jackson. There’s Lombardi…and there’s Tom Izzo screaming in a kid’s face on the way to victory. Which is best? What kind of coach should we be?
We asked David Epstein—who we’ve raved about here before—and, as expected, he gave us an interesting answer:
Both through my own personal experiences, and through reporting books and articles, I think I’ve done a 180 on what I think is the central role of a coach. When I was young, I was into the in-your-face rah rah kind of weed out coach. I thought that was pretty cool. I couldn’t be farther from that now. I notice even with editors, I want someone honest and calm, since I don’t need to be fired up, and if anything more often want to be calmed down. But overall, I think the role of a coach is someone who can’t really tell you what to do, but more walks hand in hand as you figure out what works for you. And I think that includes finding your appropriate level of arousal for whatever you have to do. Some people have to be jacked up and others calmed down for the same kind of performance. It has struck me how much of my time with my son is spent trying to titrate to the right level of arousal.
Too many coaches—and dads—have just one note. They’re the screaming coach. Or they’re the-preoccupied-with-important-things coach. Or they’re the disciplinarian coach. Or they’re the endlessly encouraging coach.Or they’re the overly permissive players’ coach. Life is way too complicated for this approach to be sufficient. Different scenarios require different energy; different teams require different coaches. Hell, sometimes different players on the same team require different coaches.
As James Frey told us, you have to figure out how to be flexible. How to adjust. How to be what the scenario, what your kid on that day, in that moment, requires.
That’s what a great coach does. That’s what being a dad is.