Tuesday, November 25, 2008

How playing (and coaching) football prepared me for fatherhood

It struck me the other day that many of skills I learned playing football - and those I used as a football coach - have served me well as a father. I've already mentioned the stiff arm I use on strangers who try to kiss my baby, but the majority of useful skills came from linebacker drills. With three girls under five years old, it's amazing how necessary these are.

Skills I learned as a player:

Pre-Snap Read: anticipating what is going to happen next. When we enter a new environment, I have to scan for potential hazards, breakable pieces of priceless art, and chocolate. Remember Murphy's Law for Children: When it comes to chocolate, if it can be reached, unwrapped (optional,) and eaten, then clothing, furniture, and carpet will soon have chocolate stains.

Quick Feet: always be on the ready to move. When one girl dumps over the flower vase full of water, the baby is crying for her pacifier, and the third is unknowingly backing towards the down stairway, a quick dad has to throw a towel down, pop the pacifier in the baby's mouth, and kick a ball down the hall for the third girl to fetch, getting her away from the stairway.

Head on a Swivel: being able to see the whole field. When in public places, one girl will inevitably go one way while the other goes the opposite. We have a playground here that's outstanding but much too big. I have to keep turning my head to keep track of them. Where's Clara? There she is. Where's Kate? There she is. Where's Clara? There she is. You get the picture.

Never Take a Play Off:
the one play you decide to relax on the other team will score. Or your child will get hurt.

Skills I learned as a coach:

Do Your Research: understand your opponent, er, child. If one kid likes only purple lollipops and another will only use princess band-aids, you better make sure you have those in stock.

Game Plan: Joe Vollert gave me my first copy of Sun Tzu's The Art of War, where one of the kernels of wisdom is "win the war, then fight the war." Some may find it strange to liken war to football, much less child raising, but the parenting lessons learned in that book are amazingly appropriate, like "People are irritable when they are fatigued," and "Human Psychology is to go for perceived benefits and try to avoid prospective harm." The point is to prepare for what comes next so you are not caught by surprise.

Half Time Adjustments: No matter your preparations, things never go as planned. A good parent is flexible. Being too rigid in your expectations will just result in frustration and a child, who can sense that frustration, who grows up frustrated when they themselves are not able to adjust and adapt.

All those people who thought it was a shame that this football guy didn't have sons shouldn't worry - I seem to be doing just fine with my football training.


Joeprah said...

I compare much of what being a parent is to being coach; teach, encourage, lead by example. From the psychology to the actions involved their are so many good correlations that translate well into parenting. Good call coach.

Farrell said...


old man neill said...

Understand your opponent. :)