Having had some good coaches in my life, and having experimented with coaching my kids' teams as they grew up, I learned something about what it takes to coach winners. And while none of my children grew up to be professional athletes, all of them have learned about what it takes to be successful in life.
As I have watched great coaches over the years, I have seen some common threads that I think dads can identify with and which, when applied in their parenting, can help their children develop the skills and abilities they need to succeed in life, not just in athletics.
Great coaches know their players strengths and weaknesses. Coaches that build great teams and great traditions learn to carefully assess their players and create plans to help them achieve greatness based on where their skills are and on the weaknesses they need to overcome. Dads need to do the same things with their children. Great dads invest time into each of their children individually and get to know their interests, their talents, their personalities and how they interact with others. Then they help their children set goals and work on the things that they need the most, capitalizing on their strengths. They keep their expectations challenging but realistic.
For example, one of our children was a social animal, totally focused on friends and activities. But she needed some physical activity as well and didn't seem to have an interest in sports. We helped her connect with the cross-country team in high school that gave her the physical activity while still maintaining lots of social interaction with team members. To this day, some of her best friends were the ones she ran with in high school. And she is now sponsoring 5K races in her community that benefit those in need.
Great coaches teach players the rules of the game and expect obedience. I had a recreation basketball coach to whom I know I was a major frustration. In this rec league, after a team scored a basket, the other team was not to actively defend against the other team until they reached half-court. My great basketball love was playing defense and trying to steal the ball, and I was always pushing the half court line and often forgot that rule during the heat of a game. He spent lots of practice time with me helping me remember to get back and wait at the mid-court line.
Great dads help their children learn the rules of the game of life and teach them the need for personal discipline in life. They teach by telling them the rules and showing them how to live them by their example. So, if dads want to teach their children to respect others, they model that behavior in their own interactions with others.
Great coaches allow players to experience the consequences of their choices. One football coach that I admire greatly preaches safety always and really gets frustrated when a player loses his helmet during a game. But when a player in the secondary is not in good enough condition to stay with the other team's wide receiver, he replaces him with someone in better condition and gets him started with better conditioning the day after the game. He is concerned with a player's self-esteem, but knows that helping the player discipline himself through better conditioning is the best way to help the player succeed as a member of the team.
Likewise, great dads protect their children from harm from others but let them experience the consequences of their choices. One young man I know did not perform up to his potential in his senior year in high school and missed a promised scholarship by having a GPA of 3.494 instead of 3.5. His plans to attend college away from home were dashed and he spent his first college year living at home and attending the local university. His dad could have "bailed him out" of his dilemma by giving him the money his scholarship would have given him, but instead took the higher road and let him learn from his mistake. My guess is that this young man will be a dedicated student through his college years because he suffered a consequence.
We can certainly learn a great deal about being a dad by watching how great coaches develop their players. By knowing well and staying close to our children, helping them learn and follow the rules of life and by letting them experience consequences of their actions and then helping them recover and reorient, powerful dads can make a big difference in the lives of their children.