When Their Kids Play, Star Coaches Have a Seat
Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy reacts to a call during the first half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Milwaukee — Jim Boylan cut out of his own basketball practice one afternoon to check in on his daughter’s practice. She was new to her club team, but it had won a championship the year before, so he figured it would be good.
Boylan, a Milwaukee Bucks assistant, has spent a lifetime around the game, winning the national championship as a point guard for Marquette and then coaching for years in the NBA.
But that afternoon he saw something on the court he had never seen before. His daughter’s coach instructed the girls to hold the ball over their heads. Pass. Up. Dribble. Up. Boylan studied the peculiar punctuation of a game that should have flow.
Jessie Boylan was as confused as her father.
“Dad! He didn’t say anything about the triple threat position or anything.”
“You know you shouldn’t do that,” replied Boylan.
“I know that! But all the other girls are doing it.”
Boylan respected the coach for his devotion to the girls. But what in the name of Jim Naismith was he thinking?
We sign our kids up for sports about as soon as they can toddle over a soccer ball. Every day, our children tumble out of minivans to skip off to baseball diamonds and basketball courts where they are met by their coaches — brave souls who teach kindergartners how to dribble a basketball when they can’t yet tie their shoes.
Mostly, these coaches are reassuring, encouraging and supportive. Usually, they’re parents. Always, they’re volunteers. Some may be former athletes themselves, but most of them saw their sports careers end with the varsity letter jacket in high school. They’re now bankers, plumbers, chefs and salesmen, teaching the kids corner kicks, batting stances and backhand swings.
But have you ever wondered what runs through the minds of the real coaches who have kids in these programs? How men with Super Bowl titles, Big Ten championships and their own sports instructional videos turn over their namesakes to computer software programmers for Thursday night practice?
Well, it can be strange and awkward. It can be pretty comical. And it turns the tables and makes the coach a fan.
A helpless, second-guessing, always-questioning ... fan .
“I didn’t yell at them to shoot the ball more or play better defense. I sat away from the other parents and just observed,” said Bo Ryan, Wisconsin’s basketball coach.
He wanted to get away from the venting guy in the bleachers, the guy yelling: Terrible call, ref! What is that substitution for? Shoot it — you’re open! You know that guy. We all know that guy.
“I mean, everybody thinks they know basketball because it’s a T-shirt and shorts game and everybody has played it a little bit. And that’s OK,” said Ryan. “I think that’s a great part of the game, that so many people can relate to it. But when it comes to being around parents during a game, I thought it was best to stay to myself.”
Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy can understand that, but he just couldn’t stay away from one of his friends, a fanatic parent, because he found him so amusing during his daughter, Alex’s, soccer games.
“He was outrageous,” said McCarthy. “He was unbelievable. No one else would stand by him. He’s yelling at his daughter, mainly, but he’ll yell at your daughter and anyone else’s daughter. He offended the other parents. He played international soccer, so he really knew what he was talking about. He had a real strong accent. Real competitive. God forbid if anybody from another team messed with his kid. Meant well, he just had that booming voice (in mock accent): ‘Oh no. ... vvwhat arrrre you doinggggg?’ I spent half the time watching him or standing next to him just laughing my butt off. He made soccer entertaining.”
But it wasn’t always easy to be detached. When McCarthy visited Alex a few years ago at her school in Texas, he didn’t realize the parents were supposed to line up on the field on the opposite side of the coaches. McCarthy gravitated to the coach’s side and, from there, observed rudeness directed to his kid’s team from the opposing coach. And he got involved.
And he said something.
McCarthy said he objected to the way the opposing coaches were talking about his daughter’s team to the referee.
“And I wasn’t ... where I was supposed to be.”
“And so I was watching the first half and the back and forth between the referee and the coach. And I said ... something. ... That’s about it. I got into an incident with the other soccer coach.”
McCarthy’s home is spilling over with baseballs, basketballs, footballs, all manner of sports equipment. Though they’re not even in high school yet, McCarthy’s young sons, Jack and George, have in their dad the very same coach who worked with Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, who took the limping Packers onto the road in the playoffs as the sixth seed and didn’t come home until he had the Lombardi Trophy.
“I’ll take them out in the backyard and do the warm-up drills that our quarterbacks do. And they listen ... for about five minutes,” said McCarthy. “They want to go play. It’s, ‘OK, are we done with this yet?’ ”
It makes McCarthy laugh. But he will take them to the Hutson Center in the winter offseason to throw the ball around. He just doesn’t force it.
“I saw some of the bad ones who were just so overbearing. And they put so much pressure on their kids,” said Ryan.
“It was embarrassing. I felt sorry for the kid. You know, sometimes people live through their kids because of maybe something they didn’t have. The best thing to do is give them opportunities.”
Boylan, Ryan and McCarthy agree that encouragement and support are not the same as forcing a child to play.
“I don’t find an issue with a parent trying to light the fuse. But if it burns out, don’t continue,” McCarthy said. “If you light the fuse and the kid wants it, then I don’t think there’s anything greater that you can give your child, whether its sports or to be an astronaut or whatever it is. If they catch that passion at a young age, take it.”
Sometimes, the best way for these kids to be around their coaching fathers is to go to work with them, and that develops a shared love for the game. It is important to keep that love fun when they’re young.
When Ryan was at University of Wisconsin-Platteville, his kids would come along to the field house Saturday and Sunday mornings. Ryan kept it fun, but always competitive.
“I didn’t say, ‘OK we’re going to do these drills before we go home,’ “ Ryan said. “I kind of pointed out some weaknesses and then we would have some fun. You make a kid go to his weakest hand - and then they realized they needed to work on that.”
Ryan’s sons went on to play for him: Will for Platteville’s national championship teams, while Matt followed Ryan over to UW-Milwaukee.
Boylan, now an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks, had two completely different experiences with his athletic daughters. His oldest daughter, Jessie, really embraced basketball and went on to play Division I basketball for Stony Brook on Long Island; Shaina took to dance and then played Division I volleyball for Eastern Illinois.
He viewed their sports completely differently.
“It was interesting to me to be a basketball coach with a daughter who played basketball,” said Boylan. “I would give my opinion to her on just about everything in basketball. My other daughter — volleyball — I don’t know anything about the game, where they were supposed to be and the technique. . . . I was just blind like anyone else sitting in the stands.
“It was liberating. The volleyball freed me up to just kind of be a fan. With the basketball, I was always the critic: ‘You could do this better, the team could do this, why didn’t they do that?’ I always had too many suggestions and ideas.
“In volleyball, I was: ‘Hey ... uh, you guys played hard.’ And, ‘Um, sorry you lost’ I don’t know, volleyball? A bunch of serves, I don’t really know what’s going on.”
Either way, the competitive nature can take over. Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum found it hard to dial it back — even in another sport.
“I helped coached my daughter’s softball team in Texas,” said Slocum. “I’m out there on first base shouting, ‘Go go go!’ And I had one of those mothers from the other team (he mimics a Southern accent): ‘Don’t you think you’re beating us bad enough!’ ”
Of course, there’s no telling if the kids will follow their parents into the sports world.
Slocum obviously followed in his father’s footsteps, R.C. Slocum, the winningest coach in Texas A&M history. Slocum’s grade school son, Jaxon, now plays football in Texas “and if he likes it, I imagine he will keep playing. He’s got a little bit of a legacy with his grandfather and now myself.”
Boylan’s daughters were around the NBA “by the time they were out of the womb,” said Boylan. He couldn’t help but pass on his knowledge, and it sticks to this day. “I was always trying to get her to bend her knees, making herself a little quicker laterally, getting better movement, quicker anticipating defensively,” Boylan said. “To this day, it’s there. She said, ‘Dad, I am going out to play coed softball league. ‘I know, bend my knees.’ “
Ryan’s two youngest daughters are such Badgers fans they really don’t want to miss games to play their own sports.
“I was looking for doctors and lawyers and those kinds of professions, and I have a daughter Megan who got a master’s in fine arts in theater and drama,” said Ryan. “She got her undergrad at Wisconsin, and then I made sure Purdue paid for her to get her master’s, because I told her I was not paying for her to go to Purdue. Megan now owns and operates Dragon Fly Hot Yoga.
“You noticed I haven’t mentioned a doctor or a lawyer yet. My two sons are coaches. Will is at North Dakota State.” Matt was Ryan’s video coordinator until he branched out to coach independently in California.
To McCarthy, sports have just become a greater teaching tool.
“I don’t just want them to be competitive in sports - I want them to be competitive in life,” McCarthy said. “Developing socially, communication skills, what’s the focus going to be now. Jessica (McCarthy’s wife) and I focus on the basics, you know: no disrespect, work ethic, we’re very consistent with our messaging with our kids. And we expect it whether we’re in our home or out there competing in sports.”