Coaching Your Kids

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Commentator Joseph C. Phillips talks of his frustration with coaching his sons' peewee football team. He says it's brutal watching them tear apart a sport he loves. Phillips is an actor and columnist living in Los Angeles.

TONY COX, host:

Commentator Joseph C. Phillips is worried he's mixed up the pleasure of football with the business of raising his three sons.

JOSEPH C. PHILLIPS: I love football. Football is one of God's greatest creations, right up there with pepperoni pizza and my wife's freckles. As a boy, I played football every waking moment. I played football with anyone willing to play. And when I couldn't find a friend to play with me, I played by myself. I fell asleep nights dreaming of running touchdowns for the Dallas Cowboys. Years later, backstage at the Regis And Kathy Lee Show, I fawned over Tom Landry like a schoolboy. His autographed autobiography has a prominent place in my library.

Still, I am not certain what possessed me to coach my son's flag football team this year - insanity, perhaps? As much as I love my sons, I felt coaching them would certainly be a mistake. I'm not the most patient father in the world, and trying to teach a group of silly 7 and 8 year olds how to play football will sure to test my limits. And my sons are especially silly. I was terrified my frustration would cause me to be especially hard on my boys.

I've seen other father-coaches ride their sons hard, much harder than they do the other children. Perhaps it's because they know while they whack their sons across the back of the head if they get annoyed, the same discipline applied to someone else's child would result in a lawsuit or a punch in the mouth - or both. It may also be that all fathers want their sons to show some athletic prowess. Unfortunately, 7 and 8-year-old boys are just developing much of the coordination necessary for sports, and many of them are often, well, spastic.

It's tough for a football-loving father to wait patiently in hopes that their son will develop the necessary skills, and in fear that he'll fall in love with another sport - say synchronized swimming or figure skating. As I consider all of these, I began to have visions of tears, yelling and crying on my wife's shoulder. And that would just be my reaction. I ignored my fears, however, and chose to coach because football was something special that I shared with my father. We bonded through football.

As a pediatrician, my father covered the city high school games on the weekends. When my parents separated and eventually divorced, those Saturday football games were golden times with my father. I also remember how important it was to me when my father came to see me play organized ball. He stood over 6 feet 4 inches tall, so he was easy to pick out on the sideline. And I could always hear his voice cheer me on.

I'd loved the way he smiled at me after a game, and the way his chest poked out when other adults patted me on the shoulder and compared me to Mean Joe Green. I wanted to see that smile, so I played hard. Sure, I played hard for the love of the game, but I also played my heart out so that I could see the gleam in my father's eye.

Well, so far, coaching has been rather uneventful. No meltdowns yet. I suspect that it's because I now know something of what my father must have felt. I love watching my sons play ball. They play with abandon and joy. They laugh and giggle like all 7 and 8-year-old boys, but they're also eager to learn and can practice and play with intensity. And like I did as a boy, they looked to see if I'm smiling. And I am.

Time will tell if my sons love the game as much as their old man. It may be that they decide to take up figure skating, but they'll never forget these years. The game will always be a bridge across the years, and I wouldn't want to miss that for the world.

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COX: Joseph C. Phillips is an actor and columnist living in Los Angeles.

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