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Their Biggest Fan
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Their Biggest Fan

With three kids and the coaching I do for each there isn’t much free time to sit and watch a ballgame. Recently, however, I had a few minutes and picked up the remote. The first thing that most men do with the remote, after turning on the TV, is change the channel. I started surfing and found the regular weekend sports. Not satisfied, I kept clicking and happened upon the Visa National Gymnastics Championship. I’m not much of a gymnastics guy, especially when it’s not the Olympics, so I only stayed on the channel for a couple of minutes, but what I saw changed my approach to coaching.

NBC happened to be showing the men’s vault competition when I flipped to the gymnastics. A 15-year old member of the Junior National team, Danell Leyva, was competing to make it with the big boys, the Senior National Championship, and to eventually work toward a trip to Beijing China on the Olympic team.

This kid is no slouch; he is the American Junior National champion. In the recent Tanaka Take Junior International tournament, held in late September, 2007, Leyva earned bronze medals for the all-around championship and the parallel bars, as well as silver medals on the floor exercise and high bar. He’s very, very good.

So, there is Danell standing at the end of the runway ready for the couple of seconds that would help to earn him a spot on the Olympic team or not. Although he was stepping up his competitive level to the seniors, he looked confident, prepared and ready. He had practiced this vault thousands of times for countless hours and had completely mastered the intricate acrobatics that would be required for the perfect score he sought.

After acknowledging the judges, he started his sprint down the runway, hit the vault, did a tremendous double twisting flip and finally came back to the ground. Then, he totally blew the landing, taking a huge step back to help him maintain his balance and not fall over. Now, as I mentioned, I’m not much of a gymnastics guy, but I know enough to realize that that single large step was going to ruin any dream Danell had of winning the event. He was finished, caput, done, out! It was then that the most amazing thing happened.

Immediately running onto the screen is Danell’s coach jumping up and down with excitement. He pumps his fist over and over, not in anger over the mistake, but triumphantly and jubilantly in enthusiastic celebration of Danell’s tremendous achievement! After an elaborate dance that would exceed any TD celebration Chad Johnson has ever done, he raced over to Danell and wrapped up the 15-year old boy into a great big bear hug. As the announcer saw what was happening he began to talk about the passion and antics of the coach and he let out the secret: Danell’s coach is also his father.

All of us that coach our own kids can learn a lesson from Yin Alvarez: be your kids’ biggest fan. Yin was a competitive gymnast as well so he certainly knew the impact of Danell’s miscue. However, during the event, he wasn’t a coach, but a father and his son’s biggest fan.

We all know what mistakes our kids make when they play and we can see errors that nobody else can see. How many times have we told them to do it this way and they still can’t get it?

How many times have we seen them do it perfect and then they blow it when it counts?How often are we harder on our own children because we know that they can be better and we have higher expectations for them? How many of us may be negatively impacting that precious relationship we have with our kids when we think we’re helping?

What it comes down to is the understanding of when to be a coach and when to be a father: the coach hat vs. the dad hat. Nobody will ever care about our kids the way that we do or want them to succeed as much as we do. Yet, the time to help them learn fundamentals and build solid habits to play their sport is during practice – not during the game. When they’re playing we need to just allow them to play. When it’s all over, in a couple of hours or days (depending on the kid), we can go back through the performance and evaluate how they can improve for the next game. During the game though, as a parent, we need to step back and watch all the kids, especially our own kid, simply play the game.

The years when we get to be with our kids as they grow aren’t many and they go by quickly. We get to coach and have those special moments with them for an even shorter time. As we help them grow as people and as athletes we need to focus on solidifying the lifelong relationship we’ll have together. As the kids grow up and move onto lives of their own they probably won’t remember the advice we gave them on how to properly catch a football or throw a baseball, but they will always cherish the time that they got to play organized sports and share their experiences with their biggest fan – their dad.

By Ken Kaiserman

Editor In-Chief


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