Being the coach’s son can be difficult.
It’s something I’m sure is fairly common in the still-rural areas in Tooele County, but I’m not sure that makes it any easier.
When I interviewed the Flints for the feature appearing in this edition, everyone talked about the struggles of having a parent or child on the same team. A lot of what they said brought back memories of my own athletic career.
My dad was my basketball coach in middle school. Before tryouts, he told me I’d be cut unless I was obviously better than the other kids on the bubble. I felt like I had an advantage, since I was familiar with all his plays from being conscripted to come to his games as the water boy during several previous seasons, but my offensive skills were too limited and I wasn’t selected for the roster. I was again conscripted as the water boy who was only allowed to practice with the team when another body was needed for the scout team.
I worked hard on my game that year. I came to know the playbook like the back of my Spalding TF-1000 basketball. When the team ran, I made sure to run with them and told myself to always finish with the leaders. I stayed after practice — usually without much of a choice, since Coach was my ride home — to shoot extra baskets. My dad later told me he wished he would have put me on the team anyway, since the kid he took instead turned out to be a bust.
The next year I was selected and led the team in scoring early in the season. The season after, I was team captain and my dad said I was the glue that kept our 1-3-1 defense together. In one game, he subbed me out for a quick breather and to give some obvious instructions in the fourth quarter of a close game that would give us a playoff berth. After about three or four times of me saying “I know, I’ll do it,” I sprayed a mist at him from my water bottle to get his attention. He immediately — and rightly — benched me for the rest of the game, and I blame myself for the loss.
Later when it was apparent I would make a better track star than basketball player, my dad followed me and became the coach of the track and cross-country teams — though he wasn’t named head coach of either sport until much later.
Like basketball, he was always harder on me than any of my teammates. He knew as I did, and as Melissa Flint does: any child of a coach is assumed to be hugely favored by the coach. Again, he countered those naysayers by holding me out of relays unless I was clearly the faster runner. He wouldn’t let me skip out on a weaker event to do better in the pole vault. He always made be run the 3200 meter, which I hated. When I threw the baton at the end of my anchor leg in the medley, he was sure to make me an example and shared the story as a warning to anyone who didn’t already know that doing so was an automatic disqualification.
My senior season, I wanted to quit the cross-country team. My dad in his wisdom named me captain so I would feel an extra weight of responsibility toward the team.
As I heard the Flints’ stories of running extra ladders for a Flint player’s insubordination, I wondered how much of my own teams’ extra conditioning was at my expense. It made me wonder how much better of an athlete I was because of the added pressure to perform because my dad was watching, or because I needed to prove myself to everyone who thought I was just getting the playing time because he was the coach.
It made me wonder if I’d be emotionally able to coach my own kids, if I’m ever lucky enough to have some in the future. If I do, I’m sure it will be hard on all of us.
Tavin Stucki is a sports writer from Midvale, Utah, who hasn’t found a sport he doesn’t like. To share stories of your own family sports teams, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.