Monday, July 08, 2002

Coaching parents don't have it easy

By Steve Eder,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Nearly everyone in the youth baseball world has a tale to tell about the coach's son who received special treatment. While fathers coaching sons is a rarity in the major leagues, it's commonplace in kids' leagues.

        Some Reds fans have heated up sports talk radio airwaves and newspaper columnists' e-mail to argue that third basemen Aaron Boone keeps his starting job only because he's the son of Reds manager Bob Boone. Aaron, 29, has struggled much of this season, especially during the Reds' recent eight-game losing streak.

        Tristate dads coaching their young sons can empathize with the Boones.

        “They are under a microscope,” says Shawn Coleman, 42, of Finneytown, who coaches his 11-year-old son, Shane. “Last season, when Aaron didn't get off to a good start, it was on the radio constantly.”

        But Mr. Coleman says coaches are often more demanding with their own children than they are of other players. And when it comes to treating the players equally, Mr. Coleman says he has never hesitated to bench his son, when appropriate.

        “I have to let him know that I won't let it go with him,” he says. “You can't hold any discipline if you let your own son get away with it.”

        Fred Engh, president and founder of the National Alliance for Youth Sports, estimates there are about 1.5 million parents who coach children's sports, and “only a handful would remain if their kid wasn't involved.”

        Mr. Engh, whose organization consults with youth sports leagues nationwide, says coach-child relationships are one of the largest areas of complaints by parents and participants.

        “It is very difficult, regardless of what anyone says, when you are coaching your own child,” he says. “They know a lot of people are looking over their shoulder, so they are sensitive to that. They really are tougher on their own kid.”

        But at the same time, Mr. Engh says, a coaching parent “doesn't want to see his kid sitting on the bench.”

        Mr. Coleman, who played baseball through college, is especially familiar with father-son pressure. His father, Gordy Coleman, was a first basemen for the Reds from 1960-67. The former major leaguer often served as a bench coach for Shawn's teams.

        “When I was younger, it was tough because the expectations were so much higher,” he says. “If your father is a major leaguer, you have to be a star in your own right. The expectations were a little unrealistic.”

        Shane, who plays catcher, says he wants to be a Major League Baseball player like his grandpa some day. He says he likes having his dad as a coach.

        “I just love sports, and baseball is just one of my favorite sports to play,” says Shane.

        Jeffrey Hain of Mount Carmel, who coaches youth baseball and basketball, says he has put both of his boys on the bench at times. But he says Aaron Boone isn't getting special considerations.

        “He is a proven guy over the past few years, sometimes guys go through (slumps),” Mr. Hain says. If anything, Mr. Hain says Mr. Boone has less room for comfort than other players.

        Newly retired Lebanon High School basketball coach Dave Merchant coached his three sons during his 25-year reign.

        “I really looked to be fair,” Mr. Merchant says. “I didn't want to give anyone anything that they didn't deserve. That is difficult, but you have to put it out of your mind that they are your sons.

        “I suspect (Bob Boone) does the same thing,” he says. “You try to treat it as a team first, and family comes after the game.”

        Of the Boones, who are only the sixth father-son manager-player team in major-league history, Mr. Merchant notes that Aaron Boone earned his way into the lineup four years before his father began managing the team in 2001.

        “If your son works hard, and earns his way before they got to you, it isn't a big deal,” he says. “Coaches' kids understand what it takes to win, maybe more than some other players do.”


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