Daddy Ball is the common phenomenon of when the coach — or the perception of when the coach — favors his kid over others at the detriment of the team. His kid always needs to be the star. His kid pitches the big game when there are better options. His kid plays when other better players sit.
The emphasis here is on “detriment to the team.” If the coach’s kid is simply the team’s best player, then so be it.
Also note that perception is also reality here. Daddy Ball exists if parents think it does — it’s that simple. It’s not always fair, but it’s something a coach needs to address.
Daddy Ball — the way it’s perceived and defined — also extends to the assistant coaches. Parents can perceive that not only is the coach giving preferential treatment to his kid but to the other assistants’ kids. Again, this is based on the premise that these coaches’ kids are inferior players to other options.
The Source of Daddy Ball
Parents hate and try to avoid Daddy Ball, and I completely understand. Particularly if it’s a blatant case where the coach’s kid is clearly inferior to other options. But let me tell you — as a coach — how this can easily happen.
The coach knows his kid. He knows his kid better than any other kid. As a result, he knows — or thinks he knows — how well his kid can handle a situation better than he knows how another kid will handle it.
Of course there is also potential for bias here. It’s not necessarily wrong, but a coach trusts his own kid. He is less likely to trust another kid. So if the two are close in talent, it’s plausible why a coach would choose his own kid.
Daddy Ball, as defined, can extend to the assistant coaches. Again, there are blatant and more subtle examples of Daddy Ball in this case. But an assistant is the person who the head coach leans on for advice and strategy discussion. Like the head coach, an assistant will be biased to his own kid. That can naturally lead to more playing time for that assistant’s kid.
This all comes down to control. The coach is in a position of control and therefore determines the fate of all of the players on the team. The parents have no control, and this is an uncomfortable and potentially explosive situation when the lack of control results in unfair treatment — real or perceived.
A Coach’s Perspective: The Pitfalls of Daddy Ball
As a dad and a coach of my son, I’m sensitive to all of this. I’m conscious of the potential for Daddy Ball, and I actively make sure that this is not an issue. It’s important that the coach is aware of this and makes every attempt to make decisions as the coach and not the dad.
I can tell you first hand that it can go both ways. As a coach who is consciously aware of the potential for Daddy Ball, I may have limited my son’s opportunities in the past to prove a point. A coach can overreact to Daddy Ball, thereby harming the development of their own child.
I’m also my son’s biggest critic. I see flaws in his game that others may not see. I see him every day, in and out of practice and game situations. And on the flip side, the flaws of other players may not be as noticeable to me.
As a coach, there are a couple of ways to avoid this…
First, make sure that your child is not one of the weaker players on the team. I actually prefer that my son is neither the best nor the worst, but for the purpose of the Daddy Ball discussion it’s certainly bad if he falls on the weaker side.
This is a big issue, not only for playing time but assembling the team in the first place. If the coach’s kid is one of the weaker players, what happens when players with superior ability try out? The coach will obviously not cut his own kid.
Second, have an open dialog with assistant coaches and parents about the performance of the individual players. Have stats publicly available. Be clear about how you determine playing time (hopefully it’s mostly stats based). While not everyone will agree about which players are best — EVERY parent has a bias — this can help limit issues.
As a coach, I am very stats focused. I design lineups to favor the kids who get on base and hit the most. I pitch the kids who throw strikes and limit runs. I place kids in the field based on the ability to make plays and limit errors.
If a coach uses stats as the guide, the potential for blatant favoritism — actual or perceived — is limited.
While stats can be misleading — particularly in small sample sizes — it helps to have them as a defense. Because if there’s a perception that your child is unfairly getting additional time and you don’t have the stats to back it up, you’re in trouble