Confessions of a Helicopter Dad

I’ve always wondered what my dad has thought of all of this. Below is his contribution to the blog (you know, other than helping create the blogger) in the form of a guest blog. You may expect a few more of these from various sources this year, particularly around big weeks of training and travel (cute winky emoticon). Enjoy! 


Confessions of a Helicopter Dad

 Last week’s blog provided accolades to our coaches. I just returned from the 80th birthday party of my high school track coach. At this party, I mingled with several former All-Americans, including Rick Riley, who set the national high school 2-mile record in 1966 at 8:48.3. Eight Forty-Eight, in 1966 on a cinder track! That is a time rarely attained today by even college athletes with all the advantages of sports nutrition, engineered tracks and ultra light shoes. Rick did it because Herm Caviness was his coach. Many of us went on to run in college under legendary coaches of the time, yet all in attendance agreed that Herm is the greatest coach we’ve ever met. Sure, Herm was knowledgeable about shot put technique, or distance training, but he was a master at team building, motivation, and in the end creating better people out of all of us…whatever success we’ve had in life, we point to the influence Herm had on us. One of his athletes mused, “when you claim to be a horse of his, long after he’s moved on, if you can still hear his voice inside, he’s passed to you the baton.”

Scan ferris 1

So there I was in 1993, after a college athletic career, a tour through medical school where one learns wondrous things about physiology and nutrition, and Wham! I am 185 pounds of blubber and the father of two pre-teen Nordic combined athletes.

Scan NSF

I was over the hill, but perhaps I could relive the glory through those boys. Clearly I had the experience and the education to lead them to athletic Nirvana, I held the baton, and I could hear Herm’s voice.

Well, not so fast cowboy. Turns out that parent coaches are fine for Pee Wee soccer.

Scan soccer dad

However, don’t even try to yell, “boot it!” at a comp match (well, you should never yell “boot it!” ever), or to suggest a quicker turnover V1 might get one over the hill faster than that Fletcher kid from Steamboat. There comes a point at about age nine years, three months and 27 days when kids get that parents are parents and coaches are coaches, and that parents just should not be their coach. It does not matter how much knowledge or experience you have, they just won’t listen. The problem is that parents rarely understand this simple division of labor.

Indeed, disaster strikes when parents get too involved. I have a classmate who never played soccer, but insisted on coaching his daughter’s comp soccer team, in lieu of real professional coaches…result: not pretty. I also have a classmate that played soccer in college and was able to successfully coach his kids at the premier level through high school. The secret: on the field he was a coach with no bias toward his kids, and at home he was just the goofy dad.

Scan goofy dad

Surprisingly, great pediatricians and primary school teachers sometimes don’t make the best parents.

Every parent wants success and happiness for their kids. It does not matter what they do. Along came our relatively non-athletic daughter.

Gymnastics? Nope. Too klutzy.
Gymnastics? Nope. Too klutzy.
Ski Jumping? Nope. Her favorite part was chatting with her friends on the lift ride up.
Ski Jumping? Nope. Her favorite part was chatting with her friends on the lift ride up.

She was going to be a drama queen, and she could ham it up as well as Melissa McCarthy


…ok fine, let’s do drama camps, plays, and music lessons. Sure, whatever makes you happy. As I had no reference to anything artsy, it was easy to sit back and watch the show, and she did fine. Yes, she did fine.

Then came skiing and soccer, commenced for purely social reasons, and watch out, here comes helicopter dad. At first parental involvement was fine, even welcomed. Maybe she would listen to the wisdom I could share? Wrong again, I was crushed when she called me a helicopter dad. As athletes mature, they need different things from their parents, just as they need different things from their coaches. When the girl was nine it was fine to help her get her skis on, by thirteen, no way! And later still, even the coach could not carry her skis.


Kids need our support. Even some level of involvement is ok. When they asked for volunteers to become soccer refs, I was the only guy in the room who didn’t take a step backwards. That was fine, “but don’t even think about officiating one of my games!” I became a T.D. the same way (didn’t take a step backwards), and it turns out to be kind of cool to be involved in my daughter’s sport, but tangentially, not through her.


So what have I learned in over 20 years of being a parent to elite athletes? Here’s my list of do’s (which I still strive for) and don’ts (which I still violate often):

Do                                                                 Don’t

Love’em, no matter what                     Create rewards for athletic achievement

Ask them how they thought               Analyze their race in any way
their race went

Offer food after a race                        Offer advice after a race

Respect their coaches                       Suggest their coach is a horses ass

Provide assistance to a coach,        Buddy up to a coach for your kid’s
only if asked                                       benefit.

Bake cookies for the team                 Just write a check when they need $
bake sale

Ask/talk about movies, TV,               Always talk about their sport
your interests, etc.

Stay involved in your own                 Let your life revolve around your
Interests, be a role model                  kid’s activities

Be a dork                                            Be a know-it-all


-AP (It’s funny because we have the same initials)

2 thoughts on “Confessions of a Helicopter Dad

  1. Always knew you were a “fashionista” Annie!!! Tell your dad….even Bob Slizeski knew not to wear “hot pants” for the soccer team pic! duhhhhh. love n misses

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