Dads: What matters the most to you when you watch your child play sports? Their personal development? How well they play with others? How badly they beat the other players or how good they make you look?

In short: are you a “hockey DAD” or a “HOCKEY dad”

My own dad’s focus was on my brothers play, and not on if they trounced the other team. He has always been a very laid back guy, so with my brothers, his interest was mostly in the game itself and how they played it. He would never think to yell at a referee if they made a “bad” call. He would never have yelled at another parent, and he especially would not yell at a kid. I think it’s safe to say that he cared about my brothers and the sports they played. He cared about the right things. I’m proud of him for that. I’m proud to be his son. (He cares about me too – I just didn’t play hockey!)

I got to thinking about dad’s and sports because of something surprising I just read in the economist.

“In 267 AD Nicantinous and Demetrius, two teenage wrestlers, had reached the final bout in a prestigious competition in Egypt. Their fathers struck a deal. For the price of a donkey, Demetrius would “fall three times and yield'”.

Yes, the earliest recorded match fixing in history happened 1,750 years ago. It involved two men interfering with their son’s competition. And it involved enough moolah to buy a donkey. (Ok, the scam involved neither ancient Egypt nor hockey, but I couldn’t resist the title Ancient Egyptian Hockey Dads.)

Maybe the dads had good motives. Perhaps something awful would have happened if Demetrius would have beat Nicantious that day.  But chances are that Nic’s dad cared a lot more about the prestige (and money) that a victorious son would reflect on him than about his son, himself. And Demetrius’ dad possibly needed to pay for his kids training (which was expensive in those days, too) and couldn’t afford to take a chance on him losing. His kid loses, they are guaranteed a payout – maybe they needed the money?

I do my best to empathise rather than to judge. I don’t want to  “googe” anyone! (See the post Parents: Does Feeling Judged Get in the way of Parenting.)  But no matter what our reasons are, we should not ever undermine our kids efforts and passions by focusing more on what the outcome is than on what enjoyment and personal development our kids will get out of playing the game. Winning is terrific. Losing is valuable too, because we can become better people (and athletes) by learning from our losses. None of that is true in a fixed match. If it’s rigged from the beginning, we can’t grow and develop.

Oddly enough, humans can feel good about themselves even if they know they cheated. Not always, but often when the world around us treats us like we’re winners, we start to believe it even when we didn’t deserve the kudos. “Born on third, thinks he got a triple” is a common enough mindset, even for non-narcissist American presidents.

Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple. – Barry Schwitzer 

After a summer full of playing ball with my boy, I look forward to the pond freezing over at St. Vital park and getting back out on the ice with him. He and I play a lot of different sports together, and because we have fun, he focuses very clearly on what he’s doing. Because he focuses, he improves. Because he improves, he has self-confidence and the ability to back it up. This will bode well for him in the future.  And it bodes well for me too, because rather than stressing about outcomes, I’m in the moment enjoying sport and time with my son.

When I see a dad react like in the video below, by banging and shouting, I hope I remember to have peace of mind of Jake Day Williams in the comments who points out that the glass really shouldn’t have broken. Was his kid knocked down? I’m not sure what set him off. In any case, we can all agree that being judged on the internet for having a crummy moment isn’t fair to anyone.

On the other hand, if you get overly angry at your kid’s sporting events and feel it’s worth working on, I’m happy to do a little anger management work with you!