Being the father of an athlete is a challenging yet rewarding role. At MomsTEAM we think sports dads deserve to be honored, not just on the third Sunday in June, but for an entire month. So we have designated June as National Sports Dads Month and invited some veteran sports dads to share their wisdom by responding to a series of questions (the same ones we asked sports moms in May). We will post a new blog for every day of June, which we hope you will find interesting, empowering, and informative, and that you will share them with your family and friends.
Today we hear from Dan Evans, President/CEO of Evans Baseball Consulting and former General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
MomsTEAM:Were you an athlete and what sports did you play as a youth (under 19)?
Evans: I grew up in an incredibly sports-oriented neighborhood on Chicago's North Side, as we played anything and everything literally year round. I played baseball, basketball, hockey, football, and golf as much as possible, and luckily was able to play competitively all the way through my high school years. Our group would play baseball the entire day until the last beam of sunlight went away, would play hoops until midnight at the local park, and would play pickup outdoor hockey games until well after midnight at a nearby rink where the temperatures would plummet below zero.
In addition, we lived really close to Wrigley Field, so in elementary and high school I regularly attended games, getting there for BP and staying until the final out. It was a special place to live, and I thank my parents for that. My mother and father were incredibly supportive, as were my bosses, who allowed me to work around my athletic schedule. My love of sports was cultivated there, and when I had the opportunity to work in professional sports, it was a chance to work in something that I already thoroughly enjoyed and was such a big part of my life.
As a parent, I never wanted to push our kids into playing sports, but when they expressed interest, I fully supported it because of the invaluable life lessons that athletic participation brings to a youngster's life.
MomsTEAM:What is the most rewarding aspect of being a sports dad?
Evans: Two important aspects were especially rewarding in being a sports dad: spending uninterrupted time with my daughters, and developing adult relationships with parents of my kids' teammates and opponents.
We live in such a multi-tasking society, and not all of the advances are good, in that we constantly are interrupted by cell phones, computers, and entertainment technology. As a result, we seldom have elongated periods of time where your family is your sole focus. I enjoyed having time to and from the venue my daughters were playing, along with all of the time while at the games and practices. It was never about winning and losing. A career in baseball is demanding on a family, in that there are no weekends off for about nine consecutive months, and nearly every weekday involves a 12- to 14-hour day. I really enjoyed having those segments of time where my daughters were my entire focus, and finding out more about what was important to them.
I will never forget when our oldest daughter, Sarah, was playing on a hardball team comprised almost entirely of boys back in the Midwest, and her coach asked to show her teammates how to slide because she had already mastered it, with all the baseball in her blood. The smile on her face was incredible, and Maury Wills would have proud with her technique. Another time, she asked me (her coach at the time) if she could catch, because one of the boys had told her that girls weren't allowed. She was drowning in the catcher's gear, an image that will be forever etched in my mind, but she did a good job and enjoyed breaking that young man's self-proclaimed barrier.
I have really enjoyed getting to know the parents of other team members, because everyone is on equal footing. You know, there are no vice president or CEO titles in the parent group. It is a lot of fun to interact with people you ordinarily would never come in contact with in your everyday world. My wife and I have subsequently developed longstanding relationships with people whose kids played with ours, and it is an aspect of youth sports which is a great fringe benefit.
MomsTEAM:What is the most important lesson your child is learning from his/her sport?
Evans: Without hesitation, the most important lesson both of our daughters learned from participating in sports is the necessity of being a good teammate, something extremely vital in the real world. Team sports enable kids to learn that they have to interact and get along with others, and often gain knowledge of how people have different priorities and values because of ethnic, religious, or cultural influences. It is an invaluable window to what their surroundings will require in the future, because tolerance is such a critical component to the overall structure of a good environment, whether it is in a team setting, the classroom, or the work place.
You learn how to maneuver through differences or complications, and that subsequently allows an individual to recognize that, despite differences, a group can attain a common goal and work together even though they may not be friends away from the playing field. In addition, I think sports also allows youngsters to develop leadership traits and character since they are out of their comfort zone and in a team framework. Someone has to step up and lead, and some kids ordinarily would not be placed in that capacity.
MomsTEAM: If you could "flip a switch" and change one thing about the culture of youth sports what would it be?
Evans: The three biggest faults that I have with today's youth sports are the unrealistic expectations set for participants, the inability of parents to relinquish control, and a failure to keep the focus on making the experience a positive one for the youth.
Expectations are so dangerous, because too many coaches and parents get far too focused on winning and losing instead of having fun and improving their players' skills. I blame it on the adults, because far too often they are obsessed with the individual accomplishments of their children instead of the overall team experience. Many parents become obsessive about accolades and achievements instead of relaxing, being a supportive parent, and taking a break from the hectic pace of everyday life. It gets even worse in travel teams and all-star squads.
A great coach once told me that practices are for teaching while games are for mentoring, and that for me is a major issue at the youth sports level. A highly respected coach gets paid to win, yet he has that exceptional attitude, and that is why he likely wins at a much greater percentage than his peers. Too many youth coaches fail to teach aspects of the sport during practices, they simply roll out the ball and don't come to practice with a game plan, a goal of teaching one or two items over the course of the practice. The bigger issue for me is when the game starts, what should be a fun experience for the participant instead becomes laden with pressure along with anxiety-laced demands that cannot be met. It's tough enough to hit a ball, shoot a free throw, or complete a throw-in, so coaches should not make it more difficult by elevating the tension of the moment.
If I could give one bit of advice that will make the whole experience better for the participants, it would be to eliminate players leaving the confines of their playing field and/or bench throughout their event, while prohibiting parents from crossing into those areas at the same time. Far too often players and parents compromise the team element by crossing those boundaries, and the entire unit suffers.
Let the coaches coach, the parents parent, and the players play.
MomsTEAM: What have you done to make sports better for kids? Please share.
Evans: The most memorable sports moment in my life had nothing to do with my time as an athlete growing up in Chicago, and also isn't a day in my work life. Instead, it was the incredible experience I enjoyed as a coach on my youngest daughter's softball team from La Canada Flintridge that won the U14 California state title in 2008.
Our goal from the start was to refine the skills of this terrific group of 11 young women while making it a completely fun and anxiety-free environment. Led by a great head coach in Scott Cox and two other exceptional assistant coaches, we developed them into their own accountable unit while they honed their skills with fun-filled practices and never once yelled at the kids in a three-month period.
But the most rewarding moment came in the double elimination championship round, after our team had suffered its first loss in a long time, getting beat so badly they invoked the mercy rule after poor fundamental play and frequent mental errors. We were in trouble and there was a huge stadium crowd. I knew that we had done our job as coaches when the girls told us they were going to have a players-only team meeting down the foul line to prepare for the state title game that would be played in 30 minutes, and that they would be ready. We completely relinquished control, a bold move by the head coach, and our team came back to our dugout about 20 minutes later with a completely different way about them.
We suffered adversity during the game, losing our best player to a serious injury, but rallied to win by executing a play in extra innings that we had worked on in practice a few days earlier. As I watched the deciding play unfold, I realized that all of our time together had paid off, as they had managed themselves at crunch time. I immediately wanted to see the jubilation in my daughter, Andie, as I was sharing a moment in such a unique situation as player and coach/parent. I'll never forget the hug that followed!
It was such a truly rewarding moment for me, because too often in my world we only measure by wins and losses, but we had enabled life skills in our squad that allowed them to overcome adversity. I look back on that evening, and wonder how many adults would relinquish control in such a difficult setting, and feel so good about the process along with the outcome.
As President/CEO of Evans Baseball Consulting, Dan Evans has an incredibly unique perspective after more than 30 years in the game, having been a decisionmaker on both sides of the table, both as a club executive and player agent. Evans is fully immersed in all levels of baseball, including Major League Baseball, minor leagues, international, and amateur. A pioneer in using technology for baseball analysis, Evans orchestrated a complete rebuilding of the Los Angeles Dodgers franchise during his time as their General Manager, and owns the second-best won-loss record (.548) of any Los Angeles Dodger GM. Matt Kemp is among the many players acquired during his GM tenure. While a junior at DePaul University, Evans landed an internship with the Chicago White Sox, and worked there for nearly 20 years. In addition, he also worked for the Seattle Mariners and the Chicago Cubs. Married with two daughters, Evans, a Chicago native, lives in Pasadena, California.You can follow him on Twitter@DanEvans108.