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Referee, Coach, or Cheerleader

A couple weekends ago, I took my oldest son skiing/snowboarding out west to Park City, Utah. We met up with my long time friend Zac and his daughter and had a blast with 3 full days on the slopes and getting to enjoy the downtown at night. My son had never even seen snow, so it was overdue for my 14 year old to not only see snow but also get to experience snowboarding. Leading up to the trip, I had read an article talking about the 3 types of dads: the referee, the cheerleader, and the coach. It was perfect timing to read the article because it helped put me in the right frame of mind on embarking on this journey with my son. I'll explain the 3 types of dads and then expand from there.


  • The referee dad's role is to look for rules being broken. He’s the rules guy—the protector of procedures and policies. His role is to enforce the rules and administer penalties. This dad is the constant disciplinarian, quick to punish rather than talk or ask questions. He enforces punishment for broken rules and holds kids accountable. Just like how a referee in a game only sees play by play, this dad lacks the vision to see beyond the positional behavior to foster connection, model empathy, and connect with his kids


  • The cheerleader dad is helpful at encouraging the players and cheering on his kids. But the dad who’s only a cheerleader rarely fulfills the rest of his role. He is often not engaged and active enough to enforce the rules. If the referee is only negative reinforcement, then the cheerleader dad is only positive. The cheerleader can encourage, but his role has limited influence.

  • The coach dad instructs, assesses strengths and weaknesses, and address the motivation of his kids (just like a sports coach). He knows the rules and boundaries and is active and engaged. In a game, regardless of outcome, the coach is right there to walk with his players through everything.

The takeaway from the article was to be more like the coach dad, but what was so helpful about reading this article before going skiing was because this trip was going to require me to do and fulfill all 3 roles. I needed to be a referee on the trip because snowboarding can be a dangerous sport, especially when my son was brand new to it. I was a bit apprehensive having him learn the sport in the middle of track season in case he got any injuries, so my biggest and most primary concern was to keep him safe. Being a referee dad in order to protect his body and safety was a great reminder. I also needed to be his cheerleader and encourager because I had never snowboarded before nor was I going to be doing it on the trip (I'm a skiier). So from that standpoint, I was going to be having to encourage him from the sidelines even though I couldn't offer any real technical advice. Luckily my friend Zac is an excellent snowboarder and helped a ton in that respect, but it was helpful to have the mindset of continuing to encourage my son to keep getting up and trying to improve one step at a time. Lastly, the article reminded me to coach him along the process. To be there front and center while he's learning a brand new sport was a great opportunity to build a lasting memory with him, so it was important for me to be mindful of being patient with his learning process. For 3 days I skiied behind him offering encouragement and got to fill the role of the 3 different types of dad (except for one time I skiied ahead the last 100 yards of a run, he had a spill, and he wouldn't let me forget about that one, ha!). I know in a lot of situations in life I need to be the 'coach dad', but I do believe having the ability to morph into any one of the other roles is equally as important. Sometimes our kids just need a supporter and sometimes they need someone to keep them from making a major mistake. We won't always do the right thing at the right time, but it is good to know the importance and value that each type of dad can bring.





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