My Dad — Hall of Fame Sportscaster Bob Wolff – passed away two weeks ago at the age of 96.
My father was one of those rare individuals who knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. He loved sports, and he loved talking about them on the air. And he not only had the good fortune to call a bunch of famous games in his life (e.g. Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, the Colts-Giants 1958 overtime NFL championship game, the NY Knicks only two NBA championships, etc) but he set a record along the way recognized by Guinness that he was the longest running sportscaster of all time. Dad broadcast sporting events from 1939 when he was a sophomore at Duke on the local CBS radio station in Durham, NC, right up until June of this year. That’s a run of 78 years.
But for the Wolff family, Dad always made it clear that as much fun as he had broadcasting professional and collegiate sporting events, nothing gave him more satisfaction than watching his own three kids play competitive sports. My older brother Bob was a highly successful pitcher in HS and at Princeton in the late 1960s before going on to a distinguished career as a pediatric neurologist. My sister Margy may have been the best natural athlete in the family, and starred in HS basketball. She would have been a three-sport star except that she was in school just before Title IX was passed.
And most of you know of my own background as a record-setting wide receiver and shortstop in HS before going onto play at Harvard and then drafted and signed by the Detroit Tigers after my junior year.
In short, it was my father who taught me everything I know about youth sports. On my radio show this AM, I tried to pay tribute to him by asking listeners what kinds of life-long lessons had their own Dads pass onto them. The response was substantial.
When I was a kid – like any youngster – I wanted to learn how to hit a baseball well…how to shoot a basketball….how to throw a spiral with a football…how to run a pass pattern…how to play pepper with a bat and ball….and so much more.
I also wondered about the intricate rules of the sports I played….like the infield fly rule…or why football teams always punted on fourth down….or how to set up an effective zone defense in basketball…or better yet, how to break a zone defense.
And like kids everywhere, I found out that cheating in sports just wasn’t accepted or allowed….and that being a good sport when you lose is not easy.
But all of these lessons – -and many, many more – didn’t come to me naturally or instinctively.
Rather, they all came from conversations from my father. Perhaps you’re a Dad now yourself…what kinds of lessons are you imparting to your kids?
What are your top priorities? How do you teach them?
How do you react when things aren’t going well for them?
Are you a sideline yeller and screamer?
My suggestion is to give some serious thought as to what kind of impact you’re having on your son and daughter.
THE POWER OF PARENTAL PRAISE
My Dad was all about praise…that is, long before I had ever heard of John Wooden, my father would use praise and more praise in order to motivate me.
If I had a bad day at the plate, rather than castigate me or belittle me, my father would take just the opposite approach, and point out how tough the pitcher was….or that I was actually making good adjustments, and if only I had gotten one more at-bat, he was certain I would hit a line-drive double.
Somehow, those words of encouragement kept me going.
I recall playing in a college summer league game one hot, Sunday afternoon. I was a right handed batter, and I was facing a kid who wasn’t all that big and he didn’t throw all that hard. But he had a tremendous curve ball.
As much as I tried to make adjustments at the plate, he struck me out 4 times in a row. Mind you, I was 19 at the time…and I had never looked so bad in a game in my life! I was convinced that any chance of playing pro ball was now gone.
But on the long car ride home, my Dad pointed out that the pitcher did indeed possess a really good deuce…and that while I needed to learn how to slap the pitch the other way, that I shouldn’t be that tough on myself. He was calm…patient…and encouraging.
Well…fast forward a few years…that righthanded pitcher I faced that afternoon? He was from St. John’s University – his name was Steve Ratzer – and Steve not only signed a pro contract, but he actually made it all the way through the minors to the bigs, all because of that great curve ball.
In other words, apparently I wasn’t the only opposing batter who had a hard time facing him. But again, it was my Dad who helped me get over that 4-strike out performance.
So praise and encouragement are high on the list…and they should be on yours as well – especially when your youngster has a tough day.
THE POWER OF PREPARATION AND HARD WORK
My Dad was a big believer in preparation and hard work...that is, if you wanted to shine in the classroom OR on the athletic field, you needed to prepare in advance so that you COULD shine. That meant working hard to get into top shape….to be ready at the drop of a hat…to show the coaches that you really COULD play and prove it to them.
Hard work and preparation….those two lessons have remained with me for my entire adult life – and go far beyond just trying to make the team in sports or trying to beat out the competition. These are truly life lessons….and I’m grateful that my father explained to me why this approach works. Because the truth is, they really do work.
THE POWER OF FAIR PLAY
My Dad used to explain to me as a kid that fair play is essential to making one’s victory have real substance and meaning.
That is, if the other team was short-handed, or didn’t have their top players on hand that day, or somehow their team wasn’t at their best – well, it was nice to come away with a win….but in the end, a victory like that somehow didn’t feel as good as a win when you truly defeated that opponent when they were at full strength.
When you did that….that was something to be proud of.
The same philosophy applied to those tournaments where sometimes coaches try to navigate around a tough opponent in order to advance. My father never understood that approach – that is, if you want to be the best, then you have to BEAT the best.
These days, when I hear about coaches – and kids – sometimes looking for short cuts to advance, well, it’s not really cheating…but you do wonder about whether the win is worth boasting about. In other words, when you come away with a big win in sports, it means that much more knowing you beat the best.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Look, being a sport parent – as I have said many times on my show – is a lot more complicated and difficult these days than ever before….and not only is it a challenge for a parent to navigate all of this, it’s even more bewildering for a kid.
That’s why you really need to give some conscious thought as to what you want your son and daughter to take away from their years of playing sports.
AN IMPORTANT P.S.
The outpouring of love and support for my Dad has been overwhelming to both me and my family,and we are eternally grateful. The truth is, my Dad was a tremendously talented sportscaster who took great pride in his work and his work ethic. But as anybody will tell you who ever met my father, as good as he was a sportscaster, he was an even better human being.