Coming to a youth sports sideline near you, John Dadden

By Todd Franko

I wished to help him, because I, too, was once he.

It was the final Saturday of my sons’ soccer season a few weeks back, and I was settled into my normal routine.

I had piled myself into my folding chair — a thermos of coffee to my left, my morning Vindicator to my right.

And I was safely tucked away — well within view of the field and my son but far from any dangerous crossfire. I was not in danger of soccer balls, nor the barreling kids.

In truth, it was parents I had hoped to avoid. Not all parents, mind you.

Just those parents.

The yellers, the screamers, the jumpers, the pointers ...

And amid my haven, he appeared. He stood 15 feet away from me in an area that never before had been breached by “them.”


He showed a profound skill for getting louder with each word. (BTW: Seth is not the real name.)


Wow, I thought.

He dropped a “flank.” That was a serious soccer term — not something pedestrian such as “Run, Seth.”

A soccer league official approached him. Their smiles told me there was to be no end. It soon became clear why he positioned himself in a place I’d marked as an oasis.

On a field behind him was another child playing. What had been ideal no-other-man’s land to me was, to Mr. Sub Woofer, also an ideal locale.

Like a Civil War general perched atop a hill watching battling soldiers below, he paced for an hour in a 20-foot line, bellowing both ways.

This is not just a soccer scene. My kids are in four sports total, and in one of them, I coach. These dads are everywhere, as are the moms, grandparents and assorted friends and family.

I call guys such as him John Dadden. Like the football announcer, they know the X’s and O’s of the sport and spew them with exacting precision. Though John Madden understands he has no effect on the field he’s watching, the John Daddens rarely do.

Here are some other sideline characters:

The Hoarsed Whisperer: This is the dad who tries in hushed tones to guide and critique his child. He is more heard than he thinks, same as the rock-band roadie who walks hunched over in front of 20,000 thinking he’s unnoticed.

Stalker — Texas Ranger: This guy does not bring a folding chair because he knows his best effect is to pace the sideline all cowboylike — yelling and cheering along the way. Not always irritating, his only danger is when he starts to trot the sideline.

Atilla the mum: This is the gramma who often knows just a few catch phrases and deftly pairs it with her grandchild’s jersey color. “Run, Blue.” I’ve noticed that the smaller the gramma, the louder the bellow.

Sister Sledge: This is a harmless little Miley Cyrus wannabe. She’s loud with cheers and team colors. She is most likely to engage in face-painting.

Aunts in her pants: This is mom’s sister — often inappropriately dressed. She’ll wear mittens to a YMCA basketball game, a leather jacket to a swim meet, or forget that it’s been 20 years since she was a high school cheerleader.

Uncle Pester: This is dad’s brother. His income compared to dad’s is one way or the other — either he’s making double and squeezed in your game before his golf match or is making half and called in sick to see the game. Regardless, he knows everything and shares with everyone.

Who was I? As I said earlier, I was he. With a decent knowledge of X’s and O’s in various sports, I shouted and pointed my sons down the field, across the ice and wherever else.

It started innocently in T-ball. We developed hand signals for body and glove position. Whistling to get his attention was too obvious, so I developed a “CH-CHT” noise before the Dog Whisperer made it famous.

My oldest son’s game improved. The more he improved, the more credit I gave to my sideline coaching, and the more vocal I became. And what was always guiding and positive became critical and unfun.

Last year, I came to a realization: He no longer heard me.

Mind you, he does hear me. But he no longer listens.

We’re in Fort Wayne this weekend for hockey, and I am quiet in the stands.

Our discussions take place quietly after the game. He plays well, but he can play better. I have to let him try to figure it out.

Most times.

Occasionally, a word or two will leave my mouth.

For old time’s sake.

While I resist being John Dadden, I’m still dad.

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