PLYMOUTH – There are many stresses and challenges in the relationship of a father with his son, and adding the relationship of player and coach to that mix can be an enormous challenge.
Coaching your son can be the greatest thing that happens to a father-son relationship, or it can be the worst. Many times there doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground.
In the case of Plymouth head basketball coach Ryan Bales and son Nolan, the keyword is “balance”.
“I’ve coached all of my boys in various sports while they were growing up. We’ve kind of had a taste of it,” said Ryan. “Of course with a varsity sport, it’s at a whole different level.”
“We’ve had to use the word balance,” he said. “There have been times that I’ve had to catch myself as a coach and make sure that things stay for the most part at the gym. The good thing with Nolan and all my boys is that they love sports and they love to talk sports so there are always those conversations in the vehicle on the way home or at home. In terms of being a coach and player that’s left at the school and in the gym as opposed to at home.”
“He’s been coaching me all my life and finally getting to the varsity stage it’s pretty exciting,” said Nolan. “I thought it would be tough, and it has, with him trying to push me more individually since I’m his son and the point guard of the team but it’s been fun.”
One thing that makes things much easier is the work ethic of the player involved.
“I’m fortunate that Nolan loves to be in the gym,” said Ryan. “He’s a guy that puts in a lot of time and wants to be better and is always looking to improve. That makes my job as a coach and a parent easier. My job is encouraging him and supporting him. It goes a long way when your child wants to be good at something.”
“There have been times that I’ve had to challenge him but I’m thankful for those ‘unseen hours’ that he puts into it,” he said. “That helps for sure.”
From the player’s perspective separating “Coach” being upset with you and “Dad” being upset with you can be another obstacle.
“It’s a practice thing,” said Nolan. “It’s easy to tell the difference. His voice changes. His tone. We’re definitely able to have basketball stuff at basketball and home stuff at home. It’s been a challenge but I think we are doing pretty well.”
“One of the best things about coaching your son or sons is that it gives you a couple more hours with your son you wouldn’t have if you weren’t coaching him,” said Ryan. “If he wasn’t playing basketball he’d be doing something else. We all know as parents that things go fast and time goes quickly so the chance to even be at practice with him, in the locker room, and in huddles are moments that I’m not taking for granted.”
“It’s been a special thing,” he said. “Even the ride to games or to practice sometimes there isn’t a whole lot said and that’s okay but it’s a pretty cool moment to be together for myself as a dad.”
There can also be the added outside pressure of a different standard in being “the coach’s kid.” It’s something that Nolan doesn’t really feel.
“I think I used to but I feel like I’ve gotten used to it,” said Nolan. “Obviously it’s still there but I’m starting to get over it. I think most of the pressure I put on myself. He pressures me at practice every day but it’s probably 50-50.”
“If I’m bringing energy in practice and I’m not mentally into it he’s definitely harder on me,” he said. “It’s really mostly me wanting to be the best I can be.”
Coach Ryan is thankful for examples of other father-son relationships in his coaching career.
“I had a chance to be a part of Coach (Dave) McCollough’s staff and his son was coming through at that time,” he said. “He was hard on him but he was hesitant to bring him along because you sometimes worry about the public perception that he’s playing because he’s the coach’s kid. (Son) Kirk ended up tearing his ACL and I know that Coach had a sense that he wished he’d given him more of a shot because he was deserving of it. I’ve always used that as a lesson. Everything is earned.”
“I’ve been fortunate to have some guys on my staff Tim Filson and Rob Carmichael and been able to see them balance being coaches and being a dad,” he said. “They set a great example for me. That’s another whole balancing act of coaching your players up the same as you do your son. We appreciate all of our players and need to be sure that we treat them as equally as you can. Do I challenge Nolan harder than some others at times? I’m sure that I do but I try to be as fair as I can.”
“The expectation that I have for all of our players is to play hard and play with energy and give your best effort,” said Ryan. “We obviously know each other and I know how he responds and he knows what I expect because he’s around me more. I feel like I do challenge him at times because I know that in the end when we go home at night my love for him as a son is a lot deeper than as a coach and a player.”
“It has been fun having your dad as your coach,” said Nolan. “He challenges you a little more at times than the other players but that’s great for me as a player in this program.”