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I Have Become An Annoying Video Game Dad Coach

by Jeff Cork on Jan 02, 2017 at 07:00 AM

When my two kids started playing soccer, I braced for the worst. I'd heard horror stories about parents turning into freelance coaches, barking orders and yelling with officials about a game that was being played by five-year-old children. Would I turn into that guy? If those games and practices taught me anything, it's that I ultimately do not care about soccer. I enjoyed watching my kids work as a team with other kids, but if they got a goal – or more often than not, didn't – it really didn't matter. It's just a game, after all. Unfortunately, as I discovered to my horror, that attitude didn't transfer to other parts of our family entertainment.

Right now, our house is obsessed with Overwatch. When the kids aren't playing the game, they're talking about it, drawing pictures of its characters, and writing stories set in the game's world. I happen to adore the game as well, and it's an activity that we've been able to enjoy together. It's been great – or at least it is when I'm not turning into a freelance coach.

We all play games on the living-room TV, and since only one of us can play at a time, the other two of us are stuck watching. At first, I just puttered around on a laptop or my phone when it wasn't my turn; I play enough of the game as it is, and I can live without having to absorb every instant of the action. But my youngest (he's seven) always wanted me to see what he was doing. "I got play of the game!" he'd exclaim excitedly, and I'd do my best to feign enthusiasm after seeing that he did it with Bastion. They were having fun with the game's colorful characters, picking the ones that seemed the coolest based on aesthetics alone. But as they played, their levels kept climbing, and the matches became more competitive. That's when things, I'm embarrassed to say, changed.

"No, they're baiting you guys out away from your objective! Don't fall for it! Keep on the payload!" "You're never going to get out of the spawn point with that team! Switch to Sombra and sneak past their five-man offense!" "Are you even paying attention?!" These are things that I have shouted at my kids, and I'm not proud of it. The thing is, though, Overwatch is by design a competitive activity. Soccer is supposed to be, too, but at the level they were all playing, it was clear that most of us parents were just looking for something for our kids to do outside – whether or not the players really wanted to participate. Overwatch is a bit different. Now that my sons' levels are in the mid-40s, they're being matched with people in quick play who clearly spend a lot of time playing Overwatch. And I'm assuming that they want to win, even if it means that their 7-year-old teammate is actively discouraged from breaking every destructible prop near the payload in the process.

The big wake-up call came for me a few weeks ago when my youngest wailed that I made him feel bad about how he was playing. Yikes. That's exactly the kind of behavior I shake my head at during those soccer games, and it clearly wasn't what I was going for. At least, it was clear to me. I've been making more of an effort to stay positive as much as possible, while also being constructively critical. 

I'll be the first to admit that my delivery needs work, but I'll stand by the philosophy behind my coaching. Since it is a competitive game, I want my kids to understand and appreciate how to work together with their teammates. That can come in the form of something as simple as staying on the objective or picking a character that makes sense for the task at hand (and thanks to that, I'm proud to say Bastion has slipped considerably in our household's ranking). It's been tough to teach them that just because they spawn, doesn't mean that they have to make a desperate beeline to the objective; sometimes you need to wait for your teammates to group up to help attack as a team. And they've gotten better at the game over time, not just mechanically, but with overall strategy. 

My parents and I didn't have many shared activities growing up, and I wasn't ever pushed into sports. While I had a great childhood, I know that I would have benefited from more structured play. I may not be a great soccer coach, but I'm hopeful that some of the lessons that I'm sharing with my kids help them out as they continue to grow up – and I have to say, there's a lot less driving involved with Overwatch.