'Fun for all the family?' The danger of 'dads versus kids' sporting battles

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Can you honestly say you're a good father if you're not willing to pelt a tennis ball full speed at the head of another man's tiny, innocent eight-year-old son?

I mean, honestly, what kind of example are you setting if you're not a gimlet-eyed, Steve Waugh-like warrior in all fields of sporting endeavour, regardless of the size of your opponents?

These are the questions that parents are forced to ponder at this time of the season as the invites arrive - always temptingly promising a "fun day out" - for the end-of-year Parents and Kids, or Parents vs Kids, sporting contests.

This year was my first taste of the local tennis club's Parent/Child Tennis Tournament and I knew I was in trouble from the moment I arrived and saw the other dads traipsing in with multiple racquets in bulging, branded bags. They weren't so much leading their offspring by the hand as brusquely dragging them through the gates.

You could see the fear in their tiny little eyes, instilled a year before when their fathers had berated them for every fluffed forehand, snorted derisively at their serving efforts and bent over to stage whisper admonishing advice in their ears, loud enough to be heard two courts away. It was all about to happen again.

On the one hand, I know exactly how competitive the average man is in any given situation, even a pseudo-sporting one, but I had underestimated this bunch of tennis ball breakers. I assumed that they would hit the ball at me with merciless relish and cruel top spin, and that when they were hitting it to someone of slighter stature, like my 12-year-old son, they would merely dink it over the net, thus allowing enjoyable rallies to develop.

I assumed wrong. Perhaps it's partly an inability not to show off in front of your kids when you're a Dad, or possibly it's just a need to win that used to be instilled in all Australian boys from a young age (before we all went soft and decided that telling young kids the score, and who won or lost, in any given game was too much for their sensitive minds), but these guys were vicious.

My son is now sporting an inverted mohawk where a ball moving at ferocious pace grazed the top of his head and burned his hair off. I'm sure this taught him some kind of valuable lesson. But when I watched these mad dads overhead smashing and viciously volleying other people's children who were barely waist high, I started looking around for a refto stop the fight.

It's not just tennis, of course, and I've actually quite enjoyed past years when I've been involved in dads v kids season-ending training sessions for soccer.

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The idea of these is to make it look like you're trying, keep the score tight right until the end, make sure every kid gets at least one goal and then, no matter what, let the kids win in the end.

This doesn't always work, of course, because once the competitive sad juices start flowing, it's not long before kids are being body checked and grown men are celebrating the goals they've scored against children as if they've just embarrassed Lionel Messi, rather than themselves.

It's not uncommon to see the same behaviour slipping into kids' birthday parties - particularly if they're silly enough to choose laser strike or go-karting (okay, I'm personally guilty of that one, but they were driving so slowly). At least there are generally fewer Dads involved.

So, you have been warned. The words "fun for all the family" are not what they seem.

Be prepared, be very prepared.