The Simple Language of Parenting and Football Coaches

I was watching ESPN last week and they were doing a piece on some of the top assistant coaches in college football that should be in line for head coaching jobs in the next year or two.  As the film rolled, one coach after another was shown on the sideline going through a series of hand gestures and body gyrations.  Following along, my focus became less about the actual story and more to do with wondering where I had seen those kinds of gestures. 

As a football fan for more than 40 years, I’d never really paid much attention to something I had long-since known and understood as part of an assistant football coach’s job function.  So why was it different this time?  I had an idea, but at that point it still wasn’t quite clear.

Then, several days later, I saw a piece on Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.  As the feature rolled, we were able to hear him calling out signals at the line of scrimmage:  “3 – 75 — 3 – 75 . . . set . . . hut, hut!”  Again, no stranger to what comes out of a quarterback’s mouth, why was hearing Manning’s cadence suddenly throwing me for a loop?  And then, finally, it hit me. 

The answer came down to one, simple thing: Having a daughter that is now four years old.  And perhaps a bit more to the point: Trying to communicate with my wife about potential Christmas gifts and an assortment of other topics in a way that our older daughter will not latch onto.  If you have kids, you know exactly what I’m speaking about.

I don’t have any doubt or hesitation that should my whole talk radio hosting thing fall apart, I’m more than qualified to work a sideline for a college football team.  In fact, with the recent coaching changes at places like Michigan, Arkansas and Ole Miss (and certainly there are more to come), let me just throw it out there to, say, Rich Rodriguez at Michigan:  Coach, if you need someone to help, I’m here for you.  And let’s be clear:  My wife is equally qualified.  Consider us a package deal, one salary for both of us.  We’ll even pay our own way there.  All we want, along with a competitive salary, is some really cool team merchandise and luxury suite seating for our daughters . . . along with chicken fingers, french fries, milk, a baby water bottle and lots of boiled vegetables cut into very tiny pieces.  Honestly Coach, I really don’t think we’re asking for all that much.  Ann Arbor is a lovely town, one we’d very much enjoy spending at least a few years in . . . wait, wait, wait . . . sorry.  I’m getting off track here.

Any parent who has children around the age of four, or already has had kids past that age, has an intimate understanding of what this is all about: Communicating with your spouse in a way that draws little to no attention to yourselves while keeping the normal flow of household dialogue intact.  To wit . . .

Just the other night in our kitchen, with Caleigh (older daughter) in the immediate vicinity, and knowing that she’s sharp as a tack and more than happy to go into great detail with her cousins on the explicit nature of their respective Christmas gifts before they receive them, I uttered the following: “3 – 25 — 3 – 25 . . . check – check . . . Bullseye!”  Now, I’m going to go out on a limb and say somewhere in college football, or pro football for that matter, a quarterback has uttered that cadence.  I’m convinced of it. 

Nevertheless, there I stood barking out the “play” to my wife, she understood the call – there wasn’t a penalty on the play (translation: Caleigh somehow catching on) – and the communication was as successful as a post pattern to the end zone for a touchdown.  Three gift cards for $25 dollars, repeated for clarity, a check to pay for them (repeated, again, for clarity), and the store of choice, Target.  Coach Rodriguez, if you’re not sufficiently impressed yet, stay with me here . . .

I’ll now illustrate the nearly foolproof gesture and gyration mode of signaling.  Needing to convey to my wife I was going to purchase the Disney princess indoor tent for Caleigh and her nine month old sister, and Caleigh being right in front of me, I did the following in very short order:

  1. Both hands coming together touching at the fingertips and extending outward to a 45 degree angle, followed quickly by . . .
  2. A two-handed gesture of placing a crown on my head, and then . . .
  3. Making a driving motion with my hands . . . and finally . . .
  4. A fast circular motion (indicating Target) followed by a quick thrust of my index finger to the right indicating I would be leaving shortly.

All of the above took approximately three seconds – and I would hasten to add, roughly the same time it takes a football coach to send in a play to the quarterback through hand and body signals.  Coincidence, as it may apply to my future career as a Michigan assistant coach?  Nope, not at all.  What, are you kidding me?  And I’m not hinting, I just thought I’d draw that conclusion for you . . . Rich . . . in the event you’re reading this . . . did you get my email? 

Now, with all of the above knowledge in hand, there really is only one problem: When your child happens to catch your gestures.  Or, wonders what Daddy or Mommy means when they suddenly say “3 – 25 — 3 – 25 . . .”  Again, the parallel to football is absolutely uncanny. 

When your son or daughter catches you as you roll out three seconds-worth of complicated GG’s – for you rookies, that’s parent and coach-speak for gestures/gyrations – or wonders what the quarterback-like signal calling is about, you simply call an audible.  And in our house, the audible is an immediate request of Caleigh, which goes a little something like this: “. . . Honey, didn’t I hear you say you wanted a chocolate malt?” 

End of problem, the gameplan remains intact. 

Incidentally, inserting a favorite fruit instead of the sundae is perfectly acceptable.  However, don’t get cute.  If you try and do a double reverse for your audible and call something like “. . . Honey, didn’t I hear you say you wanted a bowl of green beans . . .” you’ll suffer a massive loss of yardage and find yourself with an immediate need to punt.

And with a child under five, you never want to punt.

Filed Under: FamilyFootballParenting

About the Author: Christopher Gabriel is the host of the cleverly named Christopher Gabriel Program on AM 970 WDAY in Fargo, North Dakota. You can hear him weekdays from 9 to Noon. As a writer and humorist, his work has been been published online by the Chicago Sun-Times, Reuters and publications within the Sun-Times News Group.

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  1. Beth/Scraps says:

    Christopher, you and The Mrs are BRILLIANT! to use complicated shout outs while the rest of us s-p-e-l-l, or even use sign language, which is all eventually deciphered.

    Brilliant, I tell you 🙂

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  2. The Other Christopher says:

    You’ll have to perfect the code over the next few years, as Princess C enters Kindergarten. Princess H has excelled in spelling and can sound out words fairly quickly (As parents, we’re stunned, since we don’t recall spelling this quickly or early), which has lead to us to elaborate hand signals, quick huddles (combined with last second audibles to change the play at the line to keep them from catching on), and the use of technology (texting each others phone). We’re now hoping that she doesn’t go “Belichek” on us and steal the signals. 🙂

    On the other hand, I remember my younger brother and I sussing out our gifts, since we had created our wish lists entirely from the Sears Christmas Catalog (which included the shipping weights in the description). My brother and I would sneak out with the scale and weigh each present to compare to our charts and logs to approximate what wonderful toys we were receiving. Knowing this, we’ll have to be extremely more alert to such shennanigans by Princess H.

    Happy New Year to your clan from ours!
    Peace, Prosperity, & Perspective in the New Year!

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  3. I erupted in laughter at your description of your miming of the castle. Next July, send this away to a few magazines (slate.com, Parents) and they’ll publish it for sure. I featured this post over at Fancy Pancakes bc I think it’s something that so many people will love.

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  4. Found you via Fancy Pancakes… super post, Dad! I was dying reading this. Mine are only three and two, but they don’t miss a beat, so we are already talking in code. You and the wife have us way beat, though!

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