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Dads words of encouragement
Fathers draw line between fandom, forcing a sport
Wakeboarder Ryan Free, left, had encouragement from his father, Steve Free while growing up and taking an interest in sports. They key, Steve says, is to encourage kids in sports they truly enjoy.

It takes a special kind of dad to support, and also encourage, their children just the right amount without being overbearing and pushy, as their kids develop interests in sports and other activities.

We asked a few local dads to reflect on how to give their children the right amount of confidence and encouragement to their children as they follow their dreams.

Steve Free, father of Steve and Ryan Free, raised two sons who have excelled in separate sports. Steve was a standout baseball player at Gainesville High School and Ryan now has made his mark in the wakeboarding world.

"Let them do what they are comfortable with and as long as it makes them happy," said their father. "Whatever makes them happy and as long as they do it within the law."

It’s about being there for encouragement and support, he said. "They were both active in sports, so whatever makes them happy and whatever they pursue, stand behind them and help them all you can."

Local tennis coach Gary Sherby has one daughter and has been teaching tennis for 25 years in Gainesville.

He said it’s important to keep the fun in whatever sport or hobby interests your child.

"I think the word is fun. When the fun disappears, that’s when the rot sets in," Sherby said. "I do say rot because it is a shame when someone gives up playing tennis."

Often, that "rot" happens when a child is forced into a sport that doesn’t make them excited.

"There are young players that are thrust into the competitive arena, and it takes the joy out of hitting the tennis ball."

That’s when the line between encouragement and pushing children into something they aren’t comfortable with is crossed. Steve Free, Steve and Ryan’s father, said he never had to push his kids.

"Steve playing baseball — you didn’t have to push him, he just did it," he said. "And Ryan is the same way. When he took this (wakeboarding) up, you never had to push him. He was out there practicing."

Ryan has a few sponsors that help finance his wakeboarding passion, but he said his dad is by far his biggest sponsor. And being there for support is different from pushing kids to compete in a particular sport, he said.

"He’s just always been there with anything I wanted to do. He was right behind me, and I think that’s what is key," Ryan said. "If you push your kids they get burned out really easy. He’s always supported me with football, baseball and now with wakeboarding, he’s still here."

Steve and Ryan’s father does finance a good portion of Ryan’s wakeboarding, but he said he likes to — even though it is an expensive sport.

"My wife (Donna) says I spoil both of them," he said. "But I guess if I want to, I can."

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