It’s not easy being a coach’s son. And it is not easy for a coach to be the father of one of his players.
While the experience certainly has its tough moments, it’s a lifelong bonding experience for a parent and a child. I grew up playing for my dad in a variety of sports, then in turn coached my kids when they were growing up.
I miss those days but will always fondly remember the memories we created in those years, both as a son then as a parent.
For Dublin High boys’ basketball coach Tom Costello, the years of coaching his sons Nick and TJ is nearing the end of the road. Nick has already moved on to college, while TJ is a senior on the Gaels’ basketball team.
Costello also has two younger daughters – Sydney, a sophomore, and Riley, a middle-school student – and he has coached both, but more on that later.
“It’s been an incredible time,” said Tom about coaching the two boys. “It’s something we will always remember.”
As the boys were growing up, Tom was there to coach any sport the boys participated in – even soccer.
“He was a terrible soccer coach,” joked Nick, now a playing his freshman season for the U.C. San Diego baseball team.
“I was an awful soccer coach,” confirmed Tom. “I just gave them all nicknames. When they asked for coaches, I said 'OK – I’m in.'”
But the important thing is that Tom was there, as he has been for the boys all the way through high school.
Nick, being the oldest, was the first one to venture in to the father-son/coach-player high school dilemma. For starters, the kids were raised in Pleasanton, attending school from K-8 in Pleasanton.
But Tom was the varsity basketball coach at Dublin and when Nick hit eighth grade, it was decision time.
“That decision was a little hairy,” said Tom of Nick choosing Dublin over Amador – his parents', and uncles’ alma mater. “Nick was the trailblazer. I told him I don’t want to coach against you. You’ve got to make a decision, or I have to make a decision.”
Nick chose to follow Tom and headed to Dublin. And then the father being the coach chatter started.
“When you first step on campus, you are the coach’s son,” said Tom. “It doesn’t matter what you accomplish, it’s because you are the coach’s son.”
According to Jennifer Costello, Tom’s wife and the kids’ mother, Nick was the perfect one to go first.
“I think with Nick, he just rolled with it,” said Jenn. “He is a super go-with-the-flow type of kid.”
Nick heading to Dublin, at least in his freshman year, greatly altered the Costello family daily schedule.
“The year Nick went to Dublin, I think my car became attached to my body,” said Jenn of getting kids to and from school, practices and back home. “We got Wi-Fi in the car, so the kids were always able to do their homework. One of the kids always had somewhere they needed to be.”
Nick’s freshman year athletically wasn’t a major issue as he wasn’t on the varsity. But in his sophomore year Nick made the varsity basketball team.
“I was super careful not to put Nick in an awkward position,” explained Tom. “Nick had to earn every minute of his playing time. I wasn’t playing him as much as he should have been, and it took his teammates coming up to me and asking why Nick wasn’t playing more.”
I can remember watching Nick play as a sophomore and there was no doubt he belonged on the court. Both he and TJ are tremendous athletes, easily in the upper echelon of their respective EBAL classes.
But that doesn’t matter to some people who only see the coach’s son playing and not their own.
Much like Jenn said, Nick handled it right in stride.
“You always have those people that think your dad is the reason you are playing,” said Nick. “People are always going to think whatever they want to think. You can’t let it bother you.”
TJ also had the option of going to school in Pleasanton or joining Nick and his dad at Dublin. He also was ready for what comes with playing for your dad.
“This was my first time playing for him in a few years,” said TJ. “I was up for it – I’m not into all the drama.”
In a game at Monte Vista toward the end of the regular season, TJ was on the receiving end of some not-so-nice taunts and barbs from the MV fans.
“That was really my first taste of it,” explained TJ. “Sometimes it takes a hard toll, but you just work through it.”
The decision to attend Dublin was the right thing, with the positives far outweighing the negatives.
“Dublin High has been our life,” said Jenn. “They have been playing on that court since they were little. It really has been super fun to see them all together.”
Still, those negatives are there.
It’s not just people from your own school that can be brutal, but students and parents from other schools that take the chance to lash out when Dublin comes to their school for a game, just as TJ found out at Monte Vista.
That drains Tom when it happens.
“When the other team or crowd sees them, they are marked people,” said Tom of some of the boys' experiences they have had with road games. “You feel bad for them, and you feel responsible for putting them in that spot. But they have both come through it and both are mentally tougher for being a coach’s kid.”
Having your son play for you has benefits as well. For instance, interaction with the boys and their teammates helped make Tom a better coach.
“We helped take care of the players,” said Nick. “We’re more like messengers.”
Like helping Tom know what he needs to know about his players daily. As one of the students, as well as a teammate, they are more in tune with what’s going on and that means keeping Tom abreast of any situation.
“One thousand percent,” said Nick. “I can’t tell you how many times I did that. I’d walk into practice and my dad would ask if there was anything he needed to know. I would tell him to ease up on someone if they were having a bad day or tell him to check on someone if they were struggling. These were conversations that took place quickly. I knew my role.”
TJ also agreed with Nick about being a sounding board between the team and their coach/dad.
“They know they can talk to me,” said TJ of his teammates. “They can get things off their chest and then I can talk to my dad. It’s like being a big brother.”
The two boys had different ways on making suggestions to their dad when it came to the team.
“Nick was very sly about making suggestions,” said Tom. “TJ on the other hand is the type that raises his hand right in the middle of practice and saying, ‘Hey coach, maybe we should try this’.”
“That is quite accurate,” said TJ with a laugh. “But I was doing it all with good intentions.”
Were there ever times when the line between coach and father blurred?
“We try to leave it in the car after the drive home,” said Tom of most of the shop talk. “I try to just be dad at home – they need both.”
One wonderful aspect of coaching your kids is the memories you will carry with you the rest of your life. I’ve been there and it was great to hear Tom share the parts of the experience that put a smile on his face.
“With Nick, the year we won the EBAL in a double overtime game – the hug we had was everything,” said Tom. “With TJ, it was just getting to hang out more together. We have become closer this year.”
Now with TJ’s tenure coming to an end at Dublin, time of Costello kids playing for dad is not necessarily coming to an end.
Last year, with the weird spring COVID schedule, Tom had some time to be an assistant with the Dublin varsity softball team, where Sydney earned the starting shortstop spot as a freshman.
This also produced some hilarious memories.
While Nick and TJ rolled with being a coach’s son, Sydney took a different approach as being a coach’s daughter.
“She was super conscious of it,” said Tom relating to having her dad as a member of the coaching staff. “That was interesting. We’d come home and she would say, ‘Why did you say those lame quotes?’ Here I was just trying to motivate the team.”
Sydney laughed before answering if that was true.
“Um, well, not entirely,” said Sydney. “There were sometimes when that was just dad and his sense of humor.”
Tom also had to laugh when recalling one other comment from Sydney.
“She told me there was 14 girls on the team that loved him and wanted to coach them next season, but there was one that didn’t,” said Tom, adding a good laugh.
Sydney agreed for the most part.
“Everyone did love him,” said Sydney. “I just thought of him my coach – keeping dad and coach separate. He is a good coach – he has a lot of wisdom.”
With Riley getting ready to enter high school, the future Dublin High soccer player is moving the Costello family from the warm confines of the gym, to winter nights outside.
“We’re not used to outdoor sports in the winter,” said Jenn. “That will take some adjusting.”