There once was a beloved coach who after 40 some-odd years chose to step away. He loved the game and he loved his players but knew it was time to move on, give someone else a chance to experience the joys and the challenges.
At his desk opening envelopes from a stack of retirement wishes, he was filled with joy as he traveled down memory lane.
He was humbled to be honored in this way. People actually took time out of their busy day to write him a thoughtful note and mail it to him.
“Dear Coach” one of the letters read,
“You may not remember me. I only played my freshmen year and didn’t get a whole lot of playing time. I was figuring out what I wanted to be and do and joined the team because my friends did. I soon realized that music was where my real interest was (and still is) but I kept coming to practice because that’s where my friends were. At least that’s what I thought then. I now realize, I was coming to practice because of you.
Even though I never scored a point and was never a big play maker, you knew who I was and you treated me like every other player. It’s not like I didn’t have any talent, I played well enough and contributed but I was definitely not on the level of the Simms twins who you probably remember. I think they both got scholarships.
I remember how tough some of the practices were and how you used to tell us “if it was easy, everyone would be on the team”. You made us feel special, but not just special - we felt like we belonged. I remember you telling us what our roles were but you called it a “mission” and that my job was to become the best I possibly could at carrying out that mission.
Of course there were the usual expectations of attending every practice, being on time and recognizing that as a team we were only as strong as our weakest link. I don’t remember the games that much. I don’t even know what our record was for the season. I do remember how good it felt to win and how much it sucked to lose. I remember the time we went to that new water park and that trip we took to play the Mustangs on the coast and stayed at that hotel and went to the beach. That was my first time staying at a hotel, I’ll never forget how cool that was. I also remember at our team banquet, you said something about each of us. It wasn’t anything super profound, it was like a little reference to something about us or something that happened to us during the season. I don’t remember exactly what you said about me but I remember feeling like I mattered.
I remember you telling us that you were giving us opportunities to practice being men because real men keep their commitments, don’t take shortcuts to get better, do their best and help their teammates do the same. We needed all the practice we could get, at least I did.
I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate having been a member of your team. Even though I played for just that 1 season, I kept practicing to become a man. Believe it or not, it worked :)
My son started playing recently and his team needed a coach. My wife “volunt-told” me to coach them. You’ll be happy to know that the first thing I told them was that playing on our team was a chance for them to practice being “Big boys” (They’re 6 year olds). I told them that big boys do what they say they’re gonna do, they don’t cheat, they always do their best and they help their teammates do the same.
We just had our end of the season banquet at the Water Park south of town. I told a little story about each of them before giving them their trophy. Just know that even though you may not be actively coaching anymore, your coaching continues through me.
Enjoy your retirement Coach!”
The coach’s wife entered the room just as he was finishing the letter. He wiped his eyes and placed the letter on the ‘already read’ stack. His wife leaned over his chair and hugged him from behind. “Is everything all right dear?” she asked. “Yes!” he said wiping another tear. “Just practicing being a man!”