Dear My “Coach-Dad,”
This letter has been a long-time coming. Words that have needed to be said, just hard to get them down because there are so many. These words are so many, because they are not just from me; you see, they are from players, teammates, whole teams that you have coached for the past twenty-six years now. We all feel the same. I’m just the one trying to put them into a letter to you.
Many of us had both parents growing up, but so many of us didn’t, either. I am part of the latter group, and am thankful every day for it. I am certain if I did have both parents growing up, you wouldn’t mean quite what you do to me, today. I am certain I would have taken for granted the stern talking-to’s, the sincere advice given, hard-discipline, and your approval would not have meant so much to me. They all did. Every ounce of wisdom, discipline, teachings, and approval meant the world to me. They still do, all these years later.
Years ago, I thought the hard-work on the court meant all the extra grueling hours I put in during the summer, before and and after practices, and even the after-hours of studying hard off the court, to prevail for college. I didn’t know, it laid the foundation for me and all the extra hours I would accumulate to be a good parent: doing laundry in the middle of the night, staying up sick with a baby, or even the sleepless nights of worrying about my child. I honestly didn’t know what exhaustion was, until after my jersey was hung up, and the basketball shoes were retired. You knew this, though. You knew I would always have more to give, somewhere, down deep, there was always more to give in order to make those around me better.
The perseverance you taught me, as you pushed me through extra work-outs, “just one more” sprint, an extra set of one hundred free-throws, and coming back after a less-than-great performance, was really just preparing me for my future, wasn’t it? You knew I would need perseverance when life threw it’s biggest foul on me when my husband got sick with cancer, as we were two months away from expecting our first-born son. You knew I wasn’t going to get a time-out with line-drills lined up, 5-4-3-2-1 mountains I’d have to climb down, and then back up again when the chemo stopped working, when the baby was teething, and when the hospital stays became our second home. You knew the pressure would be at it’s highest, I’d be exhausted just like at the end of the game with 2.2 seconds left, and I was toeing up to the free-throw line with the game on my shoulders, didn’t you? You knew life wasn’t going to be fair, and the mental toughness to push through would be the only way through, though. You most certainly knew quitting wasn’t an option, not thirteen years ago, and not now. You knew all these things in advance, and you just applied our lessons on the hardwood.
The dedication you taught me to have to you, my teammates, our fans when I was tired and didn’t think I had any more to give as the game was on the line, in the final seconds; well, now I knew you knew more. You knew I would need to be dedicated to kids, colleagues, parents, and athletes that would need more from me as a coach and a teacher. You knew I had to be even more dedicated when my family still needed even more of me than what I had already given, after a long day. You knew I would have to dig deep, and find even more fight to finish strong. You knew staying dedicated to those that needed me, would be a character lesson that would define me as a person, didn’t you?
Your expectation that I always be more than I ever thought I could be, the way you believed in me, and pushed me to be greater, was something I thought only you could see. Most days, I thought you were trying to convince yourself that I had “it” in me to overcome life’s obstacles, and to keep going on to find success, post basketball. What I didn’t know, though, was you saw it, and now I believe it. You saw a lot of things, I didn’t see. I am sure you still do.
I never thought that consoling hug after a tough loss that ended our season could be more comforting. I also thought that season-ending, post-game talk was quite possibly the hardest speech you ever had to give to me, our team. That day, that day after my husband passed away, and you drove to my house and held me like a baby on my front porch, that was the hardest talk we ever had to have. When I thought I wanted to give up on the game, because of being in a funk, much like the day I didn’t think I could go on to raise my son without my husband here to help me, well you reminded me that your athletes don’t quit. You wouldn’t let me. When I didn’t think I had another sprint to give to you, another workout to push through, any more strength to get through life after my biggest blow so many years later, you reminded me your athletes were strong. We never quit. We always persevered. We only got back up, laced up our shoes tighter, and practiced harder.
Thank you for being my dad, you didn’t have to choose to be. I know you were my coach, but somewhere, you became all of our dad’s too. A bonus dad, a coach-dad. Your athletes spent more waking hours with you, as you monitored us in the hallways, as we perfected our skills, got more shots in, and became “one,” than we did with our own blood-families. You led our pack, just like a dad leads his family. You taught us hard lessons, that you knew we would need in life, so many years later. You showed us tough love, and disciplined us. You gave us wisdom, guidance, and love. You gave us a coach-dad by leading us with your own actions and words spoken on-and-off the court.
All these years later, though, I realized you taught us life. You are pretty darn good with the x’s and o’s, with game strategy and changing from a man-to-man to a diamond-and-one, evident by the records, winning seasons, and amazing athletes you’ve developed along the way. However, what I never knew was it was all a disguise. You taught us life. You gave us every skill we would need to be successful, to keep pushing through, to persevere at life’s blows, and to never quit.
Thanks for being our coach-dad. I could have never made it through life without the lessons you taught us on the court.
One of Your Many Basketball Daughters,