Put Me In, Coach

Image by jeffk

A lovely surprise arrived in today’s mail.

It was a letter. A genuine, hand-written letter on lined white paper, the sort of which I had forgotten existed in this age of e-greetings.  A letter from an old teacher and mentor whom I haven’t seen in years.

This letter was from my former basketball coach.

He wrote to congratulate me on the birth of Baby Sister.  How he knew about her arrival, I’m not sure.  I suspect he ran into my mother at the church they both still attend and she shared the news.

Then younger than I am now, he coached my grade school team for the five years I was on it. And he taught me a lot during that time – not just about protecting my dribble and following through on my jump shot, but about teamwork, dedication, trust, and acceptance.

I didn’t always feel like I fit in as a kid.  I was pretty nerdy, I wore glasses, I spent “too much” time reading, and I didn’t always feel like my classmates were interested in the things I was.  But I did feel like I fit in on that basketball team where I found two of the very best friends I had before high school.

And maybe that was because I was pretty good.  (Please note that “pretty good” is a relative term here.  We were a very successful CYO team, but this was long before the days of semi-professional kids’ sports.)  Or maybe that was because my coach created an environment where we learned how to work together as a team to reach our goals, where he didn’t tolerate cattiness or histrionics.

One of the defining moments of my childhood came at the Saint Rose basketball tournament held annually over the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  I can’t remember if I was in fourth or fifth grade, but I was little and pretty scrawny and not nearly as competent or confident a player as I eventually became.

Our team held a close lead at the end of the game when one of our better players fouled out.  Coach looked down at our paltry bench and found only me and Anne S. – a nice, but lackadaisical eighth grader – sitting there.  Knowing he had to substitute one of us into the game for the now disqualified player, he called my name.

Why he had confidence in me – that I could help us hold onto our lead and eventually win the game – I’m not exactly sure.  (And, frankly, maybe his choice says more about his opinion of Anne S. than of me.)  But I still remember where I stood when I first got onto the court, how small I felt surrounded by the bigger and older players, how worried I was that I would drop a pass or miss a defensive assignment.

But I didn’t do either of those things.  No, I didn’t make a dramatic shot at the buzzer or a decisive block to assure the victory for my team.  I was merely a cog in the wheel of the team.  But I did my job for the minute I was on the court and that was that.

And my coach trusted me to do that.  Funny how sometimes trust in ourselves derives from someone else’s trust in us.

A lovely surprise arrived in today’s mail.

And with it happy memories of the lessons learned from an old teacher.

Who were your early mentors?  Did you recognize them as such when you were young?  Are you still in touch with them?


13 responses to “Put Me In, Coach

  1. “Trust in ourselves derives from someone else’s trust in us.” Yes, this is so very true and so worth remembering. What a gift, to hand someone else our faith, to let them know we think they have what it takes, even if they aren’t so sure themselves. Lovely inspiration for this June morning.

  2. I had a much different experience with sports. I had never done them, so when I started to show interest, I noticed very quickly that I was years behind. It wasn’t just about playing and having fun; we were supposed to be winning and earning letters and all that. I tried tennis in my freshman year of high school only to be told I’d be on the “other team,” the one who didn’t play.

    My small college was where I fit in, and I still connect with professors there from time to time. From the first week there, I felt like I was home; I was encouraged to be myself.

    • I think I started playing sports at just the right time: it was early enough that the expectations were reasonable and I never thought playing basketball was going to be a full-time job; and it was late enough that girls’ sports were taken seriously enough and it was understood that we would be committed to the team and to our own improvement. Just the right amount of serious.

      I coached high school sports for years and it seems as though this balance has been lost for a lot of kids by the time they get to 9th grade. Some of them had been playing so competitively for so long that they – and their parents – seemed to have no joy left in the experience. And some of them didn’t opt into that ultra-competitive machinery early on and so didn’t have the skills to make it at the high school level. It’s sad that there isn’t as much middle ground left to our kids today.

  3. This is such a wonderful essay! And this is such a wonderful line: “I did my job for the minute I was on the court and that was that.” What a powerful minute.

    Thank you for sharing this story. It’s beautifully written. I want to go write a letter now.

  4. Kristen, what a lovely story. Sometimes people see greatness in us that we have not yet discovered. Reading your words, I can feel how this letter made your day and made you remember such fond memories.

  5. Oh, that is SUCH a warm salve for the soul — a hand written letter from a mentor. I’m feeling inspired to get out a pen and some paper — there is such goodness in putting ink on a page and sending out some love and encouragement.

  6. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful mentors in my early years as a teacher. The lessons learned carried outside of the classroom and into my personal life. I talk to one of them regularly and always feel invigorated to take on anything after speaking to her.

  7. I love that your coach sent you a letter. The thrill of receiving a letter in the mail and opening it from a past connection is so full of goodness. It means so much more than an email or text message. So glad you got to experience this moment and grateful that you shared it with us.

  8. I am a big fan of getting children into organized sports because it provides so many benefits. I hope that one day my children have similar feelings and memories to what you described here.

  9. My son played one season of U6 AYSO soccer. When the kids swarmed around the ball, he usually ran the other way. One day, someone nudged the ball and it landed near him. Without thinking, he strode into it and kicked it hard down field, sending everyone chasing after it. For weeks afterward, he talked about the goal he’d scored.

  10. Sounds like a great coach 🙂 I didn’t really like sports much at school, I was always the “unsporty” one (being heavily asthmatic didn’t help), but I loved to dance. From dance classes I learnt everything that I didn’t learn in school sports: persistence, patience, and not a little teamwork (especially as I mostly did the kind of dance where everyone should be doing the same steps in time with the group).

  11. There must be something in the air, because I recently ran into one of my high school mentors – and of course it was at Starbucks! How easy it is for our lives to get so busy that we forget to take the time and remember them, and who we are because of them. Thanks for sharing this story! What a lovely glimpse into your past my friend.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s