(This article by Mary Ann Ware first appeared here on her amazing blog and is reprinted with permission)
To My Son’s Soccer Coach:
Last weekend, after the final game of the season, you posed with my son and his seven teammates in front of the goal for some team pictures. There you were, one man towering over eight little boys with their arms linked like a chain, big smiles on each face. You tolerated the parent paparazzi and even humored the boys with a crazy-face picture. You didn’t complain; you just acted like a nine-year-old, too, but I’m pretty sure that you were glad when the photo session was over.
Coach, lots of kids play soccer these days, and many of them have similar pictures on the shelves in their rooms. But to my son, this picture – this team, this experience – it is all so special. This team picture represents so much more than just the hours that he spent kicking a ball around with some friends. It is bigger than his successes and his mistakes on the field. It is more significant than the assists that he made or the points that he defended or the breakaways that he finished. And every time I see that picture, Coach, I wonder if you know, if you really understand, just how much you mean to my kid.
My son is a lucky guy. He has some great men in his life, men of integrity, who are training him to be a great man, too. His dad is always cheering on the sidelines. His grandpas love him more than words. His uncles spoil him with gifts and attention. But there is something about you, the other man in his life, that matters to him so much. There is something there that is hard to explain, something special about the relationship between a boy and his coach. I don’t know if you feel it, Coach, but I know that he does, and I hear that the other boys do, too.
You should know that my son, like most little boys, complains about a lot of things. He complains about homework. He complains about taking care of the dog. He complains about brushing his teeth at night. But one thing that he never complains about is going to practice. Every cell in that kid’s body desires to work hard and play hard with his team. He is hungry to learn and to improve for himself and his friends. If he doesn’t feel well and can’t attend school, no problem, but just the thought of missing a practice or a game can reduce my little man to tears. His team gives him a drive and a purpose, and you set the positive tone for that. You teach him to sweat, to show leadership, and to strive to improve. You teach him to persevere when things aren’t easy. You teach him what the give and take of being a teammate really means. These aren’t just lessons that are important in soccer; these are lessons that will guide him for the rest of his life.
Listen, Coach, I live with two little boys, and I know how frustrating they can be. I’m guessing you’ve already noticed, but sometimes they don’t listen. Okay, let’s be honest:A lot of the time, they don’t listen. They can be looking right into your eyes, nodding in agreement, and still not be paying attention to a single word that you’ve said. I’ve been there, Coach; I get it. I also know that they are easily distracted. SO easily distracted! I imagine that if a squirrel runs by or an airplane flies overhead during practice, you probably lose ten minutes just trying to get eight little boys back on track. Then there’s that little boy thing where they can’t keep their hands off each other. I don’t understand it, but I live with them, and I know that even the simplest, quietest activity always ends in wrestle mania. And let’s not forget that sometimes little boys can be insensitive with their words while at the same time being incredibly sensitive with their feelings. Stir all of this craziness into a pot, and the fact that you accomplish anything in the short amount of time that you spend with these animals is something amazing. And you keep coming back week after week, Coach. I guess, like us parents, you also see their joy, their innocence, their loyalty, their honesty, and their pure, undefiled love of the game. Thanks, Coach, for focusing on the positive when my kid tries your patience, and I know that he and his friends sometimes do.
Your time coaching our son is busy, and our evenings are often a rush, so we don’t have many opportunities to talk to you, but I want you to know that we see what you do. You might think that we parents are judging you by the wins and the scores, but that’s not really true. Sure, we want our team to be competitive, we want to see our children grow, but we have entrusted you with our greatest treasures, so there are lots of other things that matter from the sideline. Like that time you put your arm around my son while he was sitting on the bench. Do you remember? Probably not. But I do, and I promise I won’t forget that moment. It mattered to me more than anything else in that game. I’m telling you, I notice.
Every fist bump that you’ve given him when he runs off the field.
Every pat on the back that you’ve shared when he’s having a rough game.
Every serious, one-on-one consultation on the sidelines.
Every team huddle and chant.
Every time you have stood up for a player on our team.
Every time my son has deserved your frustration but received your caring instruction instead.
And then there were the times when a player was injured and you immediately ran to his aid. Do you have any idea how agonizing it is for a mom to allow someone else to be the first responder when her child is hurt just a few feet away? But I know that my son would find comfort in you if he were suffering, and that matters more to me than the score.
There were highlights this season, moments when my son’s skills shined and his contributions made a huge difference to his team’s success. You were the first one to congratulate him on those occasions, and that meant so much. And there were times, like every player experiences, when he did not play his best. We all saw it, Coach. I don’t know why he was having a bad day, but I do know that he didn’t want to disappoint you. I saw how you treated him when he was already down. You saw him for what he is, a kid with skills that are still developing, a kid who doesn’t always perform on cue. He could have been an easy target for a frustrated coach, but you didn’t even yell at him. You encouraged him. You instructed him. You motivated him to keep trying and to want to improve at the game that he loves.
Here’s the thing, Coach. We aren’t trying to raise a world-class athlete here, although we do encourage our boys to follow their dreams. We are trying to raise a man, a man who works hard and plays fair, a man who learns from his mistakes and always perseveres, a man who encourages others and shows compassion and shares grace. A man like his dad and his granddads. A man like you.
Thank you for showing my kid that soccer, as much as he loves it, is just a game, but being a part of a productive, positive team can be his real life.
Thank you for being a part of OUR team.
A Soccer Mom
(If this letter inspired you, and you are lucky enough to have an amazing coach like Mary Ann’s son, please leave a note to your coach below in the comments section, and let’s get him or her some recognition.)