Okay, Pandora, that’s no fair. I know I might have tempted fate by putting on my Peter Gabriel station while I crafted my farewell note to the parents of the couple of dozen kids I’ve coached over the past six years. But “I Grieve”? Perhaps the most heart-wrenching song ever written? I mean, I cry when I hear that one even when I’m not feeling wistful. Jeez.
But there I was, arrow hovering over the “Send” button, mouse in one hand, napkin in the other (tissues were too far away). Gus made the fall travel team, and, having already committed to coaching Gunnar’s team, it was finally time to cut my big boys loose. The sentiment that I wrestled into tear-free hugs, smiles, and manly pats on the back at our spring season farewell party now had a choke hold on me, as the lump in my throat evidenced. This was it—CoachN no more.
Resisting the flood of memories was akin to stopping the ocean with a chain-link fence. There flashed a dozen 5-year-olds with chocolate smeared all over their faces after I had given them Wonka DoNutz—a short-lived doughnut-shaped treat covered in sprinkles—having survived their first base-running adventure with the tickle monster. While healthier snacks were quickly requested by the parents, I will never be able to get the mental photo of pure sugar-fueled joy out of my head.
These players may have not been my children, but they were my boys. First hits. First, catches. First pitches. Those memories belong to me. High fives for a big play. A hand on the shoulder after an error brings tears. Slapping each one of them with my cap until they giggled into submission when I handed them their championship trophy. All of these events are carved into my heart and etched into the person I’ve become.
Yes, yes, I knew this day was coming. Yes, yes, I am still coaching my younger son’s team. But as my index finger wavered, I knew that the relationship I had forged with these bumbling kindergarteners, these earnest 2nd graders, these hard-working 4th graders, these middle schoolers fighting to become men; it would never be the same again. I was saying farewell to those who helped me find a calling in life. Who had helped me see the game I loved in ways I never imagined or expected. They had all given me a gift that they may only truly understand when they arrive here at my middle-aged station.
And CoachN, at least in this iteration, is at an end.
But I have learned a couple of valuable lessons. One is that all the standard claptrap that teachers say about “them learning as much as they taught” isn’t claptrap at all. It’s not that a teacher or coach learns new things about what she or he is teaching (though that certainly happens), but in the practice of imparting what you know and value to children, you learn things about yourself. Sometimes it’s things you don’t like very much, but you’re glad you know them because it’s a chance to change for the better. Sometimes its good things you never thought you had in you—a most pleasant surprise indeed. Mostly, though, it’s that you learn that your capacity to take others into your heart truly knows no limits or bounds. And that truly is the greatest gift that comes from being a coach.
Oh, and the other lesson that I learned is that Gus and Gunnar will never be allowed to leave home.
Okay, that might just be the Peter Gabriel talking.