It’s amazing how young athletes react when they see you at the grocery store. Or, when teachers are seen in public places. There’s a bit of a double-take from the kids. They recognize that you also have a separate existence apart from them. Along with that awareness comes the understanding that coaches have free time, and that free time does not include them. But, I am a coach, even at the grocery store. When your athletes find out that you have spent that free time on them, for them, they notice.
In the Grocery Store, I’m a Coach
Shopping mid-day at my local grocery store, I saw two of my hurdlers and another student. The store is close to the high school, so kids head over there to get food for lunch. I happened to be there at lunch time. It was the fall and track season hadn’t started yet. My two hurdlers and the other student were wearing their high school football jerseys as is the tradition on game days. I walked up to the students, and asked them how practice had gone this week, what they thought of the game coming up that night, and maybe a few other questions.
After spending a minute or so with them, I push my cart away and I heard the third student talking to my hurdlers, asking if I went to the football games. My athletes said, “yes, he’s there, and the high jump coach, and the sprints coach. They come to all our games.” The other kid was dismayed, wondering why the coaches would do that. One of the hurdlers responds, “Cause they like to cheer for us.”
Someone Has to Cheer for Them, Why Not a Coach
Granted, the other coaches and I have some ulterior motives. We go to football games to recruit track and field athletes. But we also go to see our athletes compete on the field. And to greet our athletes in the stands. We are cheering for the kids whether they are on the field with the team, or in the stands with their friends.Caitlin Gallagher, in Parents, Going to Every One of Your Kids’ Games Matters More Than You Know, writes:
At every game, I would search for their faces in the stands. When I found them, I knew I mattered. I knew my dreams, no matter how silly or far-fetched they may have seemed, mattered. Whenever I would score points or play good defense, I would look up at my dad for his thumbs-up signal and listen for my mom’s slightly embarrassing roar. Just like in every other aspect of my life, my parents proved I could rely on them. And that feeling has stuck with me throughout my life.
When athletes are missing their parents, we coaches step up. I wish we had more time to go more of their events like drama, orchestra, and soccer. But they notice us, and they appreciate it.
They are Still Kids
These high school athletes we cheer, some of them are bigger than me, it is not always easy to remember, they are still children, adolescents, still figuring things out. Jesus spoke of “receiving a child,” (Mark 9:37) which sounds like catching them when they get tossed your way. I know that’s not what he meant. But it is kind of what we get to do. We can receive children by welcoming them into our spaces; but also by going out of our way to their spaces, we welcome them into our priorities. And they notice the effort.