An Open Letter to the Unsung Heroes,
I saw you at the off-season trainings, focused and sweaty and practicing your craft. You were early to every practice, you helped me bring gear out to my car at the end. You weren’t born with supernatural speed, or gifted with that height coaches get all excited about when they pick teams. You had to work for every bit of skill that you have, and you put in more work than most of the superstars on the team. You earned everything you wanted the old fashioned way, hard work and dedication.
Your shots didn’t always fall. In fact, in the stats you aren’t at the top, sometimes you have no stats at all despite the amount of effort you put in. I know you watched some of the superstars on the team and on the inside there was that piece of you that wanted to be in their shoes. It’s why you trained and focused so hard. Sometimes I could sense your frustration, that you weren’t coming up as the hero on the team because you wanted so much to be a big contributor. You wanted to serve your teammates, and in a world that tends to recognize only the efforts that show up on a score board, you felt you were letting them down.
So I wrote this for you. Because of the things you didn’t see, the part you don’t understand about how valuable you truly are. That time you came off the field because we needed someone to close the door and finish goals. You had a heart to heart encouraging talk with our best scorer who was not performing and after that, she won the game for us, she was the cover story that week. You did that. There was that time that you made space for our best shooter so many times in a game that we beat one of the hardest teams in our conference. Space that no one else was opening up, space that only you thought to create to give this superstar the opportunity to grab even more spotlight.
There was that time that you pushed so hard at practice that the entire team ran their sprints faster just to keep up with your work ethic. The day you pumped up the team because they were feeling down. The practice you thanked me for the extra help I gave you when I was feeling like a failure as a coach. The smile that always made practice better. The positivity that always brought good things out of frustration. The accountability that you modeled for the new players coming in. The passes you made to the person who got credit for the assist. The hustle to the ball that got it to the ones getting all the credit. The voice that kept the chaos in check in tough situations on the field. The player that always had that extra stick, extra mouth guard, extra jersey, the snacks to share for the players that weren’t nearly as organized and on top of things as you. You drove the freshman home who didn’t have rides. You gave them encouragement and perspective every single time as you took them home.
Teams may SCORE GOALS because of the recognized, the superstars, the stat holders, but they WIN and they thrive because of players like you. To the unsung hero of my team I say, we are not a team without the glue, the hustle, the heart and the soul and that is exactly what you are. We give credit to the finishers, but my cherished athlete, the team is what it is because of those who start it all. And you, you are a starter, a spark, a flame that carries your teammates through whatever challenge comes our way. Stats will stick around on paper, but your impact will be carried by your teammates and your coaches in our hearts long after you move on to your next adventure.