An Open Letter to My Son's Coach

Subject: An Open Letter to My Son's Coach
From: Jen Cohen
Date: 5 May 2015

Hi Coach:

I wanted to let you know how my son is doing. It's been more than a decade since we've spoken and I can recall our last encounter like it was yesterday. I will never forget when you described how my son's journey would unfold.

I think the words you said were, "Your son will never SUCCEED in football." Do you still have magical powers that allow you to see into the future?

As I sit here watching my son at college football recruiting day, I reminisce about times past. It wasn't long ago my son suited up for football practice and arrived at the field ready to work hard under your charge. Coach, your words of advice, "Arrive on time, prepared and ready to deliver a best effort," were met with an eager-to-please attitude from my 10-year-old son. When other young players neglected to demonstrate this same courtesy, your actions spoke louder than your words.

More often than not, my son would acquiesce, at the insistence of fellow teammates, to relinquish his position as quarterback. You turned a blind eye. It was clear (to you) my 10-year-old son wasn't destined for the NFL. Your endorsement of this bully behavior made complete sense when I reflected many years later. To you, these were the rules of engagement. In your opinion, youth talent trumped heart and hard work. This is what you taught my son and many other young athletes excited about learning the game. Thank you!

By your own admission, Coach, your leadership was a force to be reckoned. My son learned valuable skills from the examples you set. Undeniably, your coaching acumen was reserved only for the players you favored. Because my son wasn't favored by you, we sought outside experts to improve his skills. Did your crystal ball show you how far he would go? The successes he would have? The man of integrity he would become?

Of course not... self-importance clouded your vision.

With all of the anticipation of Christmas morning, my son watched as you gave jersey numbers of choice only to those with the greatest potential for success (according to you.) Thank you, Coach, for then confusing "underachievers" by telling them numbers on jerseys are irrelevant in football. And, thank you for teaching youth that approval of non-standard apparel was afforded only to "star" athletes. This was exemplified at the end of football season awards banquet. I never could understand why youth athletes were required to dress the part -- suits and ties -- while your "star" athletes attended in basketball practice clothes. I applaud you for the statement you made through non-action. My son wore the uncomfortable suit and tie. Clearly, success is well out of his reach.

I survey the high school football players on my son's team who are now in their senior year, waiting to see which college team they will commit to. And those suits and ties fill the room. We're lucky you were such a stickler for looking and acting in a professional manner. Interestingly, absent from these students seeking bright futures are your once star youth players. I suspect they had a higher calling just like you predicted... NFL.

Thank you, Coach for highlighting my 10-year-old's physical limitations as a detriment. I appreciate your ability to see into the future. As a result, my son has learned how to fight through his genetic predisposition by training longer and harder.

Sheer brilliance is what came to my mind when recalling your unique approach to instruction of tackling fundamentals. "Wrap him up like you are making love to him," was such an insightful sound bite and painted a vivid picture youth athletes could relate to when learning appropriate tackling form. Thank you, Coach!

Coach, you taught my son to believe in you and not in himself. Principles of ethics, respect, and coach-ability, these are concepts you put little stock in. Negative reinforcement and showcasing mistakes in a public manner was super motivating! Your true character was revealed over and over again. Your words still ring in my ear, "Creating opportunities to shine is for the weak" (meanwhile, you only put "star" athletes on the field.) It was great how you did nothing to create a team environment and passive aggressively honored only those you thought would win the game.

Thank you, Coach, from the bottom of my heart for telling my son all the things he would never be... a quarterback, a receiver, a success. This is what youth sports are all about -- demoralizing, dehumanizing, berating and stifling the love of the game. Great job!

I now realize your actions provided a tremendous catalyst for life-changing decisions. Our family relocated to a small town that welcomed us with open arms. We're now part of a community that's home to the best public high school football program in the State of California. My son is thriving. You may be shocked to learn he is succeeding not only in football but other sports. It must be a fluke. Or, maybe that crystal ball is broken. Every successful athlete needs someone like you to inspire them to greatness. Because of you, my son's trajectory will far exceed anything you ever dreamed possible.

Thank you, Coach, for not believing in my son.

Yours truly,

Jen Cohen