Throughout our careers, we will have relationships with a few different coaches. If we are lucky, we will get to know and be close to a few. Those relationships will be some of the most important and influential ones of your career and life. They mean a lot to you – personally and professionally. They are your mentors in swimming and in life. They help you navigate a plethora of situations in and out of the pool. You would do (almost) anything they tell you to do.
However, what happens when that coach leaves? There is the initial reaction and shoc k- and how to react to that news, but then the shock and anger wear off and time presses on. You both go separate ways and the person who was once your mentor is no longer there. They are no longer around to guide you through the challenging tasks of swimming and life. Time and space away from each other have made interactions awkward and maybe even uncomfortable when you do see each other – something that you never thought was possible given how close you were originally. You don’t recognize them, and you are sure that they do not recognize you either.
This is the same person who once knew you better than you knew yourself. The person who taught you how to handle yourself on the deck and how to carry yourself through life. Now you have no idea how to even interact with them.
Personally, I had one coach who I was very close with. I worked with him for years and we went through the ringer together. We argued, drove each other crazy and did not see eye to eye all the time, but I respected who he was as a coach and as a person. We had a great relationship, and he was one of the best coaches I have ever had the good fortune of working with. He could even talk me into competing in the mile when I would have rather done any other event.
Then one day, suddenly, he was no longer a part of my life. He had gotten his dream job and needed to pursue it. I was happy and mad at him all in the same instance. We both knew at that point in time that this was it – and we would have to take our careers in different directions, independently of each other. Selfishly, I was upset with him and did not want him to leave. I wished he was never given the opportunity for that job – which was wrong. He worked hard, was an amazing coach and deserved it. I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it as I was so upset. He seemed to feel similarly as I did, however it was a mix of emotions that were never discussed.
The result of these mixed emotions? We do not speak anymore and haven’t in a few years. Granted, the state of our speaking terms are not malicious or vengeful in any way but are a result of what time and space have naturally allowed. In a way, that is the worst part, that someone once so close to me is so naturally not involved anymore. It would be easier if it were for petty reasons. It would give us a reason not to want to be involved as opposed to none at all. I look back on that relationship with the fondest of memories and I hope they do as well.
With that being said, this is an open letter to the coach who left me. Know that I still admire and respect you. I thank you for every single time you pushed me to be my best, when you knew better, and I was too stubborn to admit it. I hope that you know how much of an impact you had on my life even all these years later, and I am sorry if I didn’t make that clear enough while you were my coach and actively in my life. I am sorry for any time I wasted being stubborn and not listening because you were always right, even if I did not want to admit it. You were the one to teach me how to be an athlete and the significance of what that meant – that not everyone could be the athlete that I could be. Thank you for teaching me the meaning of true sacrifice and how to handle setbacks and victories. Thank you teaching me perseverance and patience, patience still being the one in progress. Thank you for trying to comfort me when I was upset – even though you were uncomfortable. Most of all, thank you for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself and for caring enough to be hard on me.
I wish our fates had aligned better and things had gone differently, but I am beyond grateful for every second and drop of energy you gave to me. I am proud and grateful to have called you my coach and my mentor. I wish you all the best and hope that one day we will meet again. If we don’t, then please take this letter as a small piece of appreciation that you deserve. Thank you coach, for everything you did for me and the lasting impact you had on my life.
With much admiration and respect,