We have never met in person, but we have a few things in common. First, we both spend a good amount of our time working with teenagers. Second, we both spend a good amount of time with teenagers who are ski racers. And third, because of our roles, we both make a huge impact on their lives. I’m writing you this letter (after spending two days calming myself down) to thank you for some unexpected life lessons you taught my daughter at Monday’s ski race. I’m not sure if you’ve ever met her in person either, but just in case you haven’t, here’s a little bit about her:
My daughter is just 17, a happy, strong, confident young woman on the verge of graduating from high school. She has been a skier since age 4, a racer since age 7, and has spent endless hours pursuing her passion. My daughter is one of the hardest working athletes I know; she’s sacrificed more than the average teen to excel at her sport, and as a result, she loves every minute of it. She’s even hoping to race next year in college-not because she wants to have a career in skiing, but simply because it makes her happy. My daughter is honest, kind, fair, compassionate and well liked. She’s also a great racer, and because of the mental and physical demands of ski racing, I believe she has grown to be a courageous person. In other words, she’s the kind of kid you’d like to get to know and have on your team.
Now, maybe you had an inkling of my daughter’s spirit over the last few weeks you’ve been watching her race. Or maybe not. I’m not going to second guess your actions here, or unleash my mamawolfe-instinctive-fierceness on you. I simply want to thank you for what you taught us when you threw a temper tantrum and disqualified my daughter for wearing a Go Pro camera on her helmet after she came in first place.
Thanks, Coach, for teaching my daughter that as long as we do the right things for the right reasons, we’re going to be ok. She didn’t strap that camera to her helmet and ski down the course because she was trying to do the wrong thing; in fact, she was given the camera by her coach, who after decades of coaching the high school team, didn’t have an idea that wearing a camera on her helmet would break any rules. She wasn’t trying to hide anything, she wasn’t trying to do anything wrong; in fact, she’s the kind of girl who avoids breaking rules at all costs. Had she known she could be DQed, she would have eagerly removed it. She wasn’t trying to be defiant; heck, she’s never even gotten a detention in 12 years of school! In the end, she accepted that she unknowingly broke a rule, and that since you objected, that was that. Thanks to you, Coach, at the end of the day she could look at herself in the mirror and know she was ok.
Thanks, Coach, for teaching my daughter that it’s not always about you. When she responded to my congratulatory text with the message that you had DQed her, I was shocked. I struggled to come up with words that would become a virtual hug huge enough to console her obvious disappointment, and the first thing that came to mind was to say that sometimes people do things to others because they feel vulnerable, and they project that fear onto someone they perceive as ‘below’ their chain of power. In my eyes, that’s the worst thing a teacher, coach, or parent can do. It’s bullying, it’s cowardly, and it’s a real show of poor sportsmanship. Thanks to you, Coach, she learned how that feels, and will not repeat your behavior.
Thanks, Coach, for teaching my daughter that winners aren’t always the ones who come in first. Anyone who has been around ski racing knows that if you focus on being first, 99% of the time you’ll be disappointed. Ski racing is about preparation, persistence, and perseverance. And of course, it’s nice to make the podium once in awhile, especially when you earned it fair and square. But ski racing has taught my daughter to always do her best and the results will follow. Do you know that after you DQed her (against the objection of every other coach at the race), that your racers came to her and apologized for your behavior? Those results surely don’t show up on the score board. So not only was my daughter validated by her teammates, but also yours. I sincerely hope that your lack of sportsmanship doesn’t change theirs; in my parent handbook, I’ve learned that kind words go much farther than words spoken in anger or fear. Thanks to you, Coach, she learned to hold her head high-she knows what a winner looks like.
Coach, at the end of that day, as she tried to drift off to sleep, I know she was sad. She’s only 17, and hasn’t had nearly the time to learn about life and its inevitable disappointments that you have. I know she felt loved, and safe, and that tomorrow would be a new day, and that there’s always another ski race around the corner. And I also know that one day, when this monumental experience shrivels into the minute, momentary instant in her glorious life, she’ll be able to look back and smile, and maybe even, for just an instant, wonder if you learned something, too.