Day 77. Coach

Vance was the best coach I ever saw.

I know that when people die sometimes we embellish a little (or a lot) and make them out to be more than they were. This is not one of those times.

Vance really was an amazing coach.

Over the years he must have coached more than 30 teams and hundreds of kids. He led baseball, softball, basketball, wrestling, flag football and soccer teams. He taught kids to kick, throw, catch, shoot, pass and take down.

But he did so much more than that. He taught kids to love the game. To be teammates. That they were worth so much more than their athletic ability. He taught kids confidence and empowered them to grow and to be better, not just at sports, but in life. When a kid messed up, some coaches would roll their eyes or even curse. Not Vance. No matter how bad the fumble, he’d clap his ridiculously loud clap and cheer them on. He’d tell them to let it go and to just do the next right thing.

The other day I was a told a story of a mom who’s kid played on a different team, one that played against Vance. At the end of the game Vance patted her son on the back and told him something she couldn’t hear. When she asked him what he said, her son replied, “He told me to keep my head up and to do the next right thing.” That was Vance. He didn’t care if a kid was on “his team” or another. He cared about kids and helping them be the best they could. He made an impression and a difference to kids who weren’t even on his teams.

It wasn’t just the kids he taught either. He showed a lot of parents, including me, how to be better. He was always positive. In over 25 years of coaching, I never once saw him tear a kid down. He never acted like a Little League loss was the end of the world but he made every kid feel like he mattered. Abby said the other day that she was pretty sure no one was ever disappointed to get him for a coach. His teams didn’t always end up with more points than the other team, although a lot of times they did, but they rarely lost.

After he died, a friend shared a video taken a few years ago when Vance had coached one of her boys. They’d just lost the championship game and he was giving out the second place medals. His words to the boys were, “I’m not sad. I’m not mad. I’M STOKED! You played baseball tonight!” And he meant it. And you know what, every one of those boys walked away with their heads held high knowing their coach was proud of them.

Every kid should have the chance to be coached like that.

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