When a coach dies the impact is felt. An estimated 60 million children and teens participate in organized sports each year. There are millions of adults who coach and teach them. Some of these adults coach as a career. Others do it as volunteers to pour into their own kids and the community at large.
There is a wide variety of levels of competition in youth sports. From an hour a week of training in recreational sports all the way up to elite level Olympic training. Olympic level athletes may spend up to 40 hours a week with their coaches.
Coaches have impact on the youth
As a result of the large amounts of youth who participate in sports it is inevitable that young athletes will spend a significant amount of time with them. They may even spend more time with them than their own parents. As a result these coaches and teachers have an opportunity to have a big impact on the youth they coach.
True story about when a coach dies
An email notification popped up from the youth wrestling club’s communication liaison. The title said, “very sad news.” I expected that practice must be canceled for some reason. As the message opened I started to read and shock washed over me. “Coach B was in an accident and died”. Coach B was young, healthy, successful and a loving father to two young boys. He was that familiar face your son ran to excited about his success on the wrestling mat. The man who encouraged your boy and built him up and helped him push through hard matches. He was always there pushing his own boys along with the rest of the team learning life lessons.
Now, he is gone. Grief washes over you as you question ‘how do we tell our kids?” You wonder how they will respond. Will they understand?
The reality is that everyone grieves differently, especially children. The age of the child will impact how they respond. At times with children you question if they even notice, but they do. It is important to talk to your kids. Let them express their grief and find ways for them to honor their coach.
Back to our story
The week coach B died the kids wore their team wrestling shirts to a memorial to honor him. The following weekend the other coaches decided the team would still participate in the team tournament. When this group of little boys entered the gym there was something special there. These little boys had temporary tattoos placed on their arms in memory of coach B. The other coaches and Dads stepped up in a way that was very touching. The team won with an overwhelming victory. They never wrestled so well. There was something about the communal grief they shared that brought them together.
The next Monday wrestling practice came again. Coach B’s two young boys were at practice for the first time since his death. They wrestled their little hearts out. The team cheered them on and hugged and wrestled them just as they always did. The boys smiled and laughed and did what they loved. I am convinced that a little wrestling is great for grief.
When a coach dies grieve together
It can be easy to stop doing things like youth sports in the midst of grief. They don’t seem important anymore. However we must not mistake the importance of grieving with our communities. Not sitting alone in our grief but standing together with those who have impacted our children, families and lives.
Find more grief support here.