Dear Mr. Steblay:
You need to know that you were a really great tennis coach.
Tennis was the only sport I played, and I played it big. I spent hours and hours at the old tennis courts and the new tennis courts. Countless mornings, dad woke me at the crack of dawn to hit ball after ball at the courts, just the two of us. Then, after school during tennis season you’d meet the team at the courts and we’d practice our hearts out until the clock ran out. I vividly remember traveling to various tennis meets in the van with our team. You’d drive up front, and the rest of us would pile in the back. We’d do homework on the way to the tennis meet, and we’d chat and laugh on the way back. The fast food stops after meets were always my favorite.
We knew you expected a lot from us, and we performed well. Our team stood up to some of the toughest players from the toughest teams. I was more fearless than I knew at the time. In fact, I’d be much more fearful under that athletic pressure today – that’s for sure. And I credit you for instilling in me, instilling in us, a confidence and a skill level that allowed us to play tennis under any condition.
Through the years, I played singles and doubles with a variety of partners. I appreciate that you gave me a broad experience so I could develop into the best tennis player I could possibly be. My recollection is that I felt equally confident as a singles player as I did a doubles player, which signals to me you did a wonderful job of developing well rounded players. As mom of an almost 11-year-old who just finished six months of traveling basketball and six months of traveling baseball, I know the importance of developing well rounded players.
But in all of my memories of you and my time on the tennis team, there’s one that stands out amongst the rest. It’s a time I need to thank you for, but it’s also a time for which I need to extend an apology.
It was fall, the end of the season was drawing near. It was gray and it was getting colder, which always puts me in a foul mood. We’d been losing a lot, or maybe it we’d been winning a lot? All I know is that the pressure was on to win. We felt it and we knew it. We needed to win. Right before the meet that day, we stood outside the entrance to our tennis courts. You gave us your coach talk and said firmly, but enthusiastically something like “Let’s go out and win this one!”
And I, all naive in my youth, responded with a big sassy “WHY?”
You called me on the carpet immediately for my response. I deserved it. I had been inappropriate and disrespectful in my tone, and my timing was all wrong. So for that, for my questioning your desire to win and disrespecting your authority at the inappropriate time, I would like to sincerely apologize.
On the other hand, I also want to thank you for that moment.
1) You addressed my improper behavior, but then you moved on. For that, I am grateful. You could have shamed me or punished me further, but you didn’t.
2) To this day, I’m still fascinated by my “WHY.” It definitely has something to do with the high pressure I place on myself to do well, so sometimes when others point out I need to do well, it adds stress on top of stress and I feel like I have to perform perfectly. In this instance, I responded to your desire to win with a big fat “WHY” was because I already felt pressure to win before you pointed it out. I was probably stressed out, maybe even burned out. I needed to vent my real emotions, and in a way, I’m grateful I did because it gave me a way to release my pent-up frustration with feeling I needed to perform perfectly all the time.
3) When I questioned your desire to win with “WHY,” it was probably one of the first times I expressed a thought that went against the status quo. I wasn’t a disrespectful girl, nor was I a girl that regularly questioned authority. In fact, I was probably too quiet about my thoughts. So I needed to learn how to express my opinion even when it wasn’t popular, even when the majority thought otherwise. Being willing to speak up, say what I think, and not worry what others think is something I’ve worked on for years, and still work on through this blog. So for being there at the beginning of this journey, for allowing me to express my real thoughts and opinions without shaming me or punishing me forever, I thank you.
I know you may have forgotten this incident and erased it from your memory days after it happened, but I want you to know my long-term memories of you are fond, positive. The impact you made on my life was great, and for all those hours you spent with us on the courts, I am grateful.
With all respect and sincerity,
*If you’d like to read more from my #31Days Letters to the Unthanked series, click here for the landing page where all the letters are listed and linked!