Friday, May 24, 2013

"Hey Coach"

There are people in life whose wisdom, helpfulness, teaching, and mentoring I value so much that I've ceased to identify them by their given name. Instead, they have become "Coach", "Sensei", "Sifu". In my mind, this is who they are, as much as they might also inhabit their own name, they also inhabit this title like a name. Indeed, when one day I received a phone call from my Wing Chun instructor, he simply opened the call by saying "This is Sifu". Of course. There is no one else who inhabits that name in my world. He simply IS Sifu, and not just to me, to hundreds of people, people who look up to him and honor him. Similarly, my college swim coach will always and forevermore be the one person to me who is just Coach.

So imagine my amazement and delight as, over the years, I've become simply "Coach" to many of my swimmers and athletes. In my race Sunday, which had several out-and-back sections where you could see your fellow competitors, my swimmers hollered out "Way to go, Coach" and other words of encouragement as we passed. At the outdoor pool that just opened this week, I swam with the group - just as another swimmer, not on deck with a workout. Yet still they greeted me with "Hey Coach" and parted with "Goodbye Coach".

To me, this is probably the greatest honor anyone has ever said to me in my life. It means more than any award, ribbon, or plaque ever could. If I go to my grave having passed on a fraction of the encouragement, thoughtfulness, and mentoring that my coaches, senseis, and sifu have given to me in my life, I will be extremely happy.

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