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How My Life Was Changed By the Coach I Never Had

Man writing a letter

When I was in middle school, my dream was to get a scholarship to play basketball for Pat Summitt at the University of Tennessee. She was intense, successful, and beloved by all of her players.

It made national news on June 28 when Pat passed away at age 64. I was saddened by this loss but not because I knew her personally. Honestly, the closest I ever got to meeting her was watching her cut down the nets after a national championship win on TV.

As I saw support and condolences pour in from many of her ex-players and co-workers, I realized that Pat Summitt left a legacy much greater than just her success on the court. One of the most touching stories I saw was a copy of a letter Pat wrote to one of her players before her first game over thirty years ago. In it, she encouraged the player to give it her all but also to remember that there was more to life than winning and losing. I imagined this 18-year-old girl tearing up as she realized that her coach loved and believed in her wholeheartedly – that she wouldn’t be any less valuable to her coach whether they won or lost.

Be the Change You Want to See

And then I started tearing up because I realized that even though I never got to play for Coach Summitt, I have someone who loves me even more. My desire to be seen and appreciated has already been met, and it didn’t have anything to do with my basketball ability (thankfully). God loved me enough to sacrifice his son to cover up every single one of my inadequacies. If I look closely, His Word reads like a letter to me, promising that He loves and values me regardless of my performance.

For me, Coach Summitt’s words also serve as a reminder of the impact we can have on the people around us. We don’t have to be national celebrities to be encouragers and uplifters. In fact, God calls us all to recognize and affirm the value in others. When we appreciate the sparks of life and beauty that God has placed in the hearts of His children, we give them space to shine in the way that only they can.  When I need motivation to reach out to someone when I would much rather stay right where I am, I remember times when people loved me in the face of things that I thought would make me unlovable. When we realize that we are all seen, known, and loved by the Creator of the universe, don’t we want to remind each other of that unique truth as often as we can?

Coach Summitt’s passing was deeply felt not just because she transformed the world of women’s basketball but also because she transformed the people inside of it. Year after year, she reinforced the value of those around her.

I want to be like that.  When I die, I hope someone pulls an old, wrinkled note of encouragement out of their drawer and re-reads it, smiling as they remember how it felt to have someone in their corner.

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