To My Players,
This is my first year as your head varsity basketball coach. During the summer I got the job to not only coach you, but to return to the conference that I competed in growing up. We will be going against my old coach, my alma mater and my nephew. The competitor in me can’t wait, as I have an innate drive to compete and to be the best at whatever it is I am pursuing. But as the season approaches and we come together as a team, I want you to know that as badly as I want to win, being a coach means so much more to me than accolades and titles.
Sports are my passion. The person I am today is a product of the journey I had as a player in high school. Up until my junior year, I was on the junior varsity team. I began that season coming off the bench. Then, I earned a starting job before I ultimately got pulled up to varsity. Heading into my senior year I was determined to prove myself. That summer I was in the gym every single day. Despite working a full-time summer job, I never missed an off-season workout. But right before my senior year started I was diagnosed with a heart murmur, which nearly ended my career. Thankfully, doctors eventually cleared me to play. I became first-team all-conference, team captain and an all-star. As a team, we went 18-3 and made history as conference champions. Those four years playing high school sports taught me about work ethic, commitment and a sense of achievement. I didn’t know how but I knew sports would be a part of my future.
I didn’t immediately settle on becoming a coach. With no D1 offers, I decided to play club ball in college. I majored in sports management but then switched to business before switching again to physical education. When I started teaching, people immediately asked me to coach. As soon as I started coaching, I could see how the structure and the team bond benefited young people, especially those with rough home lives. I knew coaching was what I was meant to do, as I get fulfillment out of sharing my journey and being a role model for all of you.
Now, I proudly wear the title as your head coach. But you need to know that my success and failure is about much more than what happens between the lines or the numbers in our record. My presence in your life is far longer than the time you suit up for our program.
More than a player on my team, I want to prepare each of you to be the absolute best person possible, which means I may be hard on you at times. Please understand that being tough doesn’t mean I don’t care. It means I am expending the energy because I care so much. It is because I love each one of you.
Accountability will be enforced on our team. I don’t care if you are the best player on the team or the worst player on the team, I hold all my players responsible for their actions or in-actions. On a previous team, I gave my players an assignment to look at film and identify 10 good plays we made and 10 mistakes we made during our last game. Four of my five starters failed to complete the assignment. The next game, we faced a tough opponent. I knew if I didn’t start my starters we’d be in trouble. I benched them the entire first quarter and we were down 32-2 at the end of the quarter. The team got the message and it never happened again. I am not telling you this to scare you but rather so you understand each one of you must be responsible young men.
Please understand that being tough doesn’t mean I don’t care. It means I am expending the energy because I care so much.
Confidence is also important for the players on my team. I want you guys to always believe in yourselves. One of my former players is now a college athlete but there was a time he was very hard on himself. He harped on mistakes and feared making more mistakes. He didn’t want to be the guy to have the ball in his hands when we needed to make a big shot. We were 19-1 heading into the tournament and in an important game he hit two game-winning free throws. As time expired he jumped into my arms, not only because we won but because I never stopped believing in him even when he doubted himself.
You will have tough moments. You will make mistakes and you will hit bumps in the road. But I will keep putting you in positions to succeed. And I will fight with you and for you, so that you always know greatness lies within you.
When I say being a part of our team is not just about growing as athletes, but developing as people, I really mean it. I want you to be the uncommon man: respectful, resilient, reliable and hard working. When going through the ups and downs of life, I don’t want you to get too high or too low. I want you to stand proud as a role model for our program and our community.
As a member of this team, I expect you to show passion and commitment. That means showing up to practice every day and handing in your school assignments on time.
If you need anything and I mean anything in pursuit of being the best person you can be, you have my cell phone number. I am available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Players have called me to talk about their families, school, their future and more. There isn’t any topic off limits, as I am here to use my experiences to help you through yours.
As you put in the work, please know that I will be doing the same. I am going to work my tail off for this team as I try to be a great leader for you.
When you get a bad grade for a test you studied hours for or you miss a shot that led us to lose, lean on your teammates and lean on me. We must trust each other and help each other. And in the moments you don’t know what to do or which way to go, just always know whether it’s on the court or off the court, I am your coach: today, tomorrow and 20 years from now.
For me, coaching is my purpose and my passion as the title coach means that I am not just someone who prepares you for battle but my job is to always help you through life.
Let’s get to work,
About the author:
Dominique Sanders is the new head boys basketball coach at Nordonia High School in Ohio. He previously served as the boys head coach at Field High School in Ohio.
About the sponsor and the charity:
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland are committed to helping children move forward as well-rounded, confident, contributing citizens. A friend of the Unsealed is donating $25 to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland in honor of the first 25 shares of Coach Sanders’ letter.
The Unsealed will match the donation if we get 100 new subscribers and 100 new Facebook followers by 10/5/19.
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Ruth, your letter moved me to tears. Once upon a time I was very closed off about the LGBT community but over a course of several years, I turned my fear into understanding and I actively stand with the community for their equal rights because it is the right thing to do.