Coach Ted: Saying So Long to the Seniors

Saluting a lost season... a Coaches tribute to the Seniors!

For several weeks early on this spring, I found myself voicing denial on how the Track season was evolving.At the same time as I worked from home, stayed clear of just about everyone I cared about, wore a mask in the grocery store while looking for things people already took home and pretty much being as socially distanced as I possibly could.

I've learned zoom, teams and who knows how many other avenues to be able to connect.I've taken full advantage of the time to look at just about every track & field clip that's on YouTube.I've started making a list of the good advice I've seen on these videos.And yes, those that know me, there definitely is a "who in the world would teach this $%$&" list as well!

Yea, early on I had some push back about how the season would end up.And then, I got a text with the news... The Track & Field Season and State meet is cancelled.No loud BOOM, no fireworks in the background, no choked up conversation, no mic drop, no breaking news alert anywhere.All cancelled.That was it.I knew it was coming.We all knew.And yet, we're track fans, we are used to handling disappointment.It's the life of a track fan, athlete or coach - that ability to deal with, well, losing!

But losing a whole season!That's worse than the feeling you get when you drop a baton, or fouling on your last attempt, or not making a height you can do blindfolded, or getting passed two feet before the finish line... yep... it's that and a heck of a lot more!

And then it really hit me, what about the Seniors.What about that one Senior that is only two hundredths of a second away from breaking a long standing school record!The Senior that struggled their junior year but suddenly found a mountain of confidence and was more than ready for the season.Or the senior that struggled with that dreaded disease... senioritis... only to realize they actually did like the sport and came out to practice because they really missed the sport.Gut wrenching.

This year I haven't had to ask the seniors what their schedule is like.Everyone had the same schedule.Stay at home, train on your own.As a coach, we've been trying to engage everyone in a year that didn't come.It hasn't been easy.But more on that in a later article.Right now, it's the end of the school year.A time of year we always say so long to our seniors.Usually this is the time to say we miss you... but we've already been saying that since the end of March.

So... in a small way, here's my way of saying thank you to those seniors that have meant so much to their teams, our sport, and of course, to all of us Coaches.

Let's look back.Do you remember what your senior was like as a freshman?Lots of excitement for the sport on the first day.Standing out among the group.Or maybe standing out like a sore thumb!Or blending in with the group to just feel their way around.Heck, this is a sport that exposes every little flaw in front of every single spectator, every single teammate, every single competitor.And that's just during the practices!Kind of intimidating to a young freshman.So, do you remember?

Do you remember the path of that Senior on the team?I do.Every single one of them.And I'm sure of lot of you do as well.That awkward moment for the young athlete trying to practice the blocks... while looking like they may actually fall on their face!The first long jump that looked, well, not that long!Or the first time that 1600 runner took off in a crowded waterfall.... face plant.

Do you see what that senior has become since they first joined the team?It might be difficult to recall those details about how that senior acted as a freshman.For some of us though, it's like they stepped on the track yesterday.We watched and remember how they grew into the sport.How they stepped up to lead the warmups.How they started giving advice to the new freshman on the team.And then you watch as that senior quietly walks up to the second leg of a 4x400 and helps them off the ground and tells them to stay loose and don't lock up.How they turned that first day excitement to a four-year love of the sport.

They grow into the sport.Their talent comes out, and the younger athlete begins to evolve.It's hard to pinpoint when that first year athlete suddenly became the senior leader you see in front of you on the track.When did that change happen.What made that change happen.

It happened though.It almost always happens when you have a track athlete that has grown to love the sport.They know what it takes, heck, you've been watching them put in that work for years.And now this season is gone.

I had a teacher once ask me if I knew this athlete and when I said I was there coach, they began to tell me a story.Part of the story was that the class did some fantastic work and all the students were all given two M&M's as a prize.Two pieces of one of the smallest candies in the world.That athlete said they couldn't take it... they were training and it was too close to the end of track season.Can't risk it.Ok, that's one senior that I can say never goofed off during the season!!I remember a hundred stories like this about all the seniors.

As we started this 2020 season, prior to being thrown off the track, I remember going through the routine of picking up some of the equipment at the end of practice.At the same time, watching as that one last athlete gets ready to start the cool down.That one senior alone on the track.Nobody else on the track but me gathering up the equipment and that one senior.It's quiet.It's calm.It's absolutely normal.We go about our business because nobody there will stop us.Nobody else is there.As the spikes get taken off, I walk by and quietly say... "good workout".The response, "thanks coach".That's it.But that short exchange, those few seemingly inconsequential words, own a world of meaning.

I've been coaching high school track and field athletes for a very long time.And if you're a coach too, then you know the routine.Every year you have to see those few seniors run their last race of the season.You hope that race is the state championships, but either way, you know the feeling as you watch them compete in their last high school event, ever.You know you might see them compete in college, but believe me, as a high school coach, there is nothing that compares to watching that last event for a senior you've coached through their high school career.

Every year I tell myself it won't bother me.Every year I say it's just another season.Every year I say I'll handle it differently.Yet, there I am standing near the finish line watching them cross it for the last time.And no, I don't handle it differently.My eyes well up and I remember every single race they ever ran.I instantly recall the discussions, the motivational talks, the not everyone wins every race talks, the good job on the workout talks.Then it comes to watching the last race, jump, or throw... No, believe me, I don't ever handle it differently.This year though.Well, this year is no different.... And right now, I can tell you that I'm not handling it any different either.

Thank you seniors for the hours and hours of training, helping with the team, being the leaders you were born to be... from every single Track & Field coach that loves the sport, Thank you!

See you on the track... very soon!

Coach Ted