I Never Thought It Would End THIS Way


For anyone who has ever coached youth sports of any kind, from pee-wee to middle school, and even high school sports in some cases………I have a deep question that has been floating in my mind in recent days. Just give me minute to circle around to it.

My youngest daughter wrapped up her high school soccer career tonight.  The days leading up to it flooded me with memories of all her games past, both far and near.  Thoughts of different leagues, cities, coaches, teammates, hotel rooms, victory, defeat.  Reflections of how she changed over the years as a player, a competitor, and a person.  Wondering how and why things have played out exactly as they have.  Thinking about influences both good and bad that could have or would have made things better or worse if they’d been different.

And I started thinking about the kids that I have coached as my kids have grown up, from youth soccer to travel soccer, Upward basketball to middle school basketball.  And I just can’t help wondering……

If all coaches could see into the future, to that very day when a kid puts away the cleats or the hi-tops for the last time and walks away from a game………would they choose to coach individual kids differently than they presently do?

Every kid walks away from their chosen sport someday…….then what?

Effective youth coaching is psychiatry and it is parenting.  Each player is unique, and they have specific needs that team sports can bring them.

Many coaches fail to fill those needs because they falsely assume they are training the next state champs.  They fail to see each child beyond that day when the sports equipment goes in the yard sale or the closet.

Shouldn’t the journey of sports teach these things and more to prepare kids for life beyond sports?

  1.  Standard of excellence
  2.  Work ethic
  3.  To believe in themselves
  4.  To trust others
  5.  The value of encouragement
  6.  To know they aren’t the center of the universe
  7.  To know that success does not come overnight (or in one practice)
  8.  To lose with dignity
  9.  To accept temporary failures without blaming others, and to realize these failures aren’t permanent
  10.  To be pushed to their physical limit, time and time again
  11.  To love and to be loved
  12.  To sacrifice for others
  13.  To respect authority and rules
  14.  Teamwork/unselfishness
  15.  To never give up

These things still matter when the cheering stops.

Maddies last stand

The cheering stopped for Maddie tonight.  Her team lost in the regional semi-finals.  In a game where she and her teammates truly “left it on the field”, the score was tied at the end of 80 minutes of regulation.  Two 5-minute overtimes later, the score was still tied.  Penalty kicks would now decide the match.

Maddie stood over the ball, ready to attempt her shot with her team facing a nearly hopeless 3-1 deficit.

If she missed this shot, the game was over.  The season was over.

Sitting on my knees beside my wife, I simply mumbled, “Maddie needs to be to one to take this shot.”

Not because it could be the game winner………because it would be the shot that would seal the loss if she missed.

I don’t know what kind of reaction or look Kristy gave me, but I went on to say, “Maddie needs to be the one to take this shot, because I know she can handle missing the shot to end the game.  She can handle it.  That’s my daughter!”

And my voice cracked at the enormity of what I was saying in a trailing voice……..”that is OUR daughter”.

She missed.  Game over.  Season over.  High school career over for her and her senior teammates.

Maddie played her heart out.  And I was so proud of her.  But when those words came out of my mouth, “that’s our daughter” it hit me so clearly.  I was not proud of her effort or her performance.

I was proud of who she has become.

She met her mother and me after the game with head held high.  That’s our daughter.

Do your best.  Have fun.  Train and play to win.  In the end it’s just a game.  The end came tonight.  I’m thankful for all those who have prepared her in the right ways to go beyond this “end”.

If you’re coaching your 1st game or your 1000th, take an occasional peek toward the end.  Winning is a by-product of doing all things the right way.  Some lessons can’t be cast aside for the sake of early wins or just because you ARE winning games.

And while your players are dreaming of making that dramatic game-winning shot, you better spend some time preparing their toughness and character……for missing it.

219 thoughts on “I Never Thought It Would End THIS Way

  1. This is so very well said. I wrote my book, 8th Place Ribbon: A Generation of Wussies, with this being one of my main thoughts. Everyone thinks my book is just about getting rid of participation trophies, and there is a portion of it that is. But to me the youth sports experience is everything you just described. This is what it is all about. What kind of person the young athlete becomes after sports. And, as such, you have to have the defeats and the failures to learn all of the lessons fully. This is my premise for doing away with participation trophies. Not to take away someone’s memories of playing, but instead to give them the life lessons of winning as well as losing. Great read, Karrick.

    • Great article! I want to address this whole notion that participation trophies are somehow the cause of the world’s ills, though. I don’t know about in other states, but when my daughter played soccer, the trophies were given out to the littler kids. The expectations for them was to learn a lot, have a good attitude, have some fun, and get some exercise. Given those goals, the trophies were appropriate. At the age of 10, soccer becomes competitive. Gone are the days of participation trophies – there are tears when your kid doesn’t make the top team, the coaches yell at your kids, they play whether it’s 100 degrees or 20 degrees and snowing. The kids learn determination, toughness, how to lose gracefully, and that winning is expected. If people who disdain participation trophies could look ahead two years, I think they would see that all of their expectations for the sport will be met, just when it is at a time that is age appropriate.

      • Yes, I think the trophies for the younger kids play a part in getting kids excited about playing. As they grow older, they’ll learn that not everybody wins or gets equal playing time and hopefully find the determination to do something about the things they don’t like.

  2. Well spoken. I have coached youth sports and I always tried to build the self esteem of a child. I believe its learn, have fun and then win. After thirty some years, I find this method effective. And I always preached attitude and effort. In order to be a good winner you must first learn to be a good loser.

  3. Karrick and Kristy,

    I am so thankful to have you as friends and to know the depth of your character. I’m thankful that you are friends with my son and his family. There is a strong bond between all of you that provides encouragement and strength when things get harried… and they do. It’s just part of life. But you have modeled for your kids and our kids and grandkids what it means to be a Christian man and woman of God. And even more, you’ve raised children who are emulating that value. Thank you.


  4. My daughter played lacrosse from middle school through college and we had an understanding that whenever she was in uniform she represented her team and respected her coaches and teammates. When she played her final game in college it was sooo bittersweet because I would never see her play again. I am excited to say that she now coaches and she is paying forward the lessons she was taught during her lacrosse career. Her teams that she coaches may not always win but they put their heart into every game they play. I am going to share your article with her to show her teams. Thank you for such a wonderful article.

  5. I really appreciate your words. We went through “the end of swimming” with our daughter when she graduated from high school and decided not to walk on to the team at her university. Instead, she found a new sport to learn (crew)….but the thing that constantly comes to mind is that her attitude to try something new, the belief in herself, and now her willingness to sacrifice for her teammates came from all of those years spent in the pool and from every coach who instilled the values of determination, dedication, sacrifice and humility. They stood by her when she won, lost and fought back from injury. And now, as a grateful parent, I share her successes openly with those many coaches because she wouldn’t be who or where she is without them.

  6. This touched my heart this morning.

    Many years of raising 4 wonderful children. People say “how did you get so lucky’? One of the most pivotal decisions was to involve them in athletic programs where the community supported them and the volunteers and paid coaches were developing children, not always winning championships. We raised them together! Parents, coaches, community and our God!

    Thank you for such a touching beautiful story.

  7. A coaching friend this article with me today. Thank you for putting these thoughts into word. I strive to do this as a club and high school coach and I hope I actually do. I hope my children’s coaches have the same appreciation/purpose and I too hope that my boys have the ability to take the shot and handle the consequences, whatever they may be.

  8. So needed to read this.

    Just finished coaching my 10th team of my sons, a U8 house soccer team. Every other experience, until now has been a joy. This team, the kids and parents were all just off.

    As the coach, I assumed the blame for not building chemistry. Your commentary here though pin pointed what the problem was for us this season…misaligned expectations and goals. As a volunteer coaching little kids…it has always been about character building for my teams. This was the first time I never clearly articulated that to the team, parents and kids.

    Thanks for a great article that I will share with my teams going forward. Building character through athletics to prepare kids for when their over. Awesome.

  9. thank you for writing this. we are at the beginning of this journey and learning so much about not only our kids but the craziness that is now surrounding these sports. we are trying to keep the right perspective but it is so tough when parents are forming elite travel teams for 8 year olds. we just keep plugging away and instilling the things you talk about. great article to remind us what it is all about!

  10. Thank you for your article. I just want to say that even though her soccer career might be over, you and your wife will have a million more opportunities to cheer and encourage your daughter on in life. You have taught her to respect others, respect the game, but more importantly to respect herself. That in the long run is what will lead her in the fiture. I a 14 year high s c hool official and the characteristics you mentioned are the same ones I try to teach and exhibi tr to the reams, coaches, and fans while I officiate. I often wonder if I have an impact on their lives but I know that I have given them my best. Again, thank you for your share.

  11. Such truth here. I really love this because there does come a day when sports end whether you’re an Olympic athlete or a Little League player. You have to be prepared for life after. This is a great post explaining just how to do that and also why it’s important to be able to win with grace and lose with dignity.

  12. I love this article, but would love to add: it doesn’t just stop with youth sports! I am a collegiate coach and my main responsibility (self proclaimed) is making my student athletes better atults by the time they leave my program. We have not always won games, although we are having a great year this year, but we try to produce great adults when they are ready to leave us! This is something every coach and teacher should read! It takes a village to raise children into adults!

    • Excellent points. When I finished writing this, I realized I was mostly addressing parents of young athletes with hopes of sharing a better understanding of the things I had no clue about from the beginning (as both a parent and a coach). I realized it applied to HS and college coaches as well, but I wouldn’t dare give the impression that I felt qualified to pass on advice to that group. Hope you have a great finish to your season and impact your players in great ways!

  13. This article nails it… athletes are people and as such, life is @ preparing them the next phase! Great Coaches do this instinctively! I’m blessed to have had such coaches in my past as well as my kids/grandkids! Proud of them ALL for maintaining perspective! Many things can become idols in our lives, sports is one of them…

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  15. Love this!!!! This is my first year as part of the coaching team as Team Mom. And it has taken almost the whole cheer season to see that most coaches aproach these kids the wrong way. The heart I have for these girls has turned out to be way bigger than I ever thought. Coaching is a priviledge and should be treated as such. You brought my tears out on this one. Very well said!!!

  16. Hey!! Thanks for this article!! What a great perspective…….your list of ‘learns’ are my favorite!! I’m almost done with getting my clinical counseling degree at grad school and my population is retired/career ending injury athletes. I see this ALL THE TIME and will continue to combat the “what do I do with myself now?”

  17. Brilliant! Following a recent heartbreaking loss I told my 10 year old centerfielder who struck out to lose the semifinal game in a big tournament that I was proud he got to experience being the last out of the tournament. This article beautifully illustrates exactly what I was getting at. The week before he got to be the hero in the championship game and it was awesome but I think there’s more value in learning to deal with being the last out. Obviously a young athlete needs coaches and parents to help him navigate the disappointment and emotion of a moment like that and I was excited to be there to do just that. John Maxwell in his book failing forward said “the difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure.” I believe one of the greatest things we as coaches can do is help shape our athletes perception of and response to failure. Don’t take this responsibility lightly!

    • Great perspective. My youngest son doesn’t have much interest in sports yet. I do hope he finds some competitive venture at least to experience failure and how to respond to it.

  18. My son was very fortunate to have soccer coaches that made the sport fun for him. He has played the game since he was 4, and he is a college freshman now. He went from all state first team in high school to not playing a minute this year. He is fustrated but he also understands that soccer had always been an activity to keep him active, focused and dedicated. Fortunately, he was picked by the local newspaper to be his high school’s scholar-athlete. Dedication to his sport appears to have also help him work hard in the classroom. I would have felt the same way as the father if he was chosen to take the PK.

  19. Very well said! She started as a pee wee soccer player and played select and high school soccervall the way up to senior year of high school. What a wonderful and fulfilling ride it has been! Our daughter is your exact story! I love who she become as well! God bless.
    The Sydnors

  20. Thank you for that article. I am nearing the end of my daughters high school riding career. We have the most amazing coach who teaches all of the lessons to our girls. I thank God for her every day. She’s seen my daughter through some very rough times in our lives. She’s always been there no matter what ribbon was won or not. I wouldn’t drive almost 2 hours weekly each way to her place for lessons if she wasn’t so amazing. She has taught my daughter so many things. Now we wait to find out what college she chooses and whether or not she hangs up her chaps.

  21. I think this is a wonderful blog post and beautifully written but how lucky for you that your daughter got an opportunity to make that shot. I, on the other hand, get to admire my daughter who has played soccer for 11 years, no special skills, not especially talented but spends six months out of the year never missing an open field, conditioning, or practice to sit on the junior varsity bench her junior year – she will never earn a varsity letter — the varsity coach has told her this, yet she continues to play. Other girls who think practice and open field attendance are optional play every game because they are skilled. My daughter never gets down, never gives up, cheers on her teammates, and just really has a loving heart. Those are the kids that I admire! And I admire some of her coaches through the years who have told me “I wish I had 11 players with her heart.” Of course, they probably wouldn’t win many games but they sure would witness true Christian spirit! I wish every day I could be more like my daughter, I’m way competitive — I ask God every day — where did this wonderful girl come from? I think she was sent to teach ME the value of doing your best with a loving heart even when it doesn’t work out the way you would like! 🙂

  22. What a great perspective!! So many parents seem to lose sight of why we actually put our kids into sports. I love the list you made of qualities you are using sports to help you teach to your children, because that’s why we use sports, too. Thanks for a great post.

  23. Thank you so much for this wonderful article!! I am writing and reading through teary eyes. Tears for many reasons. One, it’s coaches like you, and the coach that posted this on his page and brought it to my news feed, that give these kids the tools they need to be successful on and off the field. You see Brian Swinney was my son, Logan’s, middle school football coach. He taught Logan so much more than the sport of football. He taught my son how to play with dignity and respect for others but still be aggressive and a hard hitter. He, too, taught his boys to leave everything on the field. To play your heart out and be satisfied no matter the outcome. The team was very successful and Logan moved on to high school where he played varsity for three years and was named to 2nd team all district his senior year. But the most miraculous thing about my sons story is not his success as an athlete. It’s his success off the field. You see Logan was in a horrific car accident in May (through no fault of his own) and he is now paralyzed from the waist down. But he has never let himself get down. He goes to Physical Therapy and he leaves everything in the gym. He laughs with his friends and loves his girlfriend. He has a warriors attitude and he got it from all his wonderful coaches through his life. So, rest assured that all those kids that you coached took all those lessons you taught them and applied them to their lives. You helped build strong individuals just like your daughter. Be proud of that fact. And God Bless you for your servants heart. And God bless all of my sons coaches for their servant’s heart and the wonderful blessings they gave Logan.

    • Thanks for sharing your story. It’s great to see the loving influence of others shine though in the lives of our kids, especially when faced with such difficult trials. Bless you Terri.

  24. Thank you for sharing these insightful thoughts and lesson. You and my father-in-law would get along well, as you have a common approach to coaching. Your article describes him to a tee. He was an educator and coach in the same school district for over 40+ years. He valued every child and believed that each had a unique contribution to the classroom/team. No one was marginalized. It was always about the kids and life lessons vs. winning and short-term rewards.

  25. Well said my brother. We are blessed to be a small part in a child’s life. To be able to see the ups and downs. My greatest memory of coaching will a always be, seeing the lower tier players sore like eagle. The know how special it is to shine. The know how special it is to fail. I thank God for the blessing and honor to be able to work with God’s children!

  26. I have coached for over 30 years and agree with everything you’ve written. However, my foundation is not a Christian or a religious one. I believe we are all inherently capable of being our best based on our evolved consciousness. To give credit to a higher power is infantile thinking. Your experiences, your decisions, your influences have given meaning to your life, not the idea of some deity that is responsible for making your life the wonderful experience that it is.

  27. Many years ago my father gave me a poem about a boy who had struck out on a 3-2 pitch, bottom of the last inning with the bases loaded. All I remember of that poem is below. It’s been my mantra in coaching youth sports for over a decade: ” The game is never over, no matter what the scoreboard reads, no matter what the clock says. The secret of the game is to do one’s best…to persist and endure, or as someone once said, ‘to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield’ “.

  28. Well said my friend, I am coaching youth football now and I am struggling with some of these issues currently. So many kids on the team simply need discipline and it is hard to fix that on the field if they don’t get it at home. As men we are called to impact the Kingdom and if I can give these boys some the Kingdom on the field then it’s a win regardless of the scoreboard. Your article says it all, thanks for sharing and making an impact for the kingdom.

  29. Good job coach! I did that wonderful journey myself (for 8 years longer than my children played). The kids is why I did it. I. Loved teaching mentoring and coaching. Many life’s lessons taught! The most impossible task I had to deal with was the parents who all thought their child was the “second coming” or worse yet the liberal nut cases who argued that we needn’t keep score for fear of scarring their budding flower child. In the latter case the only people who wouldn’t have known the score are those people and their clueless protege children. Every other child would know the score
    Be that as it may your sentiment about your daughters maturity is very touching and impactful. GOOD JOB

  30. Great article. As a parent of a successful senior 3 sport runner, we have recently been reflecting on what his sport has given him besides vainglory. Being part of a team has taught my son that hard work & discipline pays off. He’s learned to overcome pain both from sore muscles and sore losses These years of commitment will carry him far beyond the Finish line with the skills for becoming a hard working member of society. A great coach is indeed a great leader win or lose.
    CMG, NJ

  31. I remember in great detail the last game of my softball career. I was really sad about the way it ended for me. I told my coach that it was my last game, but he didn’t care. I spent so much time idolizing him, but when it came down to the end for me, I was just another player who was struggling on that particular day. He didn’t let me fight my way back just to prove to myself that I could. He pulled me. I’ve taken a youth coaching certification now and I understand how hard it is to coach, especially teens. Thirteen years later and I still wish he would have done it differently.

    I really enjoyed this post, thank you for your thoughts.

  32. Great post, great perspective. I’m at the beginning of this journey (I have a 5 year old who just enthusiastically completed soccer, baseball & basketball seasons). He absolutely loved all 3 sports because they were FUN & he was lucky to have coaches who ensured they had fun while learning the fundamentals & teammates whose parents were also all about sportsmanship over wins and losses. This should be required reading for any coaches (as well as parents who too often live vicariously through their kids) for the proper perspective on kids sports & what the priorities should be.

  33. My husband and I were blessed to coach some awesome girls in youth soccer. He was their coach but they were all ours for a while. Some of our very favorite memories are on the soccer field. We were blessed beyond measure to share in their lives for a few years and even more proud of the women they have become.

  34. That is partially true. That list of things you have that coaches need to do is actually a list that parents need to do. I have coached for years at ages from 6-12. We have the kids for an hour or two a week. We try and make sure the kids know what they are doing when on the field. We make sure they practice good sportsmanship at all times. Making sure a kid is emotionally secure enough to handle playing sports cannot be handed off by the parents to the coaches. Parents do need to take some responsibility in raising their kids. It’s to easy to blame a coach or a teacher for a kids short comings. If a kid falls apart after missing a shot it’s a safe bet the kid will fall apart when other things in life that they really want don’t end up how they want. You can only look to the kids parents if your trying to find a reason that the kid doesn’t handle dissapoitment well. Coaches that are win at all costs don’t belong in the coaching business and parents that expect everyone else to take the blame for their kids problems don’t belong in the parenting business.

    • Exactly. I failed to mention that I was writing from the perspective of someone who sees them self as better parent because of my own past coaching misdirections. Truthfully meant to challenge both coaches and parents equally to look at a bigger picture. Definitely a shared responsibility and expectations of coaches become unrealistic.

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