March 13, 2013

It's All About the Seniors

In the past 2 weeks, several of our various athletic teams have honored their seniors on Senior Night, and provided them gifts and mementos of their time as a student athlete at King.  Throughout the year, all of our teams will honor their seniors in some way.  To me, these are some of the most important moments of the year – an opportunity to recognize and honor student athletes who have dedicated countless hours to a program, have shed blood, sweat and tears to make the program better.

As a coach, you get to know your student athletes pretty well.  This relationship begins while they are still in high school, during the recruiting process, as you visit their schools and homes, and spend countless hours on the phone with them.  You get to know their families, and come to view the student athletes as your own son or daughter.  It’s natural, and it’s a wonderful experience. 

By the time they are seniors, you’ve typically known them for at least 5 years (maybe less if they transferred, more if they redshirted), and you’ve watched them grow from a 17 year old kid, wide-eyed and immature, into a 22 year old young woman or man.  They’ve earned their college degree, and have a good handle on the direction of their life and career.  Of course that direction may change, and that’s OK, but you’ve not only watched them grow and mature, but you’ve played a role in that process.

Not every student athlete you recruit makes it all 4 years.  While they may remain at the school and graduate, it’s not uncommon for 25-50% of the student athletes who enter as freshman to leave the team for one reason or another.  Maybe it was an injury, maybe they decided to pursue other interests, but whatever the reason, every recruiting class sees some attrition over a 4 year period. 

That’s a big part of what makes Senior Night special.  These student athletes have remained committed through adversity and challenges; through injury; through personal trials; through good times and bad times in competition.   That’s not meant to be a negative reflection on any student athlete who doesn’t make it four years.  Some of the strongest relationships I still have with student athletes I recruited are the ones who did not play 4 years – everyone has justifiable reasons for the decisions they make.  But, those who endure are the ones who impact your program as a coach.

By the time a student athlete is a senior, they understand your coaching style.  They know what you expect, how you coach, how you teach – they know the plays, the signs – they’re captains and leaders, and become in many ways an extension of the coaching staff.   In many cases, you can look at the successful teams, and typically the most successful teams have great senior leadership. 

I have great admiration for the numerous “big time” Division I coaches who, when given an opportunity in front of a camera, praise their seniors.  Even if their seniors aren’t the star of the game or the best player, they attribute their success to the seniors.  I’m a big fan of Jim Tressel.  Despite his mistakes at Ohio State, he always praised his seniors, and talked about them at every opportunity.  And not just to the media – he impressed upon his team the importance of the seniors in the success of the team.  It was genuine.  Many other coaches at all levels understand this and are quick to credit them with the success.  Those are smart coaches.

Senior day always was, and is, very emotional for me.  Four years of blood, sweat, and tears, all poured into one special game, where you are honored and have the opportunity to give it your all one last time in front of the home crowd.  I still remember my senior day, a long time ago, as a member of the Kenyon College baseball team.  I wasn’t a great hitter or a great player, but I like to think I made the program a little better in four years.  And, I’ll never forget going 2 for 3 at the plate and coming in out of the bullpen to get the save on that special day.

I once coached a girl at Rhodes who held the single season for home runs.  On senior day, one of her underclass teammates homered to tie her record.  I pulled her out of the game, because I didn’t want her to break the record of a senior on senior day.  She broke it the next game, but I felt it was important that the focus remain on the seniors and those memories continue to be great memories (we still won the game.)

Every senior day, as I watch our seniors walk onto the field or court, accompanied by their families, I get a little emotional.  It’s a big day for them, but more importantly a chance for their teammates, coaches, and fans to honor and recognize them.  All of our student athletes are incredible – as people and as athletes – but seniors are special.  They are the core of your program, the core of the team.  They set the example for the underclassmen.  

Thank you to all of our seniors at King!

 

Click here to read previous blogs by David Hicks