Last week, sitting in my recliner watching TV, I had the privilege of watching one of the more incredible, emotional, and amazing moments I’ve witnessed in my life as a sports fan. I saw Mariano Rivera, a living, breathing legend, enter the field at Yankee Stadium from the bullpen for the final time, his trademark intro song “Enter Sandman” blaring over the loudspeaker and the crowd noise in the stadium at a deafening roar. That moment sent chills up my spine, and I was thankful to be watching such a special, once in a lifetime moment. But, at the time, I didn’t realize the best was yet to come.
The next inning, with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th inning, a pair of Yankee players walked out of the dugout and onto the field, making the journey to the pitcher’s mound to honor their teammate and friend, in the most memorable way they could imagine, in front of 50,000 screaming fans and millions of television viewers.
Along with the scene around Cal Ripken’s breaking of Lou Gherig’s record for consecutive game splayed, that moment with Rivera goes down for me as one of the most memorable in all of sports. They are most memorable for me not because of Rivera’s dominance on the mound or Ripken’s ironman performance, but because of the moment created, and the realization that history had been made, and the people that allowed it to happen.
For Rivera – to have Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte walk to the mound, share a special moment, and walk him back to the dugout, was obviously special and emotional – you could see that from his reaction. It was unorthodox, out of the ordinary, and I’m not even sure it was allowable by rule in major league baseball. (But, if it’s not, I’m thankful the umpires had the common sense to let it slide!) But – that act by Joe Girardi, to let Rivera’s teammates of nearly two decades share that moment with him – turned a special night into an incredible, unforgettable night.
At King, it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever have the chance to experience any moment of that magnitude. We have had, and will have in the future, numerous special student athletes who have made contributions to our programs and community, who have been honored at the end of their careers. We’ve inducted former coaches and players into our Athletic Hall of Fame who are practically legends among those familiar with the rich traditions of Tornado athletics. But certainly nothing of the magnitude of what happened last night.
Even though a moment like that may never happen at King, last night reminded me of why we do what we do at King. Our coaches and staff work long hours recruiting, preparing, scouting, practicing, training, etc. in order to create the best experience for our student athletes. Yes, winning is important – but as last night reminded me – we are all here to create a memorable, unforgettable experience for our student-athletes.
There may be individual moments that certain student-athletes or coaches will never forget, and that is fantastic. But we must strive to create not unforgettable moments, but an overall experience that impacts the lives of our student-athletes and prepares them to impact society and their world when the leave King.
Creating this tremendous experience is a daily mission. Last week in Yankee Stadium was a great moment – but at King, it is about a daily effort to create a series of experiences and moments. In the midst of practices and games, successes and failures, it’s important for us to never lose sight of the purpose of our efforts, and that is to create significant, positive experiences for those around us.
The Yankees situation last week was somewhat providential in that the game was meaningless for them, since they were already mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. That allowed them the flexibility to create that special moment – if the Yankees were one game out of the playoffs, maybe that moment never happens. I would like to think it still would have occurred, but who knows.
Regardless, it’s important for us as coaches and administrators to strive to never lose sight of the fact that it’s the people in our programs – in our lives – that are most important. Certainly winning plays a huge role in creating a memorable experience, and that must be factored in the decision-making process. But, it’s also important to step back and look for opportunities to create unforgettable experiences.
Those opportunities may come in a thousand different ways – maybe it’s giving a kid a little extra playing time because his grandparents are in attendance or you’re playing in her hometown. Maybe it is as simple as doing something different and special instead of practice to recognize or honor a student-athlete for a special accomplishment, or to help them meet a personal need. Perhaps it’s as simple as taking 10 minutes out of your day to listen and talk, to offer advice. Maybe it’s the time you spend volunteering and serving those in need.
Those moments come in many shapes, sizes, and they all look different. The important thing is not what we do at those moments – the important thing is that we recognize those moments and that we do something to create a memorable experience. Maybe it is a single moment, maybe it is a series of moments where coaches are able to impact a student-athlete’s life in a significant way. Whatever the situation, coaches and administrator’s must never lose sight of the reason we do what we do – and that reason is the student-athletes.