I received an email from the mother of one of the girls on my team the other day. It was a message she had sent to all of their family and friends to let us know about the progress of her husband’s treatment for a brain tumor. I had heard that he wasn’t well, but I did not know the extent. His last resort is a specialty surgeon in San Francisco and he may not even qualify for the treatment.

I was hit by a wave of sadness as the thought occurred to me: what if she loses her dad this season? She loves the sport more than most, but will she be the same if her dad isn’t there?  What will I be able to do for her should that happen? There are many questions and even more what-if situations. All I can do is be there for her.

That’s all any of us can do, which is what makes sport so special. Without even trying sometimes, our teams become a sort of family. This is something easy every coach can do to make a difference. Just treat your athletes like family. You may not share everything with each other, but you can foster a closeness with trust, compassion and forgiveness. If more coaches spent 10% more time on creating such relationships, maybe the dropout rate for young and old athletes alike would decrease.

That’s not to say that our main goals are not improvement and performance. But if that is all we strive for, what happens to those kids who are unfortunate enough to experience tragedy. If sport isn’t a happy place for them, what is?