I am writing this week’s blog with a very heavy heart.
Early in my coaching career, I was assigned the task of coaching the institution’s men’s soccer team. As a basketball coach, I knew very little about the sport of soccer. But it was common practice at that time for coaches at the small college level to have to coach more than one sport, so I begrudgingly accepted the assignment.
We had six students show up at our first practice—an obviously insufficient number to field a team.
That meant that job #1 was to find enough bodies to meet our required roster.
I started to ask the players who did show up for the first practice if they knew of any other students who may consider joining us. They brainstormed for several minutes, when I heard one of them say, “What about that kid Jake?”
That kid Jake.
I am not sure why, but there was something about the tone of his question that piqued my interest.
That kid Jake.
Turns out Jake, who was arguably too old to still be referred to as a kid, was a former Division I football player, who changed majors and recently transferred to our school.
His previous school had a football team, but didn’t offer his major. We offered his major, but didn’t have a football team.
I wondered if he would consider a change of sports, so I set out to find that kid Jake.
I scoured the campus for the next few hours, until I eventually found Jake and two of his friends from high school hanging out in the student union.
When I approached him, he was initially reluctant to accept my proposal. He told me he never played soccer before and didn’t know anything about the sport.
However, he seemed intrigued—if not humored—when I confided in him that neither did I.
A subsequent appeal to his competitive side tipped the scales in my favor. That kid Jake was onboard.
He showed up at our next practice, bringing with him his two friends from high school—who incidentally turned out to be brothers.
What the three of them lacked in soccer skills, they more than made up for in natural athleticism and competitiveness.
Jake became the team’s goalkeeper. And although we gave up a lot of goals that season, and we didn’t win any games, that group of students became one of my all-time favorite teams.
The assignment I so begrudgingly accepted turned out to be a tremendous blessing.
A big reason for me enjoying being around that team so much was that kid Jake.
He was the ultimate good teammate. He was consistently punctual, dependable, loyal, hard-working, etc. I don’t think he ever had a single individualistic thought. It was always team-first for him.
He also had an infectious personality, and I certainly wasn’t the only one who enjoyed being around him.
I had lost track of Jake over the years.
Last week, a photo of him came across my desk. Unfortunately, the photo was accompanied by sad news.
At a much too young age, Jake unexpectedly passed away.
The photo (*featured at the top of this page) came via a mutual friend, and was a shot of Jake coaching her son’s youth soccer team. My heart smiled when I learned that Jake became a soccer coach.
The friend who shared the photo with me raved about what a great coach he was, and how much her son adored him.
As I read Jake’s obituary and the many online tributes that followed, it was evident to me that he successfully carried with him those same characteristics that made him a good teammate on the soccer field into his adult life.
He was a beloved husband, father, co-worker, and community leader.
What more could any coach ever hope for than to have that be the case with a former player?
In fact, striving to make that happen should be the primary goal of every sports coach.
He leaves behind a wife and three beautiful daughters.
A GoFundMe memorial account has been set up to help his family defray the costs of their loss.
If you have ever had the honor of having a good teammate like that kid Jake, I hope you will find it in your heart to make a good teammate move of your own and contribute to this memorial fund.
You may do so by clicking here.
Rest in peace Jake…and know that your story was an inspiration to many others.
As always, remember: Good teammates care. Good teammates share. Good teammates listen. Go be a good teammate.