Dear Coach,

Some of the most marvelous student-athletes are under your leadership this season. Though their abilities in sport are widely varied, these athletes will forever be impacted your mentorship and coaching. These runners are smart, driven, funny, and capable. They are feisty, energetic, wise, and alive. They’re also incredibly impressionable.

You are a role model. That means that during a time when identities are forming and parents are “uncool,” you have a place of influence in young athletes’ hearts. You’ve won their respect. More than the one who runs workouts and loses your voice at races, you’re the one who can uplift and encourage these athletes like few can. You’re also the one who can brutally tear them down–using words to manipulate or instill fear, shaming their body, or valuing them based on performance. I’ve seen (and experienced) all of these things throughout my years as an athlete; they are moments I will always remember.

“During a time when identities are forming and parents are “uncool,” you have a place of influence.

But here’s what I also remember: A high school coach who saw my eating disorder and put my health above all, who let me eat lunch in her classroom and reminded me not to be ashamed of my battles. Every time a coach stopped to ask how I was doing—really doing—or told me I had talent beyond what I knew, a little part of me dared to dream.

My point is this: some of your athletes will go on to compete collegiately and post-collegiately. Most will turn their focus to new roles as parents, community leaders, CEOs, and—you guessed it—coaches. And when they do embrace those roles, they’ll carry a little bit of you forward.

So please, use your influence for good, coach! Consider how you can:

  1. Encourage their improvement – regardless of how promising an athlete is, they deserve to be actively coached. If you can’t dedicate time to them, try finding an assistant or volunteer coach who can. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on the top athletes, but as a former “favorite” on many teams, I’ve seen this split create a lot of division and frustration for everyone.
  2. Promote body positivity – For the love of all that is peanut butter flavored, please don’t give a foothold to diet culture. Bring in a registered sports dietitian to speak to your athletes about the importance of fueling and the moral neutrality of food. If you see diet culture on the team, squash it. If you hear it, address it. I can guarantee that with the resources they need, driven athletes will begin to tune in to their body’s needs and learn that athletes come in all sizes and can enjoy a “healthy” diet that includes bagels, avocado, ice cream, cookies, and anything else they authentically want!
  3. Ask about their lives – During high school, I experienced my parents’ divorce, the death of multiple family members, an eating disorder, and a family crisis. I’m forever grateful that my coaches created an atmosphere in which I felt comfortable sharing the pain I was going through. I wish more coaches in my life have done that. The motivation to emulate success and popularity is wired into young people. What if you became someone who demonstrated that they are more than an athlete? What if you let them know that authenticity and vulnerability are markers of strength rather than weakness?

To sum up these three points: Give your athletes the gift of unhurried time.

I can imagine you are weary. You wear many hats and sometimes, it might feel as if those hats are stacking up on top of you like bricks. Thank you for bearing that load. Thank you for the early mornings and the pep talks; for the post-workout chats and the mid-summer ice cream runs. Thank you for investing not only in an athletic career, but also a life. When you give unhurried time and care, you’re helping to affirm confident, body-positive, well-rounded men and women. You’re showing them that they matter as an athlete and as a human being.

Please keep fighting for our young athletes.

All My Gratitude,


Ps. Thank you immensely to my high school (and a year of middle school!) cross country coaches. You both will always be “coach” to me, and I’m so grateful for you.


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