I recently did this with a coach that ultimately caused so much pain that I quit playing basketball at the end of my junior year. To this day I have never played organized basketball since then (I'm not counting the mens teams I've played on.) As I process this I also realized this is a big reason why I became a referee. To hold coaches accountable. The children's lives they touch are precious and if they don't do the children justice, there is just no way to fix this harm. It's not just physical abuse like hitting a child over the head with a clip board or pushing them hard in their chest. It is the power that comes with the position of being coach that when abused, attempts to keep children or players "in their place."
I share this with you and open myself up to vulnerability only so that we can all learn from it. I searched my coach down and finally found her thirty years later. She is a bible study teacher so I had prayed and hoped that God would help her to heal my pain that she caused me while playing for her. Even though I was writing the letter in a body of forty-seven, the pain and emotion that spilled onto the pages were the pain of that seventeen year-old girl in high school.
At first I thought I'd share the letter with you but to be honest, it is still just so raw, and painful that to open up to that vulnerability to someone other than Polly [McKeon] Eckert, my high school basketball coach, doesn't feel so good. And after her response, it still doesn't feel so good. Instead of hearing the pain, she heard the words. She was defensive and responded with a itemized list of 36 points in my letter. Analyzing the details and missing the general point. An apology of I'm sorry YOU feel that way was the best I got. For a Bible-Study Teacher and a girls basketball coach to this day, I'm worried. The response was indicative of the twenty-five year old coach I had thirty years ago and not one of a fifty-five year old Christian woman she should be today. The apology consisted of things "not to say in an apology." Such as:
- "I'm sorry if I hurt you." (If, in this case, means you do not take responsibility. The person you're apologizing to knows you aren't taking responsibility and the rift between you will continue to grow.)
- "I'm sorry you feel that way." (Again, you're not taking responsibility here, and instead belittling the hurt your friend feels. Instead of saying this, probe to find out more about why the person is upset.)
- "I'm sorry you think I did that." (Even if your friend is mistaken about something you've done, discuss it further so you are both on the same page rather than make this statement.)
My coach didn't take responsibility thirty years ago and after reviewing my letter she didn't take responsibility for the same event thirty years later. It is still MY fault. It still my own issue. So I'm doing the right thing and I'm forgiving her because I see now that she doesn't know HOW. I'm just really sad for the girls that are under her leadership because if she hasn't changed and she will try to crack them too.
I didn't crack and I made it. I made it in spite of her continued disapproval of my existence. And in all honesty for ten years, coaches like her couldn't say a word. There weren't many Thank God as most coaches are in it for the right reasons. But when I officiated a game with a similar-minded coach..it felt good to be the one with the whistle.
Elements of a good apology:
an acknowledgment of the mistake or wrongdoing
the acceptance of responsibility
an expression of regret
and a promise that the offense will not be repeated