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At the end of the season/school year, it’s time for thought and reflection on the journey that you and your student-athletes have taken.  Regardless of whether it has been a winning or losing season, it is important to connect with your athletes and show your appreciation and gratitude for their hard work. Whether as a classroom teacher instructing a class of AP Chemistry students, or as a rowing/soccer coach, I do my best to find the time to write them a handwritten thank you letter in gratitude for their growth and effort.

I think that this is important for a number of reasons-

1. Your relationship will likely last Beyond Their Graduation Day

I’ve been coaching and teaching for twenty years. I have many memories for each student/athlete with whom I have had the privilege of working. Despite any difficulties you might have had with an athlete or student, try to remember that everyone is worth it. Even if they are not in a place to fully appreciate the letter that you write for them, write it anyway. One day, when they are older and more traveled, they will be ready to understand the role you have played in their lives.

2. You can connect with everyone on the team/In The classroom.

Giving everyone equal attention on the river/playing field or classroom is difficult, but coaches and teachers strive to do just that. Giving each athlete/student a personal note lets them know that they are important to you. I once spoke with an Ivy League coach at a race in Oklahoma City. He told me to ensure that my 3V rowers have as good an experience as my 1V rowers, because his 3V athletes were often the most likely to remember their experiences fondly and give back to the program as alumni. I’m not suggesting that you should write thank you notes to your students and athletes so that you can fundraise later on, but rather suggesting that building a connection with every athlete or student, regardless of ability, will make everyone's experience better.  

3. You can celebrate the growth they have made during the season.

It’s important to talk about growth. A mountain of research (especially that of Carol Dweck) indicates that teachers or coaches that foster a growth mindset are the ones that provide the most motivation for their students and athletes. Remember when your novices didn’t know one end of the oar from the other? At the end of the season, regardless of results, I guarantee you that they will have made progress. It’s important to remind them of that at the end of the season.

4. Connecting on a personal level helps Them feel valued

Coaching and teaching is about building relationships. Some of your students or athletes might be discouraged about their performance and might be on the fence about coming back for another season. Retention in schools and sports teams is important, particularly for future performance. Your student-athlete might be wondering if all the time and effort is worth it. Your note might be the one thing that convinces them that they should take another swing at it next season or school year.

5. Everyone likes getting handwritten notes

We all know that receiving a handwritten card or letter feels more meaningful than even a very kind thank-you email or text.  You know that someone took the time to sit for a few minutes and write out how grateful they are for you.  In a similar vein, many parents would prefer that their children give them a handmade art project for their birthday rather than a store-bought gift.  A personal touch means a lot, especially since handwritten notes are few and far between these days.

And while you are writing your thank you notes, don't stop yourself just at your students or athletes.  Take some time to write a note or two to your fellow coaches, or even coaches from other programs. Acknowledge their hard work and congratulate them on their successes.  This helps to strengthen the relationship between individuals and between programs.

For instance, my boss regularly takes the time to write a thank you note to each member of our faculty. This is usually well-timed in February when we are all tired and feeling like the end of the academic year is so far away. This note of acknowledgment makes a big difference to me and my colleagues and helps build a sense of teamwork, reminding me that I don't work for my boss, that I work with my boss. :)

If you take the time to write a thank you note to someone today, it will most likely make his or her day.  And expressing gratitude for others often reminds us how lucky we are to have these people in our lives.  My desk drawer at school holds a number of thank you notes from colleagues, former students, and athletes. When I am having a bad day at school or at practice, it helps to read these notes. I have fond memories of each of these people. These notes provide a record that I have made a difference in the lives of others, something that all coaches and teachers should aspire to do.

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