He Wanted to be a Mailman

I remember the moment when my friend told me he was leaving coaching to become a mailman.

A mailman?

He was tired of the stress, the parents, the lack of sleep, and the constant grind. He felt overworked and under-appreciated, and he was ready for a change.

He was looking for a job that he could leave at the end of the day, something that wouldn’t follow him home at night. In his words, he just wanted to “drive around and listen to sports radio.” He was looking forward to working with boxes and envelopes because “they do what you want them to and they don’t talk back.”

It might not be that simple, but I understood the sentiment.

Ultimately, my friend didn’t become a mailman. He did leave the profession, but only for a while, and when he did come back, I wanted to know why. After being so adamant about needing a change, what was it that drew him back into the game?

“I missed the kids.”

I could relate with that as well.

A few years back when I was between coaching jobs I found myself wrestling with similar questions. 

What do I miss most about coaching? 

Do I need to be a head coach to be happy? 

Can I enjoy life without coaching at all?

Who am I if I’m not a coach?

I didn’t have easy answers to any of these questions. Coaching was all that I had ever known. It has always felt like my best fit in life, but at the time I struggled to articulate why. What was it about coaching that made me feel most alive?

My answer was waiting for me in a small town in northwest Iowa.

During my in-between year, we visited a school that had a head coaching vacancy, and they pulled out all the stops in their recruiting efforts. After a full day of interviews, a campus tour, and meetings with various stakeholders, we ended the day in the gym with the superintendent and his family. He had a daughter on the team and we started shooting around while my kids raided the gym closet for toys to play with.

For the next 20 minutes we talked about the program, the team, and what she was hoping to get from her basketball experience in her final season. She asked questions about our coaching style and philosophy, and as I rebounded for her I felt more alive than I had in some time. 


And in that moment I came to the same realization as my friend, the would-be mailman. 

I missed the kids.

Brett Ledbetter recently posted on social media, "A fall from grace can be such a liberating experience because you learn to value what matters most." 

In my case, it allowed me to discover what mattered most to me. It’s offered a perspective that I come back to often when the grind begins to wear me down, when criticism mounts, or when the season’s stress becomes too much to bear. Perhaps most importantly, it’s made me appreciate my players even more for the life that they give to me.

You don’t have to endure a crisis to discover what matters most to you, but it’s worth asking…

What is it about coaching that makes me feel most alive?

There may come a day when the answer might keep you from becoming a mailman yourself.

Food for thought.

Nate Sanderson

[email protected]

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