Pro athletes reveal who inspired them most for National Coach Appreciation Day

In honor of National Coach Appreciation Day on Nov. 4, three of our Excelle Sports Athlete Ambassadors wrote a letter to the coach who has influenced their athletic careers the most. Here, they reveal in those letters the kind of leadership they needed to take their sport to the next level and become professional female athletes.

Madison Packer, ice hockey 

Dear Coach Earl Size,

Thank you for all you have done for me as a player and a person over the years. I usually call you on Thanksgiving to thank you, but this year I decided to write you. And I want to take you back 15 years to Troy Ice Arena when I was a gap-toothed tomboy with uncombed hair—back then, you had a lot more hair, too. I walked into tryouts, nervous because I was a girl trying to prove myself in a “boy’s world.” Trying out for boys’ teams was always a battle, because even if I was good enough, some coaches and parents couldn’t get past the ponytail coming out of the back of my helmet. But you took a chance on me. You taught me how to stand up for myself. You taught me how to compete. But most importantly, you taught me to never listen to people who doubted me. 

As I got older and bounced around from team to team, you always made sure there was room on your roster for the kid with the ponytail. You continued to build my confidence. You taught me to chase my dreams, and when my dreams turned into reality, you continued to watch from afar.

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 16: Madison Packer of the New York Riveters of the National Womens Hockey League speaks with the media at Aviator Sports & Events Center on September 16, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The NWHL will commence its first season of play on October 11. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Madison Packer of the New York Riveters (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

And it’s not just what you did for me from behind the bench. What makes you stand out in my eyes is that your commitment to your players and our lives not only happens on the ice, but away from the arena, too. There were numerous times when you could have given up on me, and you never did. You stuck with me, pushed me and believed in me. 

I often tell the kids I coach now that athletes don’t get anywhere on their own. You are a testament to that. You were a key component in shaping me into the person and athlete I am today. You taught me never to quit, encouraged me when I was down and taught me that, whenever someone told me that I couldn’t do something, I should work hard to prove that I could. 

Over the last 15 years, a lot of things have changed. I got a scholarship to college, won a national championship, and now play in the pros. I never would have achieved any of this without you. 

[More from Excelle Sports: Madison Packer and her ‘beast of a mother,’ Momma Pack]

Thank you for everything you did for me. Thank you for being a committed and compassionate coach. Thank you for constantly putting your team and all the players on your roster in front of yourself.

But most importantly, thank you for not only being a good coach, but for also being a good person. For teaching me to always believe in myself. For taking a chance on me when no one else would. And for reminding me every time I see you, no matter where I go in life, to always remember where I came from.

Thank you. For everything.


Tori Christ, soccer

Dear Coach Mike Lopoyda,

I have been very lucky: I’ve had a number of coaches who have positively impacted my career and my life. But none has had as much of an impact as you did.

I think in any athlete’s career, there is a crucial point—whether it’s an age, a transition or overcoming an obstacle—that can either propel her forward or hold her back. As a freshman in high school, I had played club soccer for years in Buffalo, New York. I had good coaches in the clubs, as well as in the Olympic Development Program, but for many of those years, I was behind another goalkeeper, in her shadows, working hard but never getting the confidence or reinforcement I needed.

tori christ

That all changed when I was asked to play for you and Ontario’s Niagara Falls Fury in a college showcase tournament. At the time, I was two years younger than all the other girls on your team, the only American on a Canada-based club team, and a good foot shorter than your regular goalkeeper, who was unable to play at the last minute due to injury. So there I was, maybe not what you expected, but you smiled broadly, welcomed me and put me in the goal. You trusted me and instilled an immediate sense of confidence at a time when I needed it the most.

After a good tournament, you asked me to train with the team and get ready for a showcase tournament in Florida. I was so excited and grateful for the opportunity to play and get to know the girls better, but especially to have you as my coach for a longer period. After the Florida tournament, we kept training together. But then the injured goalkeeper returned and I realized that you had done something for me that no one had ever done before: You had evaluated me objectively, not based on my height or the stereotype of what a goalkeeper should look like. You told her that she was welcome to come back to the team, but that I was your starting goalkeeper and you made me team captain. I knew then that you saw my ability, work ethic, leadership and the other intangible things I brought to the game.

You believed in me and that changed my outlook on soccer. I have always loved soccer and being a goalkeeper, but until then, I would tell people “I play goalie,” never “I am a goaltender.” With your guidance and support, though, “I play goalie” became the more confident “I am a goalkeeper.”

With that newfound confidence, I broke records as the starting goalkeeper on my high school team while I continued to play for you. The girls on your team became more than teammates, but my friends, too, and we had great camaraderie under your coaching. I started to believe in myself and the idea that if I continued to train hard and work to be the best goalkeeper I could be, then all things would be possible—and they were. That turning point you created was largely responsible for leading me to play for four years in Div. 1 college soccer and then to ultimately go on to a professional career. And throughout it all, you’ve continued to support and offer me competitive training environments. This is a very long overdue thank you for contributing to my success and helping me achieve my dream.

Thank you, Mike, from the bottom of my heart.


Jessica Smith, speed skating

Dear Coach Robb Dunn,

I have had the privilege of being coached by one of the best coaches I believe in the world. You, Robb Dunn, have helped shape me into the athlete I am today. You started coaching me in  inline speed skating at 9 and after that, I went on to win 13 Jr. world titles and 16 world titles. You helped me to understand that hard work and dedication pays off. You not only pushed me to excel during training, you also understood me as an athlete.

Speed skater Jessica Smith. (Getty Images)

I am so thankful to have had a coach like you who didn’t accept anything less than my best. Giving my best may not have been the fastest lap times that day, but you always  knew, no matter what, that I was giving everything I had. Thank you, Robb, for always supporting me, challenging me and believing in me.

Thank you,

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