|Jack Hitchens, proudly smiling by his U12 team. (Hannah Leake)|
To be honest, I’ve never had to work extraordinarily hard for anything in my life. It’s a statement I’m slightly ashamed of, but it’s true. Things have always come naturally for me. I have always been athletic, and good at school, so people seem to constantly be automatically proud and supportive of me. I have never had to work diligently for acceptance, it just comes to me. Not to say I take all of this for granted because that would be a complete and utter lie. I appreciate this endowment to my life every day. What I appreciate the most though, is the one person who made me work for all of this. The one person who didn’t make me feel any more special than another person. This man is my hero.
It is exceptionally difficult to define a hero. It seems every culture, every time period, even every individual has a different thought of what a hero is. Webster’s dictionary defines a hero as “A mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability.” This could indeed qualify great legends such as Beowulf or Achilles, and other Greek gods to be heroes. This talk is acceptable for the medieval time period and before. What about today? Some people would name firefighters, doctors, public service workers, even celebrities as heroes. What makes them heroes though? Possibly it could be their publicity, endurance, intelligence, strength, or persuasiveness. To me though, a hero is more personal, someone who directly impacts me and my life; someone who ultimately changes me for the better, forever.
|Jack Hitchens watches his U12 girls team play. (Hannah Leake)|
Jack Hitchens is a simple man. He has lived in Virginia all his life. He grew up in Stafford and now lives in Spotsylvania. Jack is a proud father of two, his son Justin, now a junior at the Air Force Academy, and his daughter Sydney, a sophomore at Christopher Newport University. But of all of these defining elements of Jack's life, Jack Hitchens is a coach. Not just any coach either, he is a coach of the most well known game in the world. What some call the greatest game ever invented. A game of talent, aptitude, and endurance. Jack is a soccer coach.
The first time I met Jack I was 11 years old. He was the new assistant coach for our middle school team. I have always loved the game. It’s a passion of mine. So to me this first day of practice was what I had been waiting for all year. I was determined to be a starter. In the back of my mind I knew I would be, because frankly, I was the most experienced. I was the only travel player on the team and, like I said before, things like this just come naturally for me. That first day of practice I can still vividly remember thinking through my every move, just so I could impress the coaches. I worked harder than I had ever worked in a practice before. I pulled every trick and skill I knew. It was the best practice I had ever had. At the end of practice I walked right next to this man who was our new assistant coach just so I could hear him say those three words every player wants to hear from their coach: “Great job today.” But that didn’t happen. He didn't say anything.
|Jack Hitchens gives a high five to a U12 player. (Hannah Leake)|
This had gone against everything that has ever happened to me. I remember asking myself, “What could I have done better?” I went through every move, every step I took. I just didn’t understand. My practice was executed perfectly, it just did not add up. I had a restless night that night, tossing and turning, trying to find what I did wrong, but I found nothing. From then on I worked harder than I had ever worked and played harder than I had ever played. I thought to myself, reassuring myself, this man was going to accept me. I did everything he asked before he asked it, I strived to be the perfect player to get recognition from him. Finally, after all the sweat and tears, after the last game of our season, he came up to me and said, “You really are a great soccer player.” Those words changed me, the feeling of success overwhelmed me. I was finally accepted. It took a while but he finally gave me what I was looking for, recognition. I later ended up playing for his travel team and in the 7th grade I was a starter on the varsity team, I scored my first goal as a varsity player in the third game of our season. Obviously, I can see now that he appreciated how hard I worked, but being the great coach he is, he knew exactly how to get work out of me.
|Jack poses for a quick silly picture. (Hannah Leake)|
To this day, Jack is one of my favorite coaches. I’ve learned a lot from him and I’m extremely grateful. Our relationship now is much closer. I would almost call him a second dad. Jack has been a great inspiration in my life, not only in soccer but in life skills. He has taught me things like “confidence is a key to any successful person”, “every one likes a good sport” and “you’ll always be more successful in life if you have a positive attitude”. I don’t know where I would be today without him.
By now you’re probably wondering why this man is such a hero. There are too many reasons to explain why he is personally a hero to me. I will name only the greatest reason. As a player I was headed down a road of arrogance and selfishness. Jack saved me from that. It seems almost too dramatic to say, but he changed my life through his coaching. He taught me that not everyone is just automatically going to accept you and sometimes you have to work hard to achieve success. “Expect nothing, live frugally on surprise.” (Alice Walker) Jack has told me that many times.
Jack is not just a coach, or a parent, or a simple man from Spotsylvania, Virginia, or any of those other classifications that may define him as a person. Jack Hitchens is a teacher of some of the most important skills a soccer player can know. He teaches every girl willing to play for him how to win the game. How to make it through the game. How to push yourself to the end, until you can give no more of yourself to the game. But this game is not just any game, not just the game of soccer, this game is the game of life. That is what he taught me, that is why Jack Hitchens is my hero.