Beyond the game

For every lesson I teach a player, they teach me a dozen more

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

Fresh out of college and piecing together part-time jobs, I applied to coach volleyball at Clark Fork High School.

I’d always intended to help out my alma mater however I could, but hadn’t quite envisioned myself in the gym every afternoon for nearly three months, seated on benches across North Idaho in a royal blue polyester jacket with a clipboard in hand. Now, I can’t imagine myself anywhere else from mid-August to Halloween.

Since taking that assistant coach job in 2017, I’ve been roped into helping with junior high basketball — though “roping” me in mostly consists of asking me nicely — and also started coaching a club volleyball team in the spring. 

Lyndsie Kiebert, center facing the camera, bosses her young athletes during a 2019 volleyball match. Photo by Leslie Kiebert.

I am endlessly thankful that my newspaper job allows for the extra gigs, and have become pretty adept at conducting interviews and writing stories aboard a moving school bus. We become adaptable when we get to do what we love.

Coaching is certainly a labor of love, and a labor of constant life lessons. In honor of my fourth season of coaching, here are four things the job has taught me:

1. You’re going to be wrong — so, so wrong. You’re going to say the wrong thing, make a bad call, regret an interaction the next day. Luckily teenagers are forgetful and forgiving. Give yourself some grace.

2. You have a fair amount of wisdom to impart — most of it having nothing to do with sports. Teach the kids to laugh at themselves, to lose themselves in competition, to care about how they represent the community. Strive to offer an open and empathetic ear when it’s 6 p.m. on a Tuesday, you’re turning off the gym lights and a 16-year-old just needs to talk to someone who isn’t their mom. Refrain from giving any serious advice — reserve that right for parents and school counselors — but offer up the comforts that work for you: “Your feelings are valid,” “This too shall pass,” and “Most problems can be solved with water and a good night’s sleep.”

3. It is possible to subsist entirely on sandwiches eaten in the car at 3 p.m. because the day has gotten away from you and it’s time for practice and you need to consume some calories before you pretend to be a fully functioning and responsible adult for a bunch of impressionable young people for three hours. Try not to harbor too much disdain for all the grown-ups who never told you that 80% of adulthood is figuring out when and what to eat. Attempt to prepare your players for this cruel reality.

4. You learn why teachers love to teach. You see a correction turn into a kill turn into a winning point turn into confidence in every aspect of the player’s life. You see why every word of encouragement and every “I know you’re capable of more” matters. Create expectations and standards and watch the kids rise to the challenge when it’s least expected. You can’t want something for someone, but once they decide to want it all on their own — that feeling outshines every Christmas and every birthday combined. It is the ultimate gift.

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