Gonzaga strongly encourages its students to use their position of privilege to assist others within the community. The belief in taking one’s own power and flipping it to serve others originates from Jesuit ideals, in which caring for the entire person remains a key focus.
A plethora of volunteer positions are advertised on a weekly basis, providing students the opportunity to choose where they serve, rather than being placed into a spot that might not fit their personality. Ultimately, volunteering comes down to performing whatever task is needed and providing an extra hand, but investment in what one is doing makes the time that much more enjoyable.
It’s almost impossible to abstain from volunteering while attending GU; however, most students are eager to help out without outside influence. It’s rare to find a Zag who hasn’t integrated themselves into the greater Spokane community in one form or another.
A popular option among Zags is volunteering as a basketball coach for Ignite Basketball Association (IBA), a program run by the well-known Spokane Hoopfest Association. I happened to stumble across the posting for IBA when scrolling through Morning Mail my freshman year, and was lucky enough to coach for IBA as an underclassman.
I grew up in athletics and spent the majority of my time before GU in varying uniforms. My sports resume ranges from recreational softball to varsity field hockey, with most of my time dedicated to club and high school soccer. Although my experience in basketball and knowledge of the rules were somewhat limited, I jumped at the chance to volunteer for IBA and somehow convinced my suitemate Sabrina to take on the role of assistant coach.
The Hoopfest office manager, Keli Riley, made the process of filling out paperwork and learning how to coach extremely easy. Her accessibility and kindness made our IBA experience that much more impactful, as it became increasingly clear that Hoopfest cares equally about players and coaches. Riley consistently went the extra mile for myself and Sabrina, and went so far as to adapt her schedule for mine, bringing the team roster to GU’s campus. She organized a carpool for us freshman year with other volunteers, taking care of every need or complication that arose.
The form for coaching requires basic information and asks for a preference on grade and gender. I happened to overlook this, landing Sabrina and I a team of eighth grade boys named after the NBA team the Clippers. Upon first glance we felt overwhelmed and underqualified. However, this assignment ended up being the biggest blessing in disguise.
I’m a very direct and honest individual, traits that serve me well most times, but also get me into trouble when I choose bluntness over sensitivity. Coaching the Clippers taught me how to communicate more effectively, while still remaining authentic and true to myself.
Sabrina and I acknowledged our identities at the first practice, admitting to the boys that they probably knew more about the game than we did and would outplay us in every drill. I told the players that I would treat them as adults and let them use the time to improve the skills they wanted to.
Their job was to analyze their own game, communicate what they wanted to do and support their teammates. Sabrina and I became facilitators rather than dictators under this dynamic, which worked far better for everyone involved.
I distinctly remember saying, “I may not teach you how to become a better basketball player, but I will teach you how to be a better teammate and person. You will get out what you put into this program. Everything is a direct result of your effort and choices.”
However, this model was not fail-proof, and I still found myself having to discipline players periodically. The turnaround period for bad behavior was quick, given that winning the games was not my concern. Sabrina and I had no problem putting more skilled players on the bench if they let their attitudes get the best of them. Eighth grade boys despise the bench, making this a valuable tool in teaching them patience and humility.
I’d like to think that we made the real Clippers proud, because I’m extremely proud of the progress our players and ourselves made over the course of the season. Our most skilled player thanked Sabrina and I on the last game night, reminding me of what I said the first practice and saying I had followed through on my promise. Admittedly, his game play remained the same, but the way he viewed himself in relation to his teammates completely shifted.
One of our players had never played basketball before and struggled to score throughout the season.
During our last game, our best player encouraged his teammates to pass the ball to the weakest player and refused to shoot until this teammate scored. We lost that game, but walked away with all of our players having points on the board.
Coaching for IBA made my life better in innumerable ways, and I can confidently say it made the lives of my players better, even if it was only during our practices and game nights.
IBA gave me my best friend, turning Sabrina from my suitemate to my assistant coach to my family. The weeks we spent coaching freshman year will remain some of my favorite memories from college. It’s difficult to forget coaching eighth grade boys as two soccer players under 5 feet, 4 inches, but we teamed up, succeeding and misstepping together.
Despite being shorter than every player on our team and struggling to make a half-court shot during post practice cool-downs, we still managed to teach the boys plays and win games.
Volunteering for IBA made me a better person too, and I’ve carried with me the ability to consider all the factors influencing someone else’s behavior.
In this way, both IBA and GU teach students to meet others where they are, and build up their community through improving themselves.