by Katy Knight
About seventeen years ago I accepted a new position as the sophomore girls basketball coach at a local high school. I had never coached before and was working with three other men who had a lot more experience and knew the game much better than I did. I loved the game of basketball and I loved being a part of a team and working with young people. I felt then, and still believe that being part of a team and working together towards a common goal is a valuable experience for young people and is good for their self-esteem and development.
That first year was overwhelming for me as our team was small and we had a few girls with minor injuries. I was trying to figure out how to call plays and make game-time decisions while managing personalities and playing time.
I hadn’t been paying much attention to the other teams (JV & Varsity) but had been determined to focus on my little sophomore team and learn all I could from the other coaches. I remember one situation where the three other coaches were standing in a circle discussing and theorizing what was going on with the varsity team and specifically why certain girls weren't playing to their potential. I was standing close by listening but didn’t feel I had a place to say anything. Then the head coach, Corey, turned to me and asked, “Katy, what do you think”?
It took me off guard because I hadn’t expected to be consulted. I shared my thoughts which were my observations on how the girls were interacting off the court and how that translated to how they were interacting on the court. Corey listened. He followed up on some of my ideas and suggestions. I felt included, valued, and respected. It gave me confidence to speak up more and that my perspective would be heard and appreciated.
I coached with Corey for fourteen years and over those years, we got to know each other well. We had a shared purpose and a genuine love for our players. We wanted to see them succeed. Corey recognized my unique skills and found opportunities for me to contribute in meaningful ways. He also cared about me on a personal level and always took time to ask about my life and how I was doing.
A good leader listens and seeks to understand all perspectives before making a decision. Corey did this regularly with his coaching staff and with his players. In our last couple of years coaching, he wanted to try a whole new style of play that is rarely used, especially at the high school level. He brought in all his coaches and talked about how it would work and listened to any concerns we had. He then did the same thing with the team captains and eventually the whole team. It turned out well for us and we ended our time coaching with a state championship in 2017. I believe changing to this new system was a key to our success but even more importantly it worked because we were able to implement this new style of play with the girls fully on board. I must mention that we also had an incredibly talented team with a deep bench - that helped too. Their coach took the time to hear them and address their concerns. He respected them and they respected him.
A few months ago I received a phone call from Corey with the unfortunate news that he had been diagnosed with cancer. We cried together on the phone as he explained the situation, the prognosis, and his plan for treatment. Corey remembered that during our time coaching together, a little over ten years ago, I had lost a dear friend, Drew, to cancer. He brought this up and how Drew had been on his mind since receiving the news of his diagnosis. This touched me. To have a friend support me through grief and continue to remember the impact of that loss is a sacred act of kindness. I was honored to be able to offer Corey a listening ear as he had done for me so many times in the past. Because of what I had been through with Drew, I was able to show empathy for Corey as he faces a similar battle with cancer. I’m glad I shared this personal and tender experience with Corey earlier because it allowed us to connect and be there for each other years later. This experience taught me that being a good listener is a powerful and meaningful way to offer genuine kindness.
I’m forever grateful for Corey. I’m grateful for the kindness he showed me in making sure my voice and perspective was heard and valued. I’m grateful for how he mentored me and taught me how to be a coach. I’m grateful for his example of dedication and hard work. Most of all, I’m grateful for his friendship.
Katy Knight was born and raised in Provo. She works as the education director at the Bean Life Science Museum at BYU. Before that she taught biology and seventh grade science in American Fork, where she also coached high school girls basketball. She loves working with BYU students in her current job at the Museum and finding ways to educate others in an informal setting about biodiversity, conservation, and sustainability. For fun, Katy likes to spend time outside hiking, birding, and playing golf. She also enjoys swimming, playing racquetball, and pickleball.
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