Blog Culture/Agency Life

PANpov: How Becoming “Coach Kiah” Changed My Life 

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Kiah Anderson

This piece is part of our PANpov series — firsthand stories from employees about personal experiences. Read more.

I’ve never been much of a teacher. I have issues with patience, and teaching people things that I already know how to do frustrated me. Well, until I started coaching.  

During my childhood, I played all the sports – gymnastics, volleyball, softball, soccer, track, you name it. They were an outlet for me. Getting to spend time with my friends, experiencing the joys of winning, and seeing the look on my parents’ faces at my events. It gave me so much joy… until it didn’t. To explain that requires some backstory. 

I vividly remember starting track and field in the 6th grade. My best friend’s dad ran his own AAU track team, so naturally, I was forced to join by both my parents and my friend. I HATED the thought of running (still do); every aspect of it made me cringe (still does). However, I was a bit stronger than your normal 6th grade girl, so my coach suggested I try the throwing events – shot put and discus. I immediately realized it was the perfect way to get out any built-up frustrations – throwing a heavy metal ball and disc as far as I could. As I practiced more, I got pretty good: winning lots of gold medals, breaking my school record, making it to state and national championships, and eventually getting an offer for an athletic scholarship to college.  

In my last years of high school, though, I lost all love for the sport. I don’t know if this change of heart came from the immense pressures of aiming to be the best, the burnout from my busy schedule, or the lack of coaching and encouragement at my high school, but I wanted nothing to do with it. I even turned down my scholarship – whether that was a good choice or not, I still don’t have the answer.  

Fast forward to graduating college – obviously, a lot of things changed in those 4 years. I had a chance to mature mentally and gained a new appreciation for the power of mentorship. After moving back to my hometown, my AAU coach asked if I’d help with the throwers on the team. Everything in me wanted to say no – but that was my family, so I decided to try it out.  

Initially, I wasn’t sure about it until I started seeing the difference the track program made in kids’ lives. For a lot of athletes, the track is their home away from home. For some, this is their way of staying out of trouble. We coach kids from a variety of backgrounds – some from amazingly supportive households with parents at every event and some with absolutely no support from home whatsoever. I quickly learned that I – and the rest of the coaching staff – needed to be there for the kids more than just athletically.  

This past school year, I started coaching on another team where a lot of the kids don’t come from much. They attend a school with a graduation rate that would make anyone reading this ask, “How is this school still open?” For a lot of these kids, they’d rather be on the track than at home, and as a coach, I don’t take that lightly. It’s a challenge getting some of the athletes to stay consistent – but for those that do, it’s amazing to see the progress they make. Through the hard practices, and the easy ones, they always try to give 100% – and make sure their peers do the same. They recognize that for the situation they’re in, they must work a little harder than others to be recognized, but they do it.   

In May, I got to see this same group of kids win the Regional Championship for the first time in school history, for any sport, and the emotions that flowed that day were priceless. It made me glad I gave coaching a try because not only do I get to spend way more time with those I love, but I get to be part of a community – one where nobody is left behind, and there’s an immense amount of support.   

On my hardest days, even the days I don’t feel like I can coach, the kids get me through it. Seeing the smiles on their faces when they greet me and say, “Hi, Coach Kiah” can fix just about any mood I’m in or make the challenges in my life seem like less – just don’t tell them that. 😉 I have learned so much from my athletes, and the close-knit relationships I’ve built with them is something I can rave about all day. They teach me what it means to have fun and stay young, how to not take things so seriously, and how to appreciate the small things in life.  

As a coach, a goal of mine is to make sure that the athletes I work with never lose their love for the sport – that it never becomes a task for them, like it did for me. Track and field is such an amazing, unique sport because as much as you compete against others – it’s truly a daily competition against yourself. Your goal at every practice, meet, etc. is to be better than you were the last time – to reach your own personal goals and to push yourself further and further every single time. That really teaches the kids to stay in their own lanes (no pun intended) and work on constantly pushing themselves out of their comfort zone to see results.  

To see the kids succeed is my only wish. However, success doesn’t only mean winning – it means being your best self every day, building long-lasting, meaningful relationships, and being a good person. I hope that I’m making as much of an impact on them as they are on me. 

A lot of my “free time” is spent coaching. During the summer, we spend two hours four times a week practicing, and on the weekends – anywhere from 10-20 hours at track meets out in the hot sun or freezing rain (with Michigan weather, you never know what you’re going to get). During the school season, I take my lunch hour to go to practice and spend my Saturdays at track meets. I’m extremely thankful that PAN is so flexible because without the ability to step away for a bit during the day, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do for these kids. For that, I am forever grateful.  

If you made it this far – thank you for reading my story. Volunteering and coaching will always hold a special place in my heart. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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