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Nicole Kuck: “Coaches, give thanks… a lot”

December 14, 2018

GCU Alum-turned-Positive Coaching Alliance coach gives GCU Club Sports Leadership Class powerful message

By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director

Learning how to be a positive coach by being the champion of… Rock-Paper-Scissors?!

It may not be the ‘secret to success’ in being a successful coach, but it was enough for former Grand Canyon University Softball star Nicole Kuck, now the Partner Support Manager for the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), to get the GCU Club Sports Leadership Class rallied around her message by ending the class with a Rock-Paper-Scissors ‘tournament’ that had the classmates hooting and hollering for each other by the end.  Or in Kuck’s view, they were playing the emotional equivalent of a gas station attendant.

“If I was to pick one of the many concepts I gave to them that I hope they hang on to, I honestly would say it would be focusing on filling emotional tanks of those around us,” Kuck said.  “In any role that you play with any youth sports with others, by keeping them encouraged, you are doing your job to make sure that that athlete becomes better in the sport and in the game of life.”

“Nicole mentioned a ratio that Stanford University came up with as far as what the average coaches’ ‘encouragement-to-negativity comment ratio’ should be,” noted GCU Club Sports Assistant Director Mark Nelson, who teaches both the GCU Club Sports Leadership and Coaching classes.  “It was five positive comments to one negative one.  If the students could take anything from that, it’s just, ‘Hey, how can we encourage each other?  How can we have a culture where we’re uplifting each other and helping each other through the good and the bad?'”

Kuck, who has coached softball on several levels since graduating from GCU in 2007, was brought in by Nelson to speak to both classes on the advice of Lopes’ Head Club Men’s Basketball Coach Matt Gordon.  Gordon has seen and used the principles of PCA, a national organization which fosters the encouragement of youth, high school and college athletes through positive reinforcement by coaches and administrators, for many years.

“Matt thought it be a great asset to what we’re talking about with our group, so we had a meeting with them,” Nelson said about how Kuck’s appearance came to be. “I really liked what they had to say, so we set up the opportunity for them to come in and speak to each one of our groups.  The best part about it was the presentation.  One was specifically for the coaches and one was specifically for the leadership group, and both were very beneficial.”

Trying to tailor a message two different ways for a pair of classes with overlapping students may seem daunting, but for Kuck, sticking to the overall mission of PCA made it much easier to do.

“This is a different demographic than our norm (youth sports organizations and high schools),” Kuck said.  “Our college curriculum is just smaller in number, but it’s athletes like this that want to be coaches, or are truly leaders on the field, and their time in sports hasn’t ended.  I just tried to take into account where these athletes and coaches are in their journey-especially those “student-athlete coaches-and tried to make it relevant to them and what they would see on an everyday basis.”

The concepts were many, but it took no time at all for several in the class to put the main concept in motion.

“The other day, I was getting pretty upset at practice, but my student leader was throwing out positives left and right,” said GCU Club Swimming Student Head Coach Jeremy Phung, who attended both of Kuck’s lectures.  “When I was getting upset with them, you can tell that they were kind of getting down, but after my assistant coaches came in and threw encouragement in there, you could tell that everything was lifted up and that they performed better because they were encouraged rather than discouraged.”

Music to the ears of Kuck, who finds the younger coaches easier to deal with at times.

“It’s a lot harder when I deal with seasoned coaches that are set in their ways,” Kuck said.  “It doesn’t really matter what I say.  They’re not going to admit that they liked anything until they leave most of the time. I will get emails later that say, “Hey, I was really resistant, and I went home I thought about it, and you were right.’ And I just want to say, ‘Yeah, I know!'”

“There was a lot of things that I thought to myself, ‘Wow.  I wish I would’ve done that,'” remarked Nelson, who spent two decades coaching on the NJCAA and NCAA levels, including five as an assistant with the Lopes’ NCAA Men’s Basketball squad.  “As I told the kids in our leadership class today, I’ve been doing this for quite a while, and I’ve definitely not mastered leadership or coaching.  She definitely brought some great points I was taking notes on, and were very applicable-hopefully to the kids, but definitely to my leadership.”

For Phung, the concepts Kuck outlined all pointed to one main principle.

“It starts with your relationships with all of the athletes in order for the team to flourish,” said Phung.  “You can have the best players in the world come together, but when don’t have that intention, when you don’t have a relationship, when you’re not on the same page and you don’t have that synergy, you’re not going to win games and it’s not going to go over well. That’s when she touched on a lot:  respecting the game and respecting each other before going out there and performing.”

To help direct and shape the coaching lives of a select group of club sports leaders?  Special.  To do it at a place that shaped Kuck-and one that she barely recognizes after a decade away?

“I’ve had butterflies for the last month,” laughed Kuck about returning to her alma mater.  “It is incredible to see all that Canyon has become. We had one dorm building brand new:  Hager (now Cypress) Hall.  We had one building to go to class.  We had one chapel.  Those were your options.  So to be back on something that has just grown and become so big that I can say I was a part of makes being here and being able to educate others that much more special.”

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