In the wake of longtime coach Russ Riches’ retirement, Yelm Community Schools has hired assistant coach Jennifer Sleeman as his replacement.
Sleeman has been coaching and volunteering with Yelm basketball for decades, with eight and a half years as an assistant girls basketball coach for the Tornados.
“I’m pretty proud of the Yelm program as it is, since I’ve been volunteering off and on for the last 20 years,” Sleeman said. “The freshmen this year, I had in Tornado Camp when they were first and second graders. … The seniors I had as freshmen.”
She said her coaching style differs from the approach Riches took.
“I think the good part of when Russ and I coached together, is he brought different stuff,” she said. “We agreed to start at ‘point A’ and we needed to get to ‘point C,’ but we would have to talk about what ‘B’ would be. I am different from Russ in that way.”
She said she brings more vigor to the program.
“I probably bring a lot more energy, if you ask anybody,” Sleeman said. “Russ is pretty calm, cool and collected all the time. I’m very passionate (and) energetic. I get really excited about what I am doing. And so my practices are probably going to look a little different in the way they’re presented.”
For starters, she’s going to keep the girls playing at a high rate of intensity.
“(My practices) are going to be a little more upbeat,” Sleeman said. “I like to get the practice started. I like to get to a certain tempo. I want it to stay at a certain tempo until the end — less ups and downs — and that is how I want the girls to play. And so my practices will look different that way.”
She said that coaching is all about bringing out the best in people.
“I like to see what their best attributes are and help them to show those off,” Sleeman said. “And I like to help kids serve each other. When you play in a team sport, like basketball, you’re only as good as the guy next to you. And so, if you’re playing at the top of your game, and you’re serving or helping someone else play at the top of their game, you can’t help but win.”
And winning is what she’s pretty good at, she said.
“We have a habit of winning … and I do know how to win, so I plan on keeping that up,” Sleeman said.
She said that in bringing out the best in the girls, she can prepare them from what’s next in life.
“In an ever-changing world, in games, you’ve got minutes and seconds and moments and possessions, and these girls learn to make decisions based on practice and muscle memory and reading a situation,” Sleeman said. “For me, I think that’s life. If you can help kids walk through this world more confidently, then what greater job is there than that?”
She said basketball, and sports in general, teaches people how to be good employers, employees and community members. That’s because basketball brings confidence, coordination, health, simplicity to life, problem solving, teamwork and discipline, Sleeman said.
“It’s all about balancing life,” she said. “Academics has to come first. You get four years of high school basketball, but you have four years to prepare yourself to have some kind of job, some kind of purpose that you have to go make money at.”
She said her job will be to teach the athletes there’s priorities in life, with basketball being a privilege, a reward for hard work at school.
“Just try it. Basketball is fun,” Sleeman said. “Incoming freshmen: Don’t be afraid to fail. All walks of life are welcome and you never know if you’re going to be good at something or not, and you don’t know what basketball can do for you. Sometimes it’s not what you can do for basketball, it’s what basketball can do for you.”