It’s often been said in sports that the character of a coach is truly revealed in defeat.
By that measuring stick, Hillsboro High School girls’ basketball coach Nathan Hiebert has shown that he keeps winning and losing in perspective.
Hiebert is an obvious winner with a 108-39 record in six years as a head coach. While his teams have been to the 3A state tournament five of those six years, the Trojans have lost in the first round twice and have finished third the last three times.
Third-place games are never popular, but somehow Hiebert is able to set aside the disappointment of not getting to the championship game, and his teams compete and finish third. Trust me, not all coaches and teams display that kind of character, and it’s reflected in how badly some teams play in third-place games.
I asked Coach Hiebert if he’s frustrated by coming so close but not winning a championship. His response was, “Absolutely I would like to win one, but I understand that God has bigger plans.
“I care about doing our best, playing with character and enjoying the opportunity to play. I do enjoy winning, but that is not how I define success. I am still very proud of our team, even though we didn’t win the championship.
“If I define success as just winning a title, there would be a lot of years I would be depressed. I have been blessed with a great coaching staff, school system and some great girls. There are a lot of great coaches who don’t even get the chance to make it to state. I want to come and do my best, glorifying God with the gifts He has blessed me with,” said Hiebert.
Many coaches wouldn’t object if KSHSAA did away with third-place games. Hiebert isn’t one of them.
“I have been thankful for the third-place game,” said Hiebert. “From my experience, I would keep it. I could see why they would take it out, but it allows for two teams to play one last time. I think those are good memories.”
I believe Hiebert has the proper approach to playing a third-place game and the results bear that out.
“The loss the previous day is done,” said Hiebert. “The girls are blessed with an opportunity that most teams in the state don’t have. They get to come back, play one more game and leave on a positive note. You can’t pout. In our society, people love to make excuses. Instead of complaining, we get an opportunity to come back and try again. Losing that second round hurts, but losing two days in a row would be worse.”
Hiebert challenged his team to have fun and do their best, and not end the season going through the motions. Obviously his team responded.
Hiebert learned much from and respects his former coaches, Gary Melcher of El Dorado High School and Clair Oleen at Bethany College, in addition to the assistant coaches at both schools.
He knows firsthand the disappointment of not winning the big one as an athlete.
“El Dorado was fortunate to play in the 4A state tournament my senior year. We made it to the final game and lost on a last-second shot to Colby. (The) toughest part about that game was that I fouled out mid/late fourth quarter and had to watch as we lost.”
Balancing time and responsibilities is the toughest part about coaching. Hiebert says it’s a challenge being a loving husband and father, in addition to teaching several topics, being responsible for 75-100 kids each day, scouting upcoming opponents, preparing practice schedules, communicating with other coaches, and being engaged with his local church and town.
“The best part is seeing girls accomplish something more than their expectations,” said Hiebert. “As a coach, it is really rewarding to see girls succeed during high school, but also see them go on and carry those characteristics they have learned—work ethic, unselfishness, teamwork and toughness—into other areas of life: college, careers and families.”
Is Hiebert one of a kind? Probably not, but in my experience, very few coaches have such a healthy perspective on life so early in their career. His players and students clearly are the beneficiaries.