It is often said that coaches are married to the job. The dedication it takes often leaves the spouse feeling widowed during the season. And the season seems to extend yearly with practices and conference events.
Being a really good coach takes time and energy, along with great leadership skills, empathy and a commitment to the team. All of this takes dedication and passion that many do not have, yet, the Kentucky Wesleyan College women’s basketball coaches know this marriage of sport and family in a way few other coaching staffs do — they are not only married to the job, but they are also married to each other.
Caleb and Nicole Nieman never thought they would be coaching together, yet for the 20 years they have been married, that is exactly what they have done.
Nicole was working as a middle school special education teacher and Caleb was a sports performance trainer for pro and amateur athletes in Grand Rapids, Mich. when a coaching opportunity presented itself. During that experience the two spent time coaching, learning how to solve problems better and learning more about themselves together.
“Sports have always been something we enjoyed, but we didn’t think of ourselves as coaches until the opportunity came along to coach a fifth-grade girls basketball team,” Nicole said.
Learning to coach side-by-side also allows them the opportunity to turn to each other for advice. They have learned to coexist in home life and work life by checking themselves at the door and making sure they have gone over most circumstances before entering.
“Usually when we don’t see eye-to-eye, it is because one has a firm stance and the other is giving the other view. We usually try to give different perspectives so we are sure of the direction we are going in,” Caleb said.
“There aren’t too many times that we disagree,” Nicole said. “I know, that’s boring.”
The Niemans have been the co-head women’s coaches for the last 10 years and during that time they have felt the support from Wesleyan players and staff, especially with the birth of their daughter, Lily, now 8 years old.
“They are supportive of our philosophy and our ability to still be a family,” Nicole said.
Lily loves being with the team, affectionately referring to them as her sisters.
“The older she gets, the more involved she gets with practices and games,” Nicole said. “She comes to most anything she can.”
Caleb believes that parenting has changed both Nicole and him by making them better people.
“We have learned to have a better perspective on daily life and not worry about things that don’t matter so much,” Caleb said. “It has slowed us down and it has allowed us to enjoy the small things more.”
Nicole said they really enjoy Owensboro because it is a safe, family-friendly community that gets better every year.
During the season, Nicole worries that their schedule causes them to spend too much time on basketball and their players and not enough on their family, but she also believes that their being parents has allowed them to gain a better perspective on what their players’ parents are going through when they make the decision to have their daughter attend college and potentially play basketball under them.
“It also lets us see our players as daughters and gives us a better relationship among them,” Nicole said.
Both agree that the fact they are married allows them to have the same answers to the players’ questions and they can’t use the trick of asking the other coach to get them the answer they might be looking for.
“There are not any different agendas amongst our team,” Nicole said.
As players graduate and finish their career at Wesleyan, Caleb hopes that their influences go with them.
“We hope we have taught our players that the results on the scoreboard and what shows up on the stat sheet are not nearly as important as the way they treat their teammates, how hard they work to pursue their passions and, in doing so, learn to love life’s challenges,” Caleb said.