By Tony Hooker
Many athletes have experienced the joys and pains of having one or both of their parents coach them in youth sports.
For a select few, the experience can last into high school, and such is the case for Kyleigh Block, whose mother Jeana is the head volleyball and softball coach at VGHS.
I recently sat down with the 2021 Villa Grove Graduate and future Illinois Central College basketball player and her mother to discuss the highs and lows of trying to balance the mother/daughter, coach/athlete dynamic over the course of her career.
You were recently selected to play in a basketball all-star game. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
<KB> It was the IBCA all-star game, made up of a north team and a south team. It was held in Pontiac, and we had about an hour-long practice. Our coach was from Lewistown, (Greg Bennett) and this was his last year coaching. He said this would be his last hurrah. No one knew anyone. I only knew one girl on my team, Tayler Barry, from Tri-County. It was cool to play with kids from schools that were hours away.
Block acquitted herself well, tallying six points and three assists in the contest, a 100-68 loss for the south squad.
I included your mother in this interview because you’ve been playing for her forever, right?
<both laugh> Yes.
Every kid has played little league or softball for a parent, but you two went beyond that and you’ve played your entire varsity career in volleyball and softball for her. What was that like? Good? Bad? Both?
<KB> <laughing> There’s a reason why basketball’s my favorite sport!
And to clarify, you don’t coach basketball, right?
<JB> Right. <laughing> and I agree that’s why basketball is her favorite sport.
<KB> I’d say freshman and sophomore years we kind of butted heads, but junior and senior year we overcame it. I don’t know how to explain it, but whenever she tells me to do something, I want to tell her no, so I tell coach Smith to tell me the exact same thing, and she will and I’ll do it! <smiles> There’s a lot of tension between parents and children, as I’m sure you know. You tell me to do the dishes so I’m going to say no. You tell me to get lower when I’m passing a volleyball and I just look at her. I’m not going to say no, because I’ve learned that I’m not allowed to do that in practice! Overall, it’s been a good experience. It’s been a long ride.
How about you, coach?
<JB> I would agree. Years ago, I coached, but of course it wasn’t her when I first started teaching. I came here and they asked if I wanted to coach and I said “sure”, but as she got older, I’m going to be in this and I’m going to have her. Fortunately, she’s a pretty good kid, but she doesn’t like for me to tell her and we learned that early. In softball, Kerry Cheely would have to be the one to tell her, and it’s the same thing in volleyball. Coach Smith would tell her. She’s always been respectful, but there have definitely been moments where we’ve locked horns. She wants to be a coach, so now that she’s a little bit older and more mature and can appreciate some of my ideas a bit more, we have fun bouncing things off of each other. I love it. The memories that we made, even when we weren’t getting along and kudos to her, because she never snapped at me at practice, now on the way home or when we got home she might not have been as respectful but she knew that here (Villa Grove school gym) that she was a player. There was one softball game where I yelled at her and she kind of came back to me, and I said “you won’t talk to your mom that way,” and she said “You’re not my mom, you’re my coach.” <both laugh> We’ve definitely had our moments, but for the most part I couldn’t have asked for any more out of her. We found success. She did well. She helped our teams do well, so overall, it’s been fun.
What’s it going to be like not having mom on the sidelines?
<KB> It will definitely be different in college, because the expectations are a lot higher. They expect a lot out of you, and I like that. She did too. I felt that practices were always a little bit harder for me because I’m her kid and she could try to push me past my limits. I feel that it’s going to be the same with Coach Redeker at ICC. She knows what I’m capable of, so she pushes me too.
The major factor that played into me choosing ICC (Illinois Central College) was Coach Redeker. I just liked her coaching style, her goals. Her program in general has a winning culture, and when I went on my visit, my teammates were all there and were completely honest with me about ICC and how much they like it. I just felt like it was a really good fit for me and where I’m at right now.
Coach, what’s it going to be like not having her on your team?
<JB> There’s a little bit of a void. We’ve been doing summer volleyball, and the first day we were here, Amanda (Smith) said “it’s weird. We don’t have Kyleigh here, because even before she was in high school she would come to practice and hang out with us. She’s always been a gym rat. It’s going to be different, but it takes some of that stress out, because now we can discuss it. I can say “Hey, I’m thinking about moving this person here, and she’ll say “That might work” so we can bounce things off one another.
Now the maybe not so fun part. You recently suffered an injury, so let me ask you. You missed an entire season because of a pandemic. You had another season moved because of a pandemic, and you finally get back to some sense of normalcy for softball and you’re taken out by a pool cushion to the eye?
<KB> The good thing about it was that it happened after I had finished the majority of the season. I was just thankful to have an opportunity to play another game, after last year’s uncertainty. I had no idea if I would even get to play another game in high school, so I was just extremely grateful for that.
You’re thinking of kinesiology as a major?
Yes, I want to be an exercise science/Kinesiology major. I’ve been going back and forth. I thought I wanted to be a physical therapist, but I’m not sure I want to go to school that long. <smiles> I want to be a P.E. teacher like mom, and then in the summers I want to be a personal trainer. I definitely want to get into coaching somewhere.
Do you see the traits, patience etc., to be a good coach in her?
<JB> She’s always been a good leader. I’m getting old, and there have been times when we’ll be starting to do a drill and she’ll say “that’s not right. It’s supposed to be like this.” She can explain things very well and has a true love of the game of basketball for sure. I think she can do it and have great success at it.