August 28, 2023
One Denver mom is helping the YMCA transform lives through sports
When Jessica Giffin first signed up her daughter for the 3rd/4th grade basketball at the YMCA of Metro Denver last year, she had no idea she’d fall into coaching the team. While she “accidentally” volunteered for the position, it was a decision that has proved “the best experience.”
Over the course of two seasons, the University Hills YMCA team became one of the best in their bracket, winning all but a few of their games each season and transformed the lives of students and parents alike.
It didn’t start that way. The first game, Giffin couldn’t make it. The second game, her team lost horribly. “Some of the girls started crying,” she recalls. “I encouraged them that what mattered is that we played with heart, and we became ‘team heart.’ Every game we started with the rally cry ‘We’ve got heart!’”
Transformation began from the inside out. “After the kids started taking ownership, and the parents got involved too. Every single member of the girls’ families started showing up for our games. Even the grandparents and extended family started coming.”
As a long-time member of the Y and current Senior Manager of Community Well-being, Giffin is used to leaning in at the Y and has discovered many benefits along the way. This time, her willingness also opened the door to new leadership skills and the esteemed moniker of “coach.”
“The kids wanted to have fun, and all wanted to be in charge,” she shared, “So we had a dance between me letting them take charge of certain areas and learning their strengths. I never thought I’d have the title, but now all my kids call me “coach,” which is super cool.”
For Giffin, it was the perfect opportunity not only to refresh herself on aspects of the sport but rediscover her own love for basketball. “I played basketball in high school, and I joined a Y rec team with women who played a lot of division 1, 2 or 3 in college,” Giffin explained. “That gave me the basic experience I needed. If you have any interest or baseline knowledge of a sport, it can be really fun to re-acquaint yourself with it by coaching. Plus, I remembered just how much fun it is to shoot hoops, and now I do that at the beginning of all my workouts.”
What was particularly gratifying was to see the positive impact on the kids and their families.
“One girl who really struggled with our losses wrote me a sweet note at the end of the season about how she appreciated me listening to her and helping her. Her mom shared that her daughter doesn’t like writing and struggled with it in school. So, the fact that she wrote something meant that I made a huge impact on her life,” Giffin added.
The impact extended to her own family. “My daughter is a very headstrong kid, and this was her first team sport. It was really cool to watch her learn how to be a part of the team.”
“It’s about what attitude you bring, showing up for your teammates and listening to your coach—once they took that to heart, it really made an impact.”
Giffin encourages parents and students who might be interested in joining or coaching a Y sports team to get involved. It’s the kind of experience you won’t want to pass up but pass on.
Consider supporting the YMCA through volunteer coaching or with a donation that supports a sports scholarship for a family in the Denver Metro area. Learn more about all the programs the YMCA has to offer at denverymca.org.