On June 16th, Kyle Kirst, the assistant lacrosse coach and defensive coordinator at Summit High School in New Jersey passed away at the young age of 47 after suffering a heart attack. Kirst’s coaching resume at Summit is incredible. In nine years at Summit, he won seven state championships and two Tournament of Champions titles. All the while his patented zone defense gave up about three goals per game, a ridiculous statistic in lacrosse at this level.
But if you read any of the numerous articles that have been put out about Coach Kirst these incredible accomplishments are never the focus of any of them. Instead, the articles are mainly about his extraordinary ability to connect with each and every one of his players and forge lasting relationships that are built on humor, encouragement, trust, and love. It was because of Coach Kirst’s unique approach to coaching and his spritely demeanor that over five thousand people showed up to wait in line for hours to pay their respects at his wake. That is how great of a coach and person Kyle Kirst was.
When someone as well loved as Coach Kirst passes away, it forces us to reexamine the way we live our lives. Everyone can learn a lot from the way Coach Kirst interacted with other people; this is especially true for coaches of young lacrosse players like myself.
Having played for Coach Kirst at Summit High School, there will be a model of coaching excellence that I can carry with me for the rest of my life. No coach will be able to replicate Kyle Kirst perfectly, but we should all strive to emulate the spirit with which he approached coaching.
The biggest way I can think of to begin doing just that is to build very strong individual relationships with every player. To Coach Kirst it didn’t matter if they were the All American or the benchwarmer, and it shouldn’t to any other coach. As a coach of beginners and intermediates, we should build relationships with all of the kids, whether or not they are picking up the sport as quickly as we would like, or even if they are completely uninterested altogether. Keeping the mood light as often as possible is especially important. I could not begin to count the number of times Coach Kirst made the entire team burst into laughter during warm-ups or in the middle of an intra-squad scrimmage. Lastly, giving the players endearing nicknames and remembering which teams and towns they played for would also be in the Coach Kirst spirit and would help to build these relationships.
Players want to know that their coaches are on their side. With Coach Kirst, there was never any shred of doubt.
Coach Kirst is dearly missed, but will always be remembered. We here at Sum It Up Lacrosse, many of whom knew Coach Kirst personally, will try to honor him by sharing his spirit with our players as best we can.