Meet Jill Carlson

Nursing Manager, Sanford Health

Jill Carlson has never been one to sit on the sidelines, at least not for long. Growing up, her aunt coached her in a variety of sports, from golf to track, volleyball and basketball.

“I grew up with my aunt shooting around the ball with me, challenging me and showing me different tips and disciplines,” she says. “Those are great memories for me.”

In high school, Jill’s team, led by her aunt, became regulars in the state girls basketball tournament and successfully earned the title of state champs. Then in college, she continued to play while earning her nursing degree.

“I told myself that I would never coach anybody because I just wanted to play,” she says. “But when you get into your 30s and 40s and you hurt for days after playing, then coaching seems kind of fun.”

When the oldest of her four kids started grade school at Park Christian School in Moorhead, Minnesota, Jill’s coaching journey began, and she’s never looked back. From elementary to travel teams, junior high and high school varsity, she’s coached one or more teams since 2008.

Today, her youngest three kids also play basketball and her husband is an assistant coach too.

“I’ve had to learn to separate being a mom and being a coach,” she says. “On the way home from practice, I have to let them know that I’m mom now and not the coach.”

With the school’s K-12 grade levels all in one building, Jill expects her older athletes to set an example for her younger players. After school, they start practice with warm-ups before moving into drills. Each player practices a range of skills from guard and post moves to passing and shooting. At the end of practice, they break into groups and focus on offensive and defensive positions.

Each week, the coaching staff picks a different theme to concentrate on. This week’s theme is building confidence on the court and outside of the game too. The coaches also incorporate a Biblical perspective into each discussion. 

 “It really honestly doesn’t boil down to the game,” she says. “In the heat of the moment, the basketball game is very important, but then when it’s all said and done, I want them to learn something from it that they can take and teach their own children someday or use as a way to get involved in their community or school.”

To help her players develop sportsmanship skills, such as how to win and lose with integrity, respond to criticism and communicate with others, Jill starts by trying to be an example through her own role on the team.

“Even in how I react to the referees if they’ve made a call I don’t like, I want to be an example to the kids,” she says. “I will talk to the refs, but I’m not going to make a scene. I’ve learned that it’s not worth yelling or slamming your hands or whatever that may be.”

Jill also believes in taking a whole-person approach to basketball. When she sees one of her players become frustrated or upset, she tries to tune into what may be causing the problem, whether it’s something they’re struggling with on or off the court.

“The wins can be so fun and the losses tough, but my absolute favorite thing is getting to know each kid through their hurts and trials and to be part of some of their fun moments,” she says.

By trying to be a sounding board for her players, Jill hopes that what they learn playing basketball doesn’t stop there.

“I would love for my team to look back ten years from now and to be able to say they’ve made a good decision elsewhere in their life because they remember talking about that topic during practice,” she says.