Sibling coaching duo uses military discipline to improve women's lacrosse clubBy Alexis Faire | 03/23/2017 12:44am
Jason Sanderson and Sarah Sheiry are a sibling duo and coaches for the women's lacrosse club. Photo courtesy of Jacquie Andreano
On a normal work day before practice, they’re usually leaving a 12-hour work shift. In addition coaching, Sanderson and Sheiry also work together as members of the Air Force.
Sheiry said the travel time to coach the team is tough on their schedules and living in Birmingham is inconvenient when they need to be at practice.
“When we’re at work, we don’t have a whole lot of time to do that (talk about coaching),” she said. “On the way there, we’re usually talking about certain things that we’re wanting to look at, drills for the day.”
If their relationships as coaches and coworkers weren’t enough, they’re also brother and sister.
How it Started
Sanderson grew up in Alabama but it wasn’t until his family moved to Virginia, where a high school friend persuaded him to try lacrosse, that he fell in love with the game.
“I just started playing in my sophomore year in high school and throughout my career, ended up being a pretty decent goalie and won several awards,” he said. “So I was pretty good at what I was doing, I guess.”
He continued playing in college, but he joined the Air Force soon after.
Sheiry, however, grew up in Washington, D.C., where she had been exposed to the sport since childhood. She said she watched all her brother’s games, but she eventually fell in love with the sport on her own.
She played in high school, and when it was time to decide where to attend college, Sheiry said she knew the University of Alabama was where she wanted to go.
What made Sheiry choose the University was the fact that she had family ties to the state. Sanderson had been living in Alabama for a while, so being near her brother is what ultimately led Sheiry to her decision.
“I knew I wanted to go down south, so Alabama was just where I had been before and been familiar with. Not the school, per se, but the state,” Sheiry said. “It was the first thing I looked into.”
She didn’t expect to play lacrosse in college. Because she was a dedicated swimmer, Sheiry hoped to swim at Alabama. She missed the team by one second in her event, which is when she turned to lacrosse.
Sheiry joined the team, and played midfield during her four years at the University from 2012-2015. It wasn’t until a game during Sheiry’s first year that piqued Sanderson took an interest in the team.
“My family – my father, my brother, his wife, my stepmom – they all came down to watch a game that I was playing in, and we were doing kind of rough,” Sheiry said. “Jason was there, and after the game, he offered to coach to help out.”
She said the head coach at the time accepted Sanderson’s offer, and he started helping the team weekly.
“They looked like they needed some help, and I had some free time,” Sanderson said. “I decided to offer my assistance, so maybe she would have a decent college lacrosse career.”
The head coach was commuting from Huntsville, and he was unable to attend one of the team’s tournaments. He wanted Sanderson to attend the event, and that’s when he knew Sanderson would be a good fit for the team.
“It just kind of worked out in a way that he agreed to kind of give up the reins and Jason, at the time, had a willingness to do it,” Sheiry said. “Then, at that point, he showed up as head coach.”
How it Changed
When Sanderson took the position as head coach, Sheiry was still a player on the team. Rather than just thinking of him as her brother, Sheiry had to think of him as an authority figure, too.
Sanderson said disagreements were inevitable with them being siblings, but they were always respectful towards each other.
“At the end of the day, [she] really understood what I was trying to do was help the team, not necessarily dog her, like she would think,” he said.
For a while, Sanderson didn’t have help coaching the team. After Sheiry graduated from college, she was asked to be Sanderson’s assistant coach by the officers that year.
“Coaching is a tough job – I don’t care what anyone says,” he said. “If you’re by yourself, it’s tough. I don’t think you could be a successful coach without help, so it’s been awesome to have her there as a second voice to bounce ideas off.”
Sheiry also joined the Air Force after graduation and became a member of her brother’s unit.
“We actually got put on the same shift, so we see each other quite often,” he said. “It’s pretty nice because we grew up – because of parental separation – a little bit apart.”
Sheiry said she appreciates the time she gets to interact with Sanderson.
“In all of the realms, whether it’s with family or at work or coaching, I’ve always had that respect for him as an older person, and he’s been through more of life,” Sheiry said.
President of the team and senior Jacquie Andreano has been friends with the pair and was a player on the team under Sanderson while Sheiry was also a player on the team. She said the two have always been fun to watch, especially now that Sheiry is the assistant coach.
“When Sarah was playing and Jason was head coach, you could, every once in awhile, see the tension,” Andreano said. “It’s hard to take direction from a sibling, but now that they’re head coach and assistant coach, they work really, really well together.”
Why it’s Worth It
Sanderson and Sheiry credit their leadership to two things: Nick Saban and the military.
“Jason and I like to read a lot of books on Saban, not that we think we’re little Sabans, but I think he’s got a lot of really awesome tips for anyone in a leadership role,” Sheiry said.
She said she relates to Saban because he came back to coach the Kent State football team after playing for it during his undergraduate years. She had to decipher where to draw the line between being a friend and a coach, even though she was teammates with several on the team now.
“I actually attribute pretty much anything that I do leadership-wise or anything that I am character-wise to the military,” Sheiry said.
Andreano said Sanderson and Sheiry’s leadership and friendship have greatly affected her life. She said she’s glad Sanderson decided to coach the team.
“We don’t pay him much of anything, and he commits his heart and soul to the team,” Andreano said.
Although the two coaches have strenuous schedules, their love for the sport and the team trumps the inconveniences.
“Most people tell you that if you really like something, you’ll find time for it,” Sanderson said.