Q&A with City High Coach Ryan Ahlers

Ryan Ahlers discusses the ups and downs of coaching sports and his journey at City High
Women’s Wrestling Head Coach Ryan Ahlers yells out to his wrestler on the mat during the Little Hawk home tournament
Women’s Wrestling Head Coach Ryan Ahlers yells out to his wrestler on the mat during the Little Hawk home tournament
Lili Moessner

Can you introduce yourself and what you teach?

My name is Ryan Ahlers. I teach Economics and AP Economics here at City High.

What teams do you coach here at City?

I coach Women’s Cross Country in the Fall, and Women’s Wrestling in the Winter, and I’m an Assistant on the Men’s Track and Field Team in the Spring. So I’m coaching throughout the year. 

What are your favorite things about coaching?

I’ll start with difficult things. It takes a lot of time out of your day. You’re coming in at 8:15 or earlier in the morning for your teaching day, which is the most important part of your job but also it feeds into that coaching part of the day. Then, after the coaching part of the day, even with a practice instead of a competition, you’re not home until like six o’clock at the earliest. I’ll be home at like 5:30 but some days I’m not home till 6:30 competition days whether it’s a cross country/track meet or wrestling tournament, you’re not home till even later. Sometimes it’s midnight.

What are the most difficult things about coaching?

I look at [coaching] as a continuation of your teaching. You’re educating. Sports, I think, is such an amazing way to express yourself and do things with your body and mind that help you become a better overall person. That’s the goal. And I love the excitement and the ups and downs with kids. You’re going to learn a lot as a coach and you’re going to learn a lot as an athlete. I love seeing kids learn about themselves. I’ve been coaching long enough now that some of the kids that I coached are in their 30’s now and it’s cool to see them doing other things, working jobs, and finding love.

How long have you been coaching?

My first year was 2006. I was a Volunteer Assistant with the Boys Cross Country Team. Between City High and Bozeman High School in Montana, I’ve been coaching for 18 years.

Who are some athletes that you have coached or are coaching now that you just want to highlight the accomplishments of?

I’ll start with what’s going on right now. I think Shaona [Emmanuel] is doing a fantastic job. This season is her second year of competitive wrestling. She’s figuring it out. She’s really strong, but most importantly, she understands how to use her strength. And she’s starting to get the technical side of it, which is helpful. Molly Carlson and Eliza Mitchell, two are hard-working kids and Molly qualified for state last year as a freshman. She’s doing a fantastic job and, you know, really, really planning on tomorrow being a great day for her too. Eliza is a freshman. She’s new to it, even though wrestling is not new to her family. Dan Gable and the rest of her family are just an amazing wrestling family and supportive. I think those three in the wrestling world are going to do some great things. Two sophomores and a freshman, which means a lot of great things coming their way. The Peterson twins, Nicole and Nina, they’re both in Cross Country and Wrestling. If you want to watch how to conduct yourself in the sport, watch them. Watch how they work, how they love it, and how they ask good questions about how they can get better. It’s a good lesson. I could go on forever about the athletes. Abigail Burns and Claire Locher are both unbelievable people. They bring such great energy to the Cross Team. 

Where do you see the biggest impact of your coaching? 

I see big impacts when kids graduate and they come back or they’ll text you or email you and ask, ‘Hey, how’s it going? How’s the season going?’ When the kids not only care about the program, but they also are still a part of it in my mind even if they’ve gone on to do other things in their life. They want to check in and see how it’s going. Seeing kids that have graduated and come back, you can tell they care about it. That’s a huge part of life is caring about things that you were once a part of. With the athletes right now, just seeing them find happiness in sports, even though sports sometimes can be demanding, mentally, physically, socially, and emotionally, like seeing them navigate it and find the joy in it. That’s joyful to me as a coach.

Why do you coach?

One big reason is my high school math teacher. He was also my cross country coach. I had him for one year in math but also had him for four years in cross country. I loved how he coached, how he taught, and how he made kids feel like they were a part of something. It didn’t matter how good they were. He was good at navigating the really good high-level varsity athletes, but also recognizing and bringing along the kids that were maybe new to it or maybe weren’t as raw talented. You could tell he loved what he did. And even though my style might be a little different than his, finding that love and that daily aspect of coaching that’s what feeds me. Coaching doesn’t feel like a job. I talked earlier about the long hours, but those days and nights I don’t think ‘Oh my god, I’ve been working for hours.’ This is what I do. This is what I like to do. 

What are your favorite parts about meets?

My favorite part about the competition is that essentially [the athletes] are finding a lot out about themselves. Competition is such an interesting aspect of life because along with it comes nerves and doubt, feeling like you’re not ready for it. But I tell my cross country athletes or wrestling or track athletes, as soon as the gun goes off or the whistle blows you need to forget about that and immerse yourself into what you’ve done every day in practice. I think that competition is important in life and so many people are competitive in so many different ways. It’s not just a part of the sports realm. In the end, it just teaches you a lot about yourself and how to persevere through things that don’t go your way. At some point in your life, you may work with somebody that you don’t see eye to eye with, that’s part of the sport, that is part of the competition, and you grow from it. Hopefully for the better.

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