Episode 3: Developing Character Through Athletics

  • Middle School
  • Upper School
Episode 3: Developing Character Through Athletics


Our third episode of Bear Conversations features grades 5 through 12 Physical Education teacher and Boys Varsity Basketball Head Coach Tyler Mendezona. He discusses how athletics fits into a Christian liberal arts education and how character is revealed and developed through participation in athletics and physical education. 

About Tyler Mendezona

Tyler Mendezona podcast with Patrick

Tyler Mendezona, aka Coach Mendo, began teaching and coaching at Bear Creek in 2014, and he loves the relationships and connections he builds through teaching in this community. Coach Mendo is the physical education teacher for grades 5 – 8 and also coaches Bear Creek’s boys varsity basketball team. He played basketball for Northwest University. Mendo finds his inspiration from his family—wife, Alexa, and daughters, Jayce and Taylor. He enjoys being active and spending quality time with the ones he loves.


During this conversation, Patrick and Coach Mendo mention some books, podcasts, and more that you may be interested in investigating further.

  • Tyler talks about the impact the Strategic Plan, Dare to Dream, had on him professionally. You can also read more about the current Strategic Plan 2024.
  • A Sweet Sixteen in basketball is when players run the width of the court 16 times while dribbling a basketball in their weak hand within 75 seconds. It can also be run without a ball in 60 seconds.
  • Coach Mendo mentions being inspired by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin’s book Extreme Ownership.
  • The book series Tyler talks about at the end of the podcast is The Wingfeather Saga.

Episode Transcript

Patrick (00:02):
Welcome to Bear Conversations, a podcast of The Bear Creek School in Redmond, Washington. I'm Patrick Carruth, Bear Creek's President and Headmaster for nearly 15 years. In today's episode, I'm talking with Boys Varsity Basketball Head Coach and Middle School P.E. teacher Tyler Mendezona about how physical activity develops the character of students. Tyler, thanks for taking the time to join us today.

Tyler (00:27):
Thanks for having me. This is going to be fun.

Patrick (00:29):
Yeah, it's going to be a good time. We were just talking before we came on air about your time at Northwest University and kind of your connections here to the area, so talk a little bit about that.

Tyler (00:39):
Yeah, so my dad actually coached basketball at Northwest years ago and so some of our faculty here actually were at school while he was coaching there, which is pretty cool. So, then I ended up going there in college, I played basketball there and met my wife there. She was on the women's team. I was on the guy's team and had a great experience at Northwest. And from there kind of went on to King's and coached basketball and another Christian school and then found my way here.

Patrick (01:06):
How was your experience at Northwest playing basketball?

Tyler (01:08):
It was awesome, it was great. I met some of my very best friends, got to get a Christian education, and obviously, it's great because I met the love of my life there as well. And so that was fun. But being able to play basketball at a high level was just fantastic. It was a great experience. We happened to be really good, and so that always helps when we're winning.

Patrick (01:27):
What position did you play?

Tyler (01:28):
I was point guard, shooting guard.

Tyler (01:31):
They call it nowadays a 3-and-D. So shoot the three, play good defense. So that's kind of what I did.

Patrick (01:36):
Yeah, that's good, that's a lot of fun. Did you play any other sports or are you into other athletics?

Tyler (01:42):
I only played basketball, my dad coached college and professional. All three of my sisters played, it's just in our blood but now I used to hate running, but I run now so I've ran a couple of marathons this year and it's kind of what I do now.

Patrick (01:57):
5Ks or full marathons?

Tyler (01:59):
Full 26 miles.

Patrick (02:00):
Where did you do them?

Tyler (02:02):
I did one in Nevada and then my most recent one I did in Snohomish.

Patrick (02:06):
So local?

Tyler (02:07):

Patrick (02:07):
The one in Nevada was that at altitude?

Tyler (02:09):
It was brutal. I think I started at 4,000 feet and climbed to 7,000 and it was like 30 degrees and 27 mile an hour winds. It was up in a canyon; it was fun.

Patrick (02:20):
Was that a challenge for you?

Tyler (02:21):
So challenging, but I love it.

Patrick (02:24):
That's cool. So, what brought you to Bear Creek? How did you find out about Bear Creek and how did you make your way here?

Tyler (02:31):
I didn't always know, but as I got older, I kind of knew I wanted to be a basketball coach, so I wanted to impact students and young athletes through basketball. And as I got older, I saw the value more in the teaching aspect as well and so the job opened up here for the basketball position and that's all that was open at that point, and there were some positions with P.E., and I talked to the former middle school division head and Karen and you and Chad. At first, I was iffy about the coaching and then we said, "Well, what if we build into this P.E. position as well," and prayed about it, talked to my wife and it ended up being to this point, one of the best decisions in my adult life that I made.

Patrick (03:09):
And it's a good decision on our end as well. You've had quite an impact on a lot of our students. So, let's talk a little bit about basketball and just what your thinking and philosophy is around basketball and students and how those two things come together.

Tyler (03:26):
I just think so much character is revealed through athletics and my specialty happens to be basketball. It's fitness and education through P.E. as well, but for the basketball side, I just think my passion lies in the character that is developed through sports, and I know you've coached, and you know this as well that the wins will take care of itself. If the kids play the right way, they have high character, they're great teammates, they love each other and so I really geek out over that side of it. And the Xs and Os are great and I love it as well, and I'm very passionate about that, but that's kind of my individual growth, that I can grow and make sure they're in the right place on the court but the other side of it is just trying to help these young men become stronger, become closer to God and eventually one day be great employees, be great husbands, be great fathers and that's, that's the end goal for me for basketball.

Patrick (04:18):
Yeah, you said the revealing character and I don't know, I heard some coach say that once and it really stuck with me too, that sports doesn't automatically build character, that it reveals character, and it's the way you go about doing the sports that develops the character. You have to be thoughtful and intentional about mentoring students into that place.

Tyler (04:37):
Yeah, absolutely.

Patrick (04:38):
Sounds like that's something that you very much believe in. How does that translate into the classroom? Like with fifth through eighth graders, I imagine that's different. You don't just have boys; you have boys and girls and so how does that work?

Tyler (04:50):
Basketball, they are choosing to do that sport, right? Whereas in P.E. they have a class, maybe there's a unit that they're not comfortable in, and I think through that, it's a challenge and that builds character as well, right? I'm doing something that I may not be great at, or I might not think I'm great at, and I have to work through it, I have to have a great attitude and I think through that is kind of where the similarities lie. We're big on, in P.E., trying to teach the kiddos how to treat one another and themselves with grace, with humility winning or losing, right? And to understand that in P.E. we're learning how to kind of put our mind and our body together and work and I'm trying to create a passion for exercise, right? And fitness and health as well as have fun.

Tyler (05:33):
And at the end of the day, I say this, and my students will probably be able to repeat it. I say, no matter what the game, no matter what the activity, you're not winning or losing a gold medal for your country, you are here to better yourself a little bit in fitness and have a great experience, and I think that sits with them and they understand it's bigger than just whatever activity we're doing, we're growing in our faith as well.

Patrick (05:53):
So, has the fitness and faith thing always been a part of your life and how do you see those two things fitting together?

Tyler (06:00):
Yes, I've been passionate about it. I think growing up in a house where athletics was a big focus as well. And I think how it's translated into my teaching, is that we have a philosophy in the P.E. department that God has given us this one body and there's a fine line between obsessing over it and just taking care of it. And so, part of what we teach is just where is that line and what does that mean to take care of this body because God gave it to us. God gave us this body and we need to make sure we're eating healthy; we need to make sure that we're taking care of our heart. We need to just understand what is basic exercise and what does that look like for me individually?

Tyler (06:37):
And so, we have units that we talk about heart health, and we talk about our cardiovascular system, and we talk about nutrition, and they come up with nutrition plans and it's super fun because I think it sets them up for the future. And I get so much feedback from parents that say, "Well, goodness, they're making better decisions in the kitchen, but I've been telling them for years, and now they listen to you." And so, I love that, and that side of it is great because it's just getting a base and an understanding so that later they can be like, "I remember coach Mendo said that."

Patrick (07:04):
That's really good. And that whole notion of us being incarnate, that we literally are in the flesh, and that's an important part of who we are and how God has made us so helping students to see how to take care of that and think that through as well. I know that in P.E. and I know that in athletics that you have students stretch themselves, they have to do things sometimes they're not comfortable with and it makes them nervous. How do you engage a student when they're in a vulnerable place, to help them come through and to help them see, I can do this and come out the other side with confidence?

Tyler (07:38):
Well, I'll give you a real-life example, and then I'll talk about how that's played into the classroom. In the spring, our two-year-old was diagnosed with type one diabetes. There's other families here that have a kiddo that has that as well and it's a hard autoimmune disease to have. So, through that, when Taylor got diagnosed with diabetes, we had an option when we were in the ICU, we could have taken it as, okay, this is awful, and why her and you want to do that as a parent, you love your kid. But we automatically, from the second we got in there, into the ICU, we said, "This will not be a crutch for her, this is going to be awesome, this is going to be so great. Is it going to stink? Yeah, absolutely. Who cares? She can do it. God put her through this because she can handle it and then this is going to be such a great avenue for her to reach other people when she's older."

Tyler (08:26):
And so, we decided to take, take it as a positive, right? Something that's incredibly hard. It's been hard on the family, but there haven't been many days where we're negative. It's just been this is great. Okay, her numbers aren't right, great let's dive into it. And so how that translates to P.E. and to what we're doing in athletics is we dive into the hard times, we dive into the adversity because I think through that is where we can learn so much and we dive into the failure, and I think too often we want to run away from the failure. If we're not great at it, if it's not our main focus or our main sport, let's just quit or let's step away or let's get frustrated with it.

Tyler (08:58):
And to be able to teach them and say, "Hey, you're going to work through this. Yeah, maybe you're passionate about science or math, that's awesome. But how is this helping your math or your science or how is this helping you as you know, everybody in this community knows, how is this helping you become the individual God intends?" And so, I think through the adversity, it's where I love it and when a kiddo comes to me with an issue, sometimes my first response is," Awesome, how are we going to work through this?" And I think that's kind of where we start, and then we just navigate through the situation.

Patrick (09:26):
Yeah. It's a mindset to see those as opportunities, to realize God's sovereign is to see those things as opportunities and like you said, doesn't mean they're just pleasant and frequently they're not, but I really like the notion of you see those as opportunities to step into your student's life, or even to your own children's life, and build resiliency so that they're able to come up the other side, knowing when things get tough, how to stay the course.

Tyler (09:50):
And to trust in God, right? And to know that I've established this faith and for here, I love that, it starts in pre-K, it starts in kindergarten. And there's always something that they can fall back on that they have been taught in faith and in prayer, through so many years, that they have that foundation and I think it's just so valuable.

Patrick (10:07):
My wife, Paige, frequently when we'll all go through whatever it happens to be, she will whine a little bit and complain and she'll like, "Remember God's sovereign, and why don't you ask this question, what is He teaching you through this? What is He trying to instill in you through this?" Which is very similar to what you're saying.

Tyler (10:25):
It's so powerful.

Patrick (10:26):
Yeah, definitely is. So, I know you have been here, is it eight years?

Tyler (10:31):
This is year eight.

Patrick (10:31):
Okay. So, eight years at Bear Creek, have you grown as a teacher? Have you grown in your understanding of the Christian liberal arts? How's that journey been?

Tyler (10:41):
It's been amazing, and I give credit to you and the admin and all of our heads of each division. I talk to my friends often that work at other schools and when I tell them, how much professional development we have as faculty here, they're just shocked, and in a good way. I think in a way that they're almost jealous, because not only is it built into our school year, all the professional development where we are growing in a Christian liberal arts teaching, but it's encouraged to go beyond, right? And we have so many avenues and I can't tell you how many times I will go to other teachers, and I will go to other schools, and talk to them and it's encouraged here, and I think through these eight years, especially the last four to five years that's part of our strategic plan and, and I'll bounce that back to you. But just that encouragement to grow in professional development has been the biggest, biggest thing for me as a teacher.

Patrick (11:30):
Well, we've been super intentional about that, I appreciate you saying that, and we've created grant program to fund degrees, but that doesn't always make you a better teacher. What makes you a better teacher frequently is the stuff you do in school, so we have multiple strands running every year, as you've mentioned to try to move you to a master teacher.

Tyler (11:47):
And I think it's not just a Christian liberal arts education, it's what does that mean here at Bear Creek? Because there's a specific, special way that we've done it here, and I think understanding and growing in that is amazing, regardless of being first- or second-year teacher or someone who's been here for 20 years, there is an encouragement in their avenues to grow, and I think that's been amazing for us here as teachers.

Patrick (12:13):
We definitely want to be a learning culture if we're going to be about teaching kids to learn, right?

Tyler (12:17):

Patrick (12:18):
Do you have a favorite story from basketball and maybe even a favorite story from class?

Coach Mendo Homecoming 2019

2019 Varsity Boys Basketball Homecoming Game

Tyler (12:23):
Gosh, the memories, obviously pre-COVID, but just some of how we pack out the gym and those memories of the games are so great. But I go to just the practice time, and I always tell my players, for basketball, practice time is mine, games are yours, and give me practices to get you guys ready and then once the game hits, I want to be back. I want to be back in the shadows, and you run the show, and I want it to be about you when the lights are on, and so practice time can be tough. And I'll just give you an example from this year, we had a time on the clock for a certain running drill, some running lines, and they didn't get it, so I pushed the time back.

Patrick (13:02):
Running lines like ladders?

Tyler (13:04):
So, they did sweet sixteens, which are sixteen sideline to side, and I gave them a minute five, which I feel like it's one of those easy to say as we get older, "Back in my day, we did it in under a minute."

Patrick (13:15):
Yeah. When we both walked up hill barefoot in the snow.

Tyler (13:18):
Exactly, and so we did a minute five, didn't get it, a minute ten, didn't get it, a minute fifteen, didn't get it and the side of me that wants to comfort them and love on them says, "We should just stop," but what I told them is the side that wants to build your character and wants you fight through and do something that you know you should do, I just can't let that happen and we got to keep going. And so, they ran probably seven more sweet sixteens than they wanted to, and I gave them plenty opportunities to maybe make a shot to knock one off or whatever, but I think through that, and that happens every year, every year, it happens in some different way. And I always say that I think this is true in teaching, in coaching and in parenting is it's a constant balance between comfort and character.

Tyler (14:02):
And it's hard. It's hard because we want to just love on them and make it easy for them, but we know that's not going to create strong young men and women in the future, right? And so, during those times I lean towards the "No, I'm doing it because I love you," and they know that. And so, I think that would be my fun basketball story, just that side of it. And I think if you ask them, if you go back and ask my alumni, I think that's something that they'd appreciate from their days here, and then in the classroom, I think just constantly seeing students' hearts shine through. I'll give you an example in our middle school, so seventh, eighth grade boys, they were playing just a P.E. game of fun, Dodge balls and throwing the ball around and trying to get it and tag each other, and it was awesome, super fun.

Tyler (14:43):
With the end of class. I said, "Okay, you guys, can we finish a couple minutes early? We want to help set up pickleball for Mrs. Wyner and the Lower School kids coming in later." And without hesitation, hands were shooting up. "I got this, and I got that, and I'll take this, and I'll take that," and I got to sit back as a teacher and just see these boys go and take care of the Lower School students and Mrs. Wyner, and it speaks to them and their progress. It speaks to their love for their experience that they had for Mrs. Wyner and the Lower School, and to the kids down there that they don't have much interaction, especially with COVID. That knowing that it's bigger than them, just those moments where you see their heart just shine through it's just, those are the happy moments in teaching.

Patrick (15:22):
Yeah, I agree. I'm teaching a little bit this year doing a headmaster freshman seminar, and I don't bring my A-game every day, none of us brings our A-game every day, and I'll bring a C or D game and they still are the sweetest kids. They'll leave the room, "Thank you, Mr. Carruth." One by one, "Thank you, Mr. Carruth." And just the kindness that they exhibit.

Tyler (15:43):
Yeah, I can agree with that.

Patrick (15:46):
Are there things in your teaching or coaching that are your favorite parts of teaching or coaching? Are there just elements that you say, "I love this."? I understand the working with the students, but maybe even on a personal level, what really gets your blood going?

Tyler (16:01):
I think the relationships. In basketball, you think about it during the basketball season, in many ways I'm seeing the boys more than their own parents are seeing them throughout the year, because there's school all day, maybe they stay and have to get some homework done, go to practice and then they don't get home till late and then they're studying, and so I get so much time and I don't take that for granted. I know what that means, and I know the importance of as a parent, what would I want the example to be for my kids that are being coached. And so, through that, and through all that time together, you just build relationships, and so it's really fun that getting of every school year and as it leads into the basketball season, I make an effort to go back to every one of my alumni, send a text or an email just to catch up. And it's maybe only one or two back and forth, but it's to just keep that relationship going through the years.

Tyler (16:46):
And so, it's something that I try to be intentional about and I'm sure I've missed somebody or forget to text somebody back or whatever, but I think they'll relationships are just so fun and it's different in basketball. And in teaching, it's just the fact that I get to teach these kiddos from fifth through twelfth, and I'm doing an Upper School multi-sport P.E. class as well. Right? So, I literally teach fifth through twelfth and to see that through the years, see these kids is just incredibly special. One example is, I had fifth grade class and across the way I see some high school guys walking by and so later I saw the high school guys and I said, "Thomas, you're a senior now, when did I first start teaching you?" He said, "Fifth grade, Coach." And I was like, I knew him at that age, and I've had the privilege of being in his life through twelfth grade and so those relationships being built through the years is just the most special part I think of being a teacher.

Patrick (17:35):
How do they change from fifth grade to twelfth grade? Is there something that sticks in your mind?

Tyler (17:40):
Oh yeah, it's so great. I can tell you when a fifth grader is ready to be a sixth grader. I can tell you the moment and usually, it's around May, maybe sometimes June, maybe earlier sometimes, I could tell you the moment where a sixth grader is ready to be up in that Middle School. I can tell you the moment when the eighth graders are done with the Main building and ready for the Upper School and I think it's super fun to see, and I could see every age you could just tell when it's like, "Ah, okay, they're ready. Ah, okay, they're ready." And I don't know what it is, but you could just tell as a teacher when they're ready for that next phase, and so I think seeing those is so great and then walking, alongside them being like, "Hey, you're almost done with this Main building, how can we finish strong, get you to the Upper School?" And it's super fun to see that.

Patrick (18:19):
Now do your alums stay in touch with you after they've left? Especially the ones who played basketball?

Tyler (18:24):
Yeah, a lot of them. We talk quite a bit. They're all over the place. They're a bunch in Texas, and some up here, and some have gotten married, and it's just those relationships are great, and trying to keep in touch with them is important.

Patrick (18:35):
So, you continue them going even after they leave here?

Tyler (18:38):
Yeah, how about for you though? You're making the decisions from the top down and obviously, you're in the classroom, but not as much, I'm sure as you'd like to be, but how do you see that? You get to see a lot of these kiddos go all the way through because you've been here for a while.

Patrick (18:50):
Similar to what you said. It's interesting to see them when they are small and come up to the front desk and like, "Hi, Mr. Carruth," and then to watch them grow and be articulate, and exhibit kindness, and virtue, and those things to their peers and to each other, that's really fun to watch. And you start thinking, that mission it's starting to take hold, Lord truly doing the work in their lives through this school, and of course their families and all these other areas, but the school does play a big part in it.

Tyler (19:19):
Huge part, yeah.

Patrick (19:20):
So, what would we find you doing just for fun? I know you're running, are you listening to anything? Are you reading things?

Tyler (19:29):
I am big on family time and so even with my training for running, I will get up at like 4:00 a.m., 3:30, depending on whatever run I have for that day, because I don't want to miss time with my girls in the afternoon. Right? So, priority A is obviously God and family, and then from there, it's whatever I have, sometimes it's a men's league for basketball. I'm coaching all the time, which is fun, but the running, I've been doing so much of that. And I've tried music, podcasts, and books. And audiobooks is kind of where I'm at. I just run through them because when you're putting that many hours in running, I've probably, oh gosh, 30 or 40 books I've just listened to, probably more this year but I love falling into a good book, and you just kind of forget that you're running.

Patrick (20:15):
Yeah, I have found Audible as well and podcasts and find the same thing, it's helpful.

Tyler (20:21):

Patrick (20:21):
When you're doing other things, better to listen to them. Anything in particular that you're listening to lately or a book that you have read and been like, "Wow, that really meant something."

Tyler (20:30):
I think the ones that I love, I think mainly for the running and for the motivation are those motivational books. And so, I've read some books of ex-military guys that give a lot on leadership and how to take ownership and a guy named Jocko, who is an ex-military guy, and he's written a few books on leadership and one's called Extreme Ownership. So those books, I think, hit close to home, being a coach and then working through all this running and stuff, and I've jumped into some other ones, Nathan Pettit gave me, it's actually a children's-

Patrick (21:03):
Nathan, our Middle School Dean of Students?

Tyler (21:05):
... yes, our Middle School Dean. He's a good friend of mine, he coaches basketball with me, and he gave a book that he loved. A series, that is a children's like sci-fi series. And I'm finishing the book, I have about 50 minutes left to listen to it. I have a five-mile run so I'm like, this is perfect, I'll just throw it on. Patrick, when I tell you I was crying, finishing this book.

Patrick (21:28):
Oh, wow.

Tyler (21:28):
I was sobbing. I'm running on the road and I'm sure cars are looking at me like, what is wrong with this guy? He's in a lot of pain, and I was sobbing but it's a book that part of the reason I'm so excited is because my girls are almost at the age where I can start with them. So, he said, read it first and then you'll be able to read it with your girls, and so even books like that, I'm reading those and then eventually I'll be able to read it with my kiddos and kind of go through those emotions and roller coasters as well. I just, I'm so excited for that.

Patrick (21:51):
That's good. That's quite the repertoire from military leadership to you crying over kids' books.

Tyler (21:57):
Yes, I am. I'm the type of guy who, it's hard for me to watch a movie without crying at some part. I'm a big sensitive guy.

Patrick (22:03):
You strike me that way. Well, Tyler, thanks so much for taking the time today to talk about life, to talk about what we're doing here at The Bear Creek School to help students become the individual that God intends, and thank you for your part in that.

Tyler (22:17):
Thank you. Appreciate it.

Patrick (22:21):
Thank you for listening to Bear Conversations, a podcast of The Bear Creek School. Join me next month for another conversation with our Bear Creek faculty and subscribe to or follow our podcast to automatically receive the next episode. You can find the show notes from this episode on our website at tbcs.org/podcast.