BY DICK PETERSON | This essay was selected as the Honorable Mention of the Awesome Sports Writing Contest. Dick Peterson is a father and devout fan of a basketball player, Missy Peterson (senior class of 2017), as well as a long-time referee and a coach at the Edmonds Sports Academy in Edmonds, Washington.
Being a father is one thing, but coaching your daughter is another thing entirely. Father-daughter relationships are very special, especially to me, and being your daughter’s coach can be difficult and tough on both sides. I am fortunate to be Missy’s father, and both fortunate and unfortunate to have been her coach. While coaching her was challenging, Missy taught me a lesson in a 4th grade championship basketball game that will stick with me for a lifetime.
“Being a positive influence and supporting the team is the single most important thing a good coach can do.”
I find that fathers who coach their daughters usually do so in one of two ways: they are either too tough, in order to disprove favoritism, or they clearly favor their daughters, giving them playing time or advantages they don’t deserve. I probably did a little of both, but I was mainly hard on her.
Missy had always been a good player and teammate, and easy to coach – unless you’re her dad. If you ask any of Missy’s coaches, they will probably tell you she is a great player to coach. She is humble, has a great attitude, is competitive, but she is also always trying to have fun. With me, however, she was combative (“That play wont work, Dad!”), moody and just a general pain in the kiester. Neither of us could forget we were father and daughter.
At Missy’s 4th-grade Christmas tournament, I learned a very valuable lesson from my little girl. To understand the dynamic, it’s important to remember that in 4th-grade basketball there are usually only a few good players per team, a few decent players and a handful of not-so-good players. This meant that on most teams there was always a lesser skilled player on the court and ours was no exception.
To make matters worse, we were playing our arch-rival. (Yes, I said arch-rival in reference to 4th-grade basketball). I say arch-rival because we had lost to the same group of girls, the Strikers, in 3rd grade soccer ( a double-overtime shootout, no less) and a different basketball championship game. Of course, the Strikers’ coach and I were not the best of friends. If you are wondering by now who the adults were here, the 4th-grade girls or the coaches, it was definitely the 4th grade girls.
This particular championship game for Missy’s team and the Strikers was a tight battle with neither team taking more than a 3-point lead at any time. Both coaches were riding the referees pretty hard, when we weren’t glaring at each other. Obviously, we weren’t teaching the girls great lessons with our behavior.
With just a few minutes left in regulation, Missy was bringing the ball up the court and was being double teamed. In this particular league, double teaming was against the rules and I was yelling like crazy on the sidelines, like it was the NBA championship. The other coach just looked at me and smiled. Missy managed to break the double team and threw a perfect pass to her teammate, Bella (name changed to protect the innocent), who was wide-open under the basket. Poor Bella fumbled the ball and it went out of bounds. Now it was Strikers ball, with us ahead by one point. We forced a turnover and again, the exact play happened, Missy was doubled and passed the ball to Bella under the basket. This time Bella caught the ball and missed a wide-open layup.
“With me, however, she was combative (“That play wont work, Dad!”), moody and just a general pain in the kiester.”
Missy’s team was still ahead by one with a little over a minute to play. We stole the ball from the Strikers and I told Missy not to throw the ball to Bella who had just fumbled two plays in a row. Well, if anyone knew Missy that was the wrong thing to say to her, and I should have known better. Sure enough, for the third time, the double team came and Bella was wide open under our basket. Missy passed her the ball and it went right through Bella’s hands and out of bounds AGAIN. I was about ready to throw a royal tantrum when I saw Missy ran up to Bella. I thought for sure Missy would be upset, but instead she put her arm around Bella’s shoulder and said, “I am so sorry, Bella. I threw that pass way too hard. It was my fault.”
Right then and there I realized how confused my priorities were and that it didn’t matter who won or lost the game. When I turned to my assistant, I was almost in tears. I said, “If I had enough brains as this 4th-grade girl I would be the best coach in the world.”
We ended up winning the game by one point. Afterward, a player from the Strikers came up and hugged Missy, saying what great of a player Missy was. This came from a 4th-grade girl who had just lost a championship game by one point. Another lesson learned. Today, nine years later, that girl is one of Missy’s best friends.
That day, I learned valuable life lessons that changed my coaching philosophy forever. I learned that camaraderie, the special bond between true teammates, is way more important than winning. I learned that you win as a team, not as an individual. I also learned that being a positive influence and supporting the team is the single most important thing a good coach can do.
I have since realized that I am the luckiest father alive to have a special daughter like Missy. At the end of the day, very few are going to remember who won the game, but as a father and coach, the lessons I learned that day will never be forgotten.
By a Father & Coach
Today, Missy has accepted an offer to play college basketball at Long Beach State and has led her high school team to state two out of the last three years. I have never missed any of Missy’s high school games. As for me, I still coach AAU basketball and am involved in Edmonds-Woodway’s girls’ feeder program.
The Awesome Sports Writing Contest is an annual writing contest to inspire voices in girls’ and women’s sports. Our winners have been announced, and we will post them one-by-one over the next couple of months. Check them out and be sure to submit for the 2018 year!
This contest was made possible by the generous donation of the Jackson family in Edmonds, Washington, and Basketball Education in Action.