Throughout her youth hockey career, Doug Bowdish coached his daughter Katie. Hockey has always been present in their relationship. As great as it was to coach her, Bowdish believes being able to now coach alongside her is even more rewarding.
Doug and Katie make up half the coaching staff for the Wayzata Girls 15U A team. They didn’t need to go too far outside of their inner-circle for the other half: John Neary, Katie’s husband, and Jim Neary, Katie’s father-in-law and Doug’s longtime friend.
To say the least, coaching the team has become a bit of a family affair.
“It’s actually a lot of fun,” Katie said. “We have grown to be a pretty cohesive coaching staff. We have a lot of the same values that we try to bring to coaching and have different strengths, so we’ve adopted different roles that everybody takes on their own piece of it.”
The family dynamic has its strong points. Beyond their different roles, they each noted that no one is afraid to speak their mind, suggest new ideas or say when they disagree because at the root of their relationship is a mutual respect that extends beyond coaching.
"Part of what makes it easy is every one of the coaches clearly cares about the kids and is in for the right reason and you know that because obviously you know these people better than anyone else,” John said.
The dynamic has helped spell success for the Wayzata Girls team. The 15U A team has made its way to the State Tournament the last two seasons and is working toward more of the same in 2017. Jim also largely credit’s Doug’s template for how he builds and trains his team.
As Katie describes it, they’re a well-oiled machine with one cohesive message for the girls. But success is more than winning games, it’s also about helping the girls build confidence and grow through the game.
“We do it because we love it; we love the kids,” Katie said. “We love being able to help them establish their goals and meet their goals, build confidence and grow along the way.”
Being a role model
During her playing career, Katie didn’t have a woman coach, someone to be her role model. Being one for her players is an important part of why she first started coaching.
Katie started coaching in college while at University of Minnesota-Duluth. After a semester at Iowa State University where she played on the club team, the level of competition simply wasn’t what she’d come to expect in Minnesota, so she transferred to UMD and took up coaching.
“I went into it not knowing what to expect,” Katie said. “I knew I would have fun; it’s hockey. That community just went above and beyond in taking me in and making sure I had whatever I needed. It was really special.”
Katie’s connection with her time in Duluth is unique, but joining her father’s coaching staff in Wayzata is incomparable. Their relationship is built around hockey and to extend that into coaching has been an “absolute blast” according to Katie.
Ultimately, for Katie, working with the kids and trying to boost their confidence through the game is her main goal.
“I try to encourage the girls to keep hockey fun, keep hockey a positive source in their life where they are gaining confidence,” Katie said. “As young women there are so many pressures and so many things they’re being pulled into as far as their academics, their social life. I really try to bring a fun aspect for them. They can come to hockey and just let all of that go, dive into it, feel confident and positive at the end of every practice or game.”
From her dad’s perspective, she’s making an impact. According to Doug, a lot of their recent success is a credit to Katie. The girls see her and have somebody to identify with, somebody who has been in their skates. On a coaching staff with three other men, she understands things on their level — the teenage girl experience — much more than Doug, John or Jim do.
“It still blows my mind,” John said. “I’ve always understood the game of hockey, I know X’s and O’s, but obviously I don’t have the ability to relate to the teenage girl on the same level. She does and the way that she can impact kids in positive manners, whether it’s been on the ice or off the ice, it’s been astounding. She’s just really good at being able to put herself in other people’s shoes. It can’t be overstated how much of an impact she has.”
Switching from boys to girls
While Doug and Katie have been coaching the girl’s team for several years, Jim and John’s coaching background was on the boy’s side of the game. They both admitted they had hesitations about switching to the girls game.
“I have no experience with teenage girls,” John said. “My wife convinced me to take a chance on it and I in turn convinced my father to take a chance on it. I think we both would agree that it’s been a wonderful transition. I think, girls in general, appreciate coaching, they are willing to listen and do whatever you ask of them, and actually enjoy having coaches around. It’s been a wonderful experience for myself and I think my father would agree.”
Jim, who has been coaching hockey since before his son was born, coached John once, but both agreed it wasn’t a good situation. Now, coaching together for the last five years and eight years total, have brought them together in a way they couldn’t as player and coach.
“That’s part of the main reason I do it,” Jim said. “I love coaching and I like the girls, but the chance to coach with [John] is probably the main attraction for me.”
“The relationship we have coaching together has been a wonderful experience,” John added. “We both have a mutual respect for each other, we both know how to speak our minds. It’s a lot better experience coaching than the coach-player one. It’s been a lot of fun.”
All in the family
While the family dynamic is unique, it wasn’t something that Doug was expecting. Several years ago, Doug was running a tryout and needed help evaluating. Doug turned to his daughter, fresh out of college at the time and his long-time friend Jim, who brought John along.
At the time, John and Katie hadn’t really met due to their age difference. But, after working with the kids for a day their paths started to cross more. A few years later they were dating, then a year later they joined forces to coach the Wayzata girls. Last October John and Katie got married and will need to grab another whistle and pair of skates for their coaching team — they’re expecting.
“It’s a fun story, one that was never on my radar,” Doug said. “We have fun doing what we do. We enjoy being around each other and the girls see that and it’s a good culture, a good environment. It’s one based on inclusivity, we wanted everybody involved and feeling like an important part of it. I think we’ve been able to do that.”