Learning how to kick a ball through the grass is a popular childhood pastime. For many youth in our community, the backyard ball game grows into an interest to play soccer. As those children grow up, some young athletes go from community youth leagues to playing on middle school and high school teams—and even college and beyond.
That’s how it all began for the Knutson family in Hudson. A childhood activity developed into a love for soccer, and today, John Knutson and his three daughters are working as a team to coach the Hudson High School women’s varsity soccer team.
It all began with John, a long-time soccer enthusiast who, along with his wife, introduced his three daughters to the game when they were young. And then it wasn’t long before he began coaching for the Hudson Soccer Association.
“You know how it is. They say, ‘If we can’t get a coach, your daughter won’t have a team,’ ” says John, president and CEO of Catalyst Sports Medicine. But he loved it. “In life, to be able to work with kids in something you have a passion for, like soccer, is rare.”
As teenagers, his daughters all played on Hudson High School’s varsity team. His eldest daughter, Lindsay, went on to play soccer for the University of North Dakota, and his middle daughter, Allie, played Division I soccer for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay until an injury ended her soccer career.
After college, Allie returned to Hudson as a middle school teacher and eventually became the high school’s assistant coach, and then advanced to head coach for its women’s varsity team. Then, when Allie left Hudson for a two-year Peace Corps stint, John was asked to coach the team in her absence. Who did he call to serve as assistant coach? His youngest daughter, Megan.
Working with family, John discovered, had its challenges. “Megan is ornery and stubborn, just like her old man,” John says with a laugh. “We’re twins in our personalities. I finally had to say, ‘Megan, you know more about soccer than I do. But your position is assistant coach and I’m the head coach. It’s not a power play, it’s just how it is.’ And she understood that, and we did fine.”
When Allie returned from the Peace Corps, she found another teaching job and resumed her work as the varsity coach, while John stepped down to coach the high school’s junior varsity team.
“Allie was concerned about taking over the kids I’d coached the year before,” John says. “Would they run to me instead of her? But I knew my position. Yes, it’s hard to play number two. But I had to do it for the team. The kids can only hear one voice.”
“It was really nice to coach with my dad. Growing up, he coached me for years, so we have always done soccer together,” Allie says. Of their different coaching styles, she says, “I remember a few times on the sideline when he would be there assisting as I was coaching varsity, and communicate things to the players on the field that were different than what I was communicating to them. What I learned, though, is it’s not a bad thing. Sometimes it’s good for players to hear coaching points from different people.”
Stephanie DeVos, athletic director for Hudson High School, raves about the coaching duo. “Their joy and enthusiasm were contagious,” she says. “The basic form of leadership is to spread positive emotions through the team. They focused on ‘What is possible?’ and not ‘What is impossible?’ with the team.”
Today, with Allie now teaching in Iowa, John is coaching the women’s varsity team once again. When it comes to soccer, what does the future hold for the Knutson family? “I haven’t coached with Lindsay yet,” John says. “And who knows? Maybe I’ll play soccer with the grandkids someday.”
In its 2014 season, the Hudson High School team won the Big Rivers conference title for the first time in 14 years. They ended their 2015 season 16-3-1.