For the Love of the Game
For Coach Adam Strom (BA.Ed., 2015, M.A.Ed., 2019), every loss is a choice “to be bitter or better.” He doesn’t harp on what his team did wrong. Instead, he tells his players to think about one thing they did right and feel good about it.
It’s an attitude that’s propelled him from part-time high school basketball coach to the fulfillment of a dream: head women’s basketball coach at National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics-level (NAIA) Haskell Indian Nations University.
“My dad always said you give the players the credit when they win, and you take it on the chin when you lose. I ask myself how I can be better,” he said. “And I remember what my dad told me ‘always let your team know before they leave the locker room: I believe in you.’”
FAMILY, FAITH AND EDUCATION
Ted and Phyllis Strom instilled values of family, faith and education in their eight children. Mom was straightforward, Dad was philosophical, but both came from a place of great love, said Strom.
Ted Strom, who passed away in 2014, was his son’s most significant life coach and “coaching coach.”
In fall 1996, Strom was at the University of Washington on a pre-engineering track when his dad had a heart attack. Strom rushed home to be by his dad’s side.
“Dad had to take it easy for a while, so he said I was going to be his assistant coach – which was his way of saying he was still coach, but I was going to do the work,” Strom laughed.
Strom loved coaching and decided to pursue it. He transferred from UW to Yakima Valley College and a couple of years later, took over girls’ varsity at White Swan High School, his alma mater.
“I then understood why my dad would be up at night watching game film. I found myself doing the same thing, reading books, talking to other coaches. I was a student of the game.
“I questioned myself a lot, but I was always able to lean on my huge passion for others to achieve.”
Working to excel meant playing and practicing all year, including about 60 games a summer. Fun was a by-product, said Strom, and girls came to White Swan to be part of its culture.
Every new challenge had him questioning his abilities, but Strom stepped outside his comfort zone every time. In his second year at Hermiston, his team won conference title.
“I was riding my high horse – coaching, doing what I wanted to do,” recalled Strom. “And I received a challenge to do more.”
It was 2012, and Strom’s wife Relyn was principal at Yakama Nation Tribal School. She talked with him about teaching. Strom agreed to meet with the school’s superintendent.
“’These are struggling learners,’ she told me. ‘You’re needed in the classroom as well as on the court.’ The clarity of her approach reminded me of my mom. I accepted the invitation.”
Strom needed to finish the mid-level math program he’d begun at UW. He enrolled at Heritage and became a full-time math teacher at the Tribal School.
“I was ready to give to these students and to be a student again myself.”
BRINGING IT IN THE CLASSROOM
Where Strom’s basketball players had always been excited to be under his tutelage, his pre- algebra students at the Tribal School were not. Three years behind grade level, he said they felt little sense of belonging.
Again, his dad’s words echoed: “Let them know you believe in them.”
“I’d greet them at the door every day. In class, we’d talk about the relationship between school and life. I let them know my classroom was a safe place. They knew I cared, and they did better.”
In 2017, two years after joining the Tribal School, Strom received his master’s degree in school administration from Heritage and was appointed principal. In 2020, he was named superintendent. His appointment was announced to the students with the statement, “If nobody told you they loved you, Mr. Strom loves you!”
In 2016, for the first time in the school’s history, his boys team made it to the state playoffs.
Two months later, Strom also found himself on the shortlist to be head women’s basketball coach at Yakima Valley College, a move from a 1B school to community college ranks. He took the job and in his first year, his team qualified for the NWAC division playoffs.
MAKING DAD PROUD
Once again, Strom was happy coaching his team. Then one day in spring 2021, a player showed him a Facebook post about an opening for head women’s basketball coach at Haskell Indian Nations University.
“This should be your next job,” she said.
“My dad told me early in my coaching career, ‘You’re going to make a great college coach someday.’ I wanted to be able to say, ‘Look, Dad – I did it.’”
Strom applied and got the job.
Third-highest level of college basketball, 100 percent native, and coaching women: Strom’s job at Haskell University checks all his boxes.
The family moved to Lawrence, Kansas Relyn got an assistant principal job in Topeka. Two of their three sons are students at Haskell – one plays for the college’s men’s team.
Strom said he’ll be a school administrator again one day. But for now, he’s living his absolute dream and modeling his trademark positive attitude.
Before every game, he tells his team: “There are two things you can control: your attitude and your effort. Making the ball go through the hoop is at best a 50-50 chance. But 110 percent effort is up to you as an individual.
“Take this attitude from the court into life, and there’s no doubt you’ll succeed,” he said. “And you’ll be happy.”