By Dan Ninham (Oneida)
Coaches throughout the world encourage their athletes to reach for the stars. Coaches also follow this mentality by making themselves better to provide their athletes with the opportunities to reach those levels. Coach Kelsey Peltier is making her players better by encouraging them to be in the right positions to be successful.
Kelsey is from Dunseith, ND and an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. She is the Health Promotions Coordinator and Head Women's Basketball Coach at United Tribes Technical College. Kelsey is the daughter of Danny and Candace Peltier and the oldest of 6 children. Her siblings include: McKayla, Danielle, Robert, Abrahm, Noah.
A native of Dunseith, ND, Kelsey played for Bottineau HS where she was the point guard for the three-time defending NDHSAA Class B Champions in 2006, 2007 and 2008. She played college basketball at NCAA DI North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND and NCAA DII University of Mary, Bismarck, ND.
This season is her third year of coaching for the United Tribes Technical College Thunderbirds (UTTC). Prior to UTTC, she was an assistant coach for Dunseith High School, Dunseith, ND. Since taking over the program at UTTC in 2017, she coached in three Mon-Dak conference championships, winning once. She produced four Mon-Dak All-Conference players, one Mon-Dak Conference MVP, one Mon-Dak Conference MVP, and landed eight student-athletes on the academic all-conference team. UTTC also played in the District F Championship last season to get to the NJCAA DII National Tournament in which they lost by only two points.
"Humility and integrity defined who I was as a student-athlete and who I am as a coach," said Kelsey. "When I was in high school and college, I can remember living in the gym. I knew summers meant the real work began and I wouldn't have much time to do anything else. Our mandatory lifting workouts, conditioning workouts, and open gym took up majority of my time. When the success of my long hours paid off, I knew it was all worth it. What made all this even better was that I remained true to who I was and where I came from. I never conformed my beliefs, I never changed who I was, and I just wanted people to see that what potential Native American women (and men) have. My ancestors fought and died for the beliefs and culture we are proud to carry on today, so why would I not implement the same values and hard work into my life? Why would I not want to help my people the way I know I'm capable of doing? But in order to grow and be successful, you have to be open to help and criticism. As a coach, I share these thoughts and values with my players. I remind them how strong they are and the world is theirs. They just need to put the work in."
"Sometimes communication can be misunderstood depending how an individual delivers a message," said Kelsey. "In my early college years, I learned quickly that the important part of communication was not how someone said something but the message of what they were saying. My freshman year at North Dakota State University was my learning year. Like most college athletes, I was a few hundred miles away from home without my parents in a new environment. It was a challenge. I was a point guard and I was taught early on that the point guard is the quarterback of the team. Without the point guard, the ball doesn't make it up the floor. I had a hard time in practice inbounding the ball to our wing player. After multiple failed attempts, my head coach told me what I was doing wrong but said it in a louder tone of voice. That was the first time I was yelled at. I wanted to quit. My assistant coach shared with me, it's not how coach delivers the message, but it's about what she is saying. That has always stuck with me."
"I'm a firm believer in 'hard work beats talent when talent does not want to work hard.' I've watched hundreds of basketball games at all different levels but one thing remains consistent throughout. The team that works the hardest will always prevail. That winning team isn't always the most talented but they were able to get the job done on both ends of the floor to come out victorious. In high school, I was fortunate enough to be a part of a team that won the state championship three times. We thought we were on our way to claiming our fourth straight title but were upset by a rival team. We were outplayed and outhustled. That loss hurt for a long time. As a coach, it's a constant reminder that any team is beatable and hard work is expected every night," added Kelsey.
"When you have balance and peace in your life, I would consider that success in the personal aspect," said Kelsey. "When you enjoy what you are doing in life (work, school, travel, etc.), I would consider that professional success. Advice I would share with student-athletes and other coaches regarding success would be, 'Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it you will land among the stars.'"
"I remember at a young age I always wanted to play Division I basketball," said Kelsey. "Ten years ago, we didn't have too many Native American women playing at the DI level. I always dreamed of being that role model for those who set their dream high like I did. When I received that opportunity, I was the happiest girl in the world. I felt like I could conquer anything."
"Now, I have big dreams of finishing my Master's Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and being a great role model for my daughter so she can conquer all of her dreams!," added Kelsey.
McKayla Peltier played for her sister during UTTC's first-ever appearance in the 2016 NJCAA National Tournament. She commented on her sister coach: "From the day I could remember, Kelsey was always in a gym. Whether that was for a tournament, elementary/middle school/high school basketball practice, to better her self on days off, to help her younger siblings, or now for coaching college basketball. Kelsey grew up learning to love the game. She was always in the gym and you had a hard time getting her to leave when it was time to go. Growing up with my sister, she always taught me to be respectful and to take into consideration of what others are trying to teach you. She was always a leader on the court and off. I grew up watching my sister play and win three state championships, back to back to back. I watched her help lead her team to the state tournament. Even though Kelsey was an amazing 3-point shooter, she always loved defense more and that to me is a big key part of being a leader. You can score 80 points but without defense, the other team could score 81 at the end of the game. Kelsey always owned up to her mistakes, hustled every play, and was always on time. Everything I am telling you led up to her being the coach she is today. She holds her athletes accountable of everything they do and it shows, because her athletes respect her. The year I played for Kelsey I thought it was going to be easy for me, because I was the little sister and she was the coach. Boy was I wrong, because she did not treat me any differently than anyone else. If I didn't hustle back on defense or let my man go passed me, I knew I was getting talked to about what I did wrong. Everything she tells her athletes is not to get after them, but to better them. If you were to ask any of Kelsey's past and present athletes what an amazing coach she is, guaranteed you will be getting a lot of positive messages. Kelsey has changed the way people think of United Tribes Women's Basketball. I am proud of my sister and everything she has accomplished so far and I am very excited to see how they do this year."
Tariq Brownotter, All State player at McLaughlin HS, SD and former player of Coach Kelsey, talked about her coach: "To have Kelsey as a coach was a very honorable experience because she told me life skills through the game of basketball. She also taught me how to be responsible and accountable and to hold myself to a higher expectation. She was a coach who pushed you to your fullest potential into a limit I never thought I could reach she was hard at some points but that's only because she cared a lot when I would be get down on myself she would pick me back up. I came to the point where I wanted to give a ball but she kept pushing me."
Tariq is a junior transferring from Eastern Nazarene College, Quincy, MA, to the University of Minnesota next year on an academic scholarship. "As a ball player, you experience different types of coaching throughout your years and I would say Kelsey's coaching strategy has been the most effective on my life. She taught me when to make a smart decision and whether that is when to take a good shot and what is a bad shot. Kelsey has taught me how to be a leader, and how to be there for your teammates even though sometimes you guys get off on the wrong foot. She also helped me learn that the only way you're going to succeed is if you believe in yourself, she once told me that in order to succeed at anything you want in life you have to have a goal and in order to get to that goal; you need to put the time in on the court. There were some points where she was so hard on me, and being accountable with getting to practice on time and keeping my grades up in school. As well as making sure that I live up to the full potential of a student athlete which meant that I put school first and then basketball second. She always reminded me that I cannot play ball if I don't put in the work in the classroom, and for that I am forever grateful! I've grown and learned a lot from her," Tariq added.
Kevin Finley, former UTTC Head Men's Basketball Coach and Hall of Fame member said: "Kelsey does what building a successful basketball program demands and that's aggressive recruiting, she goes out on the road and makes that critical contact that can be the difference in whether you sign a player or not. If you're going to recruit players and make them feel like they can play for you then you have to make it personal and go to their schools, their homes, and visit with the kids and their parents, you guarantee them an education and tell them how much time they can earn on the playing floor through hard work. Kelsey has a solid basketball background and she communicates it so well to her players. It's one thing to be a good basketball player and another to be able to teach all 5 basketball positions simultaneously, Kelsey is an asset to United Tribes and all of Indian country in her relentless pursuit of challenging for a NJCAA National tournament year after year, something the UT Woman's basketball program hasn't seen until her arrival at UT."
Kelsey's former high school coach Mike Forsberg, on the verge of 800 career wins in his 41st year of head high school coaching, said: "Some kids are vocal leaders and others lead by example but Kelsey was both. Plus she was a fierce competitor. She had this great work ethic plus she understood the game so well. Many times she would be explaining to her teammates what they should or could be doing within our offensive framework or defensive schemes but she always did it in a positive way. She had an opportunity to play with many talented teammates but her senior year we were picked to finish in the middle of the pack in our district. Well we end up 17-4 plus being a 2 seed and only have one conference loss because of Kelsey inspiring here teammates both over the summer for workouts plus during the season."
Coach Kelsey Peltier is continuing to grow as a college basketball coach by ingraining the lessons of the culture of who she is as a native woman with the culture of college basketball.
Photo credit: Luann Poitra, UTTC College Relations