When Isaac Northstrom was a young boy, likely under 5 feet tall, he played basketball with his father, Todd.
The young competitor — brimming with confidence — would dribble, cross it over, drive to the hole and … SWAT! Todd wasn’t going to let his young son beat him.
“He didn’t want to lose,” Isaac said of his father.
The patriarch wasn’t trying to be cruel. He just wanted to teach Isaac a lesson. In a time when everyone gets an award for simply participating, Todd wanted more for his son. He wanted him to earn it.
“I was never given anything from him (athletically),” Isaac said. “I’m thankful for that because when I finally did beat him, I knew it was honest. That’s helped me — not being babied. That’s where I get some of my toughness.”
He would need that toughness at Gig Harbor High School, where he plays for his father on the soccer team. Isaac, now a senior, was treated a bit differently as the coach’s son. No, he wasn’t given any special treatment; Todd Northstrom doesn’t believe in nepotism. If anything, things were harder for Isaac.
“He tries to show that he’s not favoring me by making it even harder for me,” Isaac said. “It’s made me a better player but it’s also frustrating at points.”
While any objective spectator can see Isaac is one of the most talented players on the team, playing time hasn’t always been guaranteed.
“I think — and my wife thinks — I’m harder on him than the other kids,” Todd said. “In years past, I cut his playing time and other things, just because I felt like the spotlight is on him, in terms of being the coach’s son. I want him to earn it.”
And he has earned it, undoubtedly. Isaac has been an indispensable member of Gig Harbor’s Class 4A state tournament-bound team this season. While he plays with his good technical skill, impressive pace and poise, what’s perhaps Isaac’s most noteworthy and important attribute is his burning desire to win.
“He gets a fire under him—he wants to win so badly,” Todd Northstrom said. “He’s so competitive in everything he does. There’s no turning that switch off.”
That relentless competitive nature often manifests itself in a manner which rubs some people the wrong way. If there’s a scrum or skirmish during the match, “Ike” is likely in the middle of it.
“I really get into the game,” Isaac said. “I let my emotions get the best of me a lot of the time.”
For some players, getting emotional is a detriment to their game, making them careless and sloppy. But Todd said his son is one of the few people he’s coached who is able to channel that anger and turn it into heightened productivity on the field.
“I personally think it helps me,” Isaac said. “I just want to win so badly, I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Sometimes it’s counterproductive. Isaac can get a little too chirpy at times. But compared to the alternative — a soft, passive player?
“I’ll take his aggression any day,” the elder Northstrom said.
Ike’s grandfather has told Todd that they share some of the same mannerisms — the way they both walk, run, and so forth. But the main thing they share is their competitiveness and will to win, which they both hope will help produce a deep run in the state tournament. During Gig Harbor’s final regular season game against Olympia, the Tides won, 5-3, coming back from a deficit three separate times.
“That game was a big turning point,” Isaac said. “Everyone just kept playing. That’s really important — that mental toughness.”
Gig Harbor will host Olympia at 7 p.m. Wednesday (May 20) at Roy Anderson Field in the first round of the Class 4A state tournament.