Tara VanDerveer Q & A, Part VI

This may be the off-season but fans can stay tuned in to Stanford basketball through TheBootleg.com's ongoing Q & A series with Head Coach Tara VanDerveer. Part VI features more comments on coaching including how coaching has changed over the years and why coaching changes so often bring on spates of transfers these days.

Stanford Head Coach Tara VanDerveer was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. She has won over 750 games as a head coach. In Part VI of TheBootleg.com's Q & A series with VanDerveer we get some more perspective on coaching from one of the best in the business.

Do you have any thoughts on why multiple transfers so often follow a coaching change these days? In the Pac-10 Washington, Arizona, and USC have all lost players upon hiring a new coach or following the first season with a new coach at the helm.

A lot of times during the recruiting process players are making decisions when they're really young and I'm not sure they make decisions based on things that are truly going to be important for them. Sometimes they make decisions that are a little bit rushed or they might have unrealistic expectations when they get to a place. Their mailbox has had fifty to a hundred letters every day and so has their e-mail and all of a sudden now they're getting to school and things are a lot harder than they thought or things are not going their way. A lot of times players have a hard time when they're used to being the best and they really don't have the perseverance or the determination or even the patience to work through some issues at a place. Then sometimes when a new coach is hired it's just not a good fit. There are some coaches that personality-wise are not a good fit for certain players. You might have a combination of issues that lead to a transfer.

When I've taken over jobs, like when I went to Ohio State, usually when I've taken over jobs the team has not been very good. That's usually the case. If you're taking over a team that really needs rebuilding, the thing that I've found is some of the best recruiting is to treat the players that you have well, whether they are the most talented or not. They're on your team and you just try to maximize their talents. Even my first year at Stanford, our team was a below-.500 team. We had a losing record. I just saw Virginia Sourlis (who played on the 1985-86 team in VanDerveer's first season at Stanford), as an example. She was here for the award that I got this spring (the Ronald L. Jensen Lifetime Achievement Award at the Positive Coaching Alliance 2009 National Youth Sports Awards Dinner on April 24th at Maples Pavilion). There were maybe twenty players there and five of them were players I coached in the first year I was here. So I think that taking over a new program is where as a coach you want to just say, all right, I'm going to coach these players as best I can. They might not be who I would recruit but I'm going to do the best job I can.

How has coaching changed for you over the years? What do you do differently now than ten or fifteen years ago?

First of all, it would have to change. If you were the same… I mean you can't stay stagnant in this field. You're around young people for one thing. Technology has changed things tremendously. We have cell phones, e-mail, text messaging, and all the video, which is computerized now. There is so much more to it than there ever used to be. You could work from the time you get up until the minute you go to bed. There is an incredible amount of information that you can process differently because of technology.

I think as you get older and you get maybe more mature and more experienced, you do things differently and you experience things differently. The younger coaches, the ones who played for us here at Stanford, they say that it was so much tougher when they were here and they did this and they did that. But the rules are different now. We probably practice less so we have to be really efficient. We have better facilities now. It just seems incredible, the gym space and all of the gadgets. There is no reason that players can't improve. They have incredible facilities to improve.

I think for me personally, I probably realize more the importance of taking care of myself. I make sure I work out in the morning. I go on vacation. It's kind of less is more a little bit now, where I feel like I really try to take care of myself so that I have the energy and enthusiasm for when it's really important.

Bootleg subscriber Pronker asks what one aspect of your coaching style would you change and when would you have changed it?

We can all look back and see things we could change. I was listening to this thing today, this is a little random, but the CEO of Google was saying that we're going to look back twenty years from now at Google and say how primitive it was because you have to type in what you want. Like I can look back and just say well, I wonder why we didn't maybe run the triangle sooner or I wonder why I let some things bother me so much. I can look back but at the time I was making the best decision I could. I was doing the best I could so I'm happy with that.

I might have made some different hires for assistant coaches, meaning people that would complement me better and complement the different people on the staff better. Looking with 20:20 hindsight, there might be other things but I'm much more happy with my life than unhappy. If I could kind of grab the bag that is my life, I'd grab it again if it was in a circle you know? If it was in a pile, I'd grab it. I love where I coach. I love the people I work with. It would be great if maybe we didn't have some injuries that we've had. But I don't have anything I can say that I wish I'd done this instead.

The following question is also from Pronker, who says, "I've seen you evolve over the years and have always had a great deal of respect for you. It seems that you are more aware of the individuals on your team and their fragility as young women. You seem to strike a remarkable balance handling that and I'd like to know a little more about that particular evolution."

There is a saying that people that you work with, or in this case players, they don't care what you know, they want to know that you care. The players on our team, whether it was at Idaho or Ohio State or Stanford, you have different relationships with different kids, but I feel that, especially as the players get older, they look at the relationship that we have as a very positive relationship. I am their coach but then you go from being their coach to being a friend to a lot of them, as they get older.

I was a head coach when I was twenty-three years old. I was coaching Ohio State when I was twenty-five. I had opportunities when I was really young that coaches don't get anymore. I feel I've learned a lot from the beginning. I think I've understood that the relationship you have with players is a very fragile thing. The very first coaching job I had I coached my sister, so I know that everyone is someone's sister, if you know what I mean. I don't feel that's been a major change. It's been important to me all along, the relationship you have with these kids and that they know how much you care about them off the basketball court.

You might be a victim of the piano story being out there so much – demanding coach takes up the piano, gets reminded how difficult learning new skills and performing can be, and mellows.

[Laughs] I haven't even practiced the piano that much this year. I'm way behind. I have a lot of other interests besides basketball. I do not have enough time in the day to do all the things I like. I like piano. I like games. I like to play scrabble. I love to read. I just went out and spent too much money on a sailboat. I have a lot of interests. But when I'm doing basketball I'm totally into it and excited about it. When I'm not doing it, I'm doing my other stuff. As far as coaching, when you're young sometimes you're a little bit fiery. I remember getting into it with (former Stanford men's basketball coach) Mike Montgomery when we were both really young coaches. Now it seems funny to me that it even happened. That would not happen now.

So are you officially mellower now?

Yeah but I think that is maybe a product of age a little bit. I think a lot of young coaches are fiery. But, I don't know, I'm not sure that Pat (Summitt) is a lot mellower, especially after this past year. Mellow is not any coach's middle name. I think sometimes it's just perspective with experience. Caring about the young women that you coach has always been a part of things for me, but sometimes the only thing that people see is at a game when the ref has made their fifth bad call in a row and you're standing up screaming or something like that. For the most part I don't have a ballistic temper. I can get pushed to the end of my rope just like anybody but for the most part I don't let things totally go. I don't go into meltdown mode too often.

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