Chiney Ogwumike – Tara VanDerveer taught Stanford women’s basketball to be ‘great at the little things’


Flanked by a Naismith Hall of Fame trophy and several WNBA MVP awards in her home office, Lisa Leslie smiles, beaming the widest as she pulls out a photo of an Olympic gold medal printed on paper from computer and protected by a transparent plastic sleeve.
More than two dozen years ago, Tara VanDerveer – who quit her job as head coach at Stanford to coach the US Women’s National Team – gave each member of the US team a similar piece of paper. to embody their goal of winning Olympic gold. at the upcoming 1996 Atlanta Games. It was a small gesture to signify the importance of delivering ultimate achievement for American women – not knowing that their success on the world stage would be the catalyst for what would become the oldest American women’s professional sports league.

Today, VanDerveer still inspires Leslie, who says she continues to apply the coach’s lessons and mantras to everyday life.

« [VanDerveer] gave us all that medal before we won our first gold, and we’ve always had that to watch, ”Leslie said. And then all those quotes. “If you think you can, you can. I love all those positive quotes and affirmations that [she] gave us. ”

On Tuesday, coach Tara continued to do what she always did: win. Stanford (5-0), the nation’s premier women’s college basketball team, defeated Pacific 104-61 and brought its coach’s winning tally to 1099. With that, VanDerveer overtook legendary Pat Summitt of Tennessee for the most all-time wins in the women’s game.

There were no fans to celebrate this achievement. No media scrums to manage. Just a coach and his team.

But if you really know Coach Tara, you will understand that this is how she prefers it. She constantly preaches that “less is more”. This strategy has worked for decades and its routine is simple: study, spot, work hard. Rinse and repeat. She’s done it every day for over 40 years at Stanford, winning games and learning valuable lessons along the way. Throughout these experiences, Coach Tara naturally became a teacher, with a huge impact on so many people.

No one understands this better than Billie Jean King. In October 2018, the icon and former Grand Slam champion partnered with the Women’s Sports Foundation to create the Tara VanDerveer Fund for the Advancement of Women in Coaching, which honors her work and passion for women in sport. King describes Coach Tara as “a true leader, coach, teacher who has taught us to win on and off the court.”

It’s one thing to watch history and another to be part of it. As a high school student from Cypress, Texas, in 2008, I made an official recruiting visit to Stanford and was blown away. It was the “Nerd Super Bowl”. At the pre-game hatchback of a nationally-making Stanford football team praising Andrew Luck, Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin, I was rather surprised by the chance to meet the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court- United John Roberts and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. before the match.

Coach Tara put this in place for me. At that moment, I knew that in Tara I had found my new teacher, the one who would push my horizons on and off the court beyond my imagination. I played for Stanford from 2010 to 2014.

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Tara VanDerveer joins SVP to discuss her coaching stage, overcoming Pat Summitt, and the challenges of playing with the pandemic. VanDerveer also gives his mother a cry.

The highlight of my freshman year was the end of UConn’s 90-game winning streak. But in the locker room after that win, Secretary Rice remembered that pre-game hatchback a few years ago as I was interested in international relations. She became my primary advisor, eventually handing me my diploma on graduation day.

Then one day in the 2017 WNBA season, I was invited by Billie Jean King to present a Lifetime Coaching Award to Coach Tara, and at the same event, I watched Secretary Rice win the eponymous leadership of the tennis legend.

That’s when things started to come full circle. Learning and being successful is a mindset you need to surround yourself with every day, especially when it’s difficult. Believe me. I know this because I always get timely reminders from Coach Tara that she is available for movie sessions because there is always room for improvement – no matter what job you do or how successful you are.

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Tara VanDerveer outshines Pat Summitt for most NCAA women’s college basketball wins (1099) with a win over Pacific, and the Cardinal celebrates that achievement.

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr often uses Coach Tara’s campus, not only to train his squad, but also to choose the brains of one of the best in the game. Monday, a day after the NBA pre-action announcement, Kerr spent part of his media availability acknowledging Coach Tara’s milestone.

“There are a lot of coaches who have been successful for short periods of time, and very few have been able to maintain excellence for decades,” he said. “The list is very short and [Tara is] on this list. ”

Former Stanford quarterback John Elway, whose daughter Jessica played for coach Tara in 2004-05, echoed those sentiments.

“I’ve learned that you can – as she’s proven – win on the field as well as off the field and in the classroom,” Denver Broncos general manager and president of football operations said Sunday. on the grounds of Bank of America. Stage before his team beat the Carolina Panthers.

Coach Tara and everything she’s accomplished seems like a basketball story, but the truth is, it’s always been a family affair. Coach Tara has dedicated her life to paying attention to detail and using her keen eye to help others succeed. This simple thing has now separated her in the history books.

Before seeing me, she saw my older sister, Nneka Ogwumike. She saw the greatness of a young Nigerian-American from Houston, Texas who had three sisters – not knowing they would become All-Stars and Champions.

When I asked my big sister what Coach Tara had taught her, she replied without hesitation: “You can be great at the little things. These little things can take you a long way.


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