Hall of Fame coach VanDerveer to discuss leadership, teamwork

BOB DREBIN | Provided Photo
Tara VanDerveer addressed the Stanford Cardinal during a game against the California Golden Bears Feb. 22 at Maples Pavilion.

Title IX of the 1972 Civil Rights Act did not exist when Tara VanDerveer was in Girls’ Club in 1967, setting a Boys’ and Girls’ Club record for the softball throw event for Groups 8 through SAC.

The first U.S. federal law to prohibit sex discrimination in education, including sports that do not involve bodily contact, had been in effect for just three years by the time VanDerveer graduated from Indiana University.

At IU, which she chose for the quality of its women’s basketball program as well as its academics, she played starting guard positions and attended practices for the men’s basketball team coached by Bobby Knight.

According to the book she wrote with Joan Ryan, Shooting From the Outside: How a Coach and Her Olympic Team Transformed Women’s Basketball, VanDerveer returned home to the Buffalo area and began helping her sister’s high school basketball team. She realized then that she loved coaching.

At 9:15 a.m. Thursday at the Women’s Club House, VanDerveer will talk about “What My Coaching Experiences Have Taught Me About Leadership and Teamwork,” as part of the Chautauqua Speaks series.

Resolutely pursuing her goal at The Ohio State University as a graduate assistant while earning her master’s in sports administration, VanDerveer became junior varsity head coach and varsity assistant coach of the women’s basketball team. She left Columbus to serve for two years as head coach at the University of Idaho, before returning to Ohio State as head coach from 1980 to 1985. There, she turned the Buckeyes into a nationally ranked team.

Thirty years ago, VanDerveer moved to California to head Stanford University’s women’s basketball team. Within three years, she took the Cardinal from a college team with far more losses than wins and a small fan base, to a contender at the NCAA tournament. Under VanDerveer’s guidance, Stanford quickly developed into an annual tournament participant, usually making it to the NCAA Final Four and twice winning the national championship.

“I’ve been around college-age students all this time,” VanDerveer said. “There’s a big jump from high school to college. There’s a growing up. You want them to experience things, but also have a net under them. You don’t want bad things happening. With a team, it doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman or senior, when you go out on the court you have to perform and be competitive.”

Not only is her team competitive, it’s a national powerhouse. The Cardinals have won 23 PAC-10/PAC-12 championships. Although they were not favored to win this year, they did.

“My biggest challenges are finding quality students and players for Stanford, and keeping them healthy,” VanDerveer said. “There’s so much injury in youth sports. I’m a proponent of variety — doing a lot of sports — and that’s not popular now. A lot of elite athletes get hurt playing basketball all year. Overuse injuries are a big problem.”

Stanford is unusual. The athletes VanDerveer coaches must meet the rigorous qualifications for acceptance into this elite, highly competitive university. Those who have not gone on to become basketball stars have become doctors, lawyers, professors, engineers and mothers. One of her former players is a campaign manager for Hillary Clinton.

While VanDerveer has been leading the Cardinals, she has also headed U.S. national women’s basketball teams participating in global competitions, including the 1991 World University Games (gold medal winner), 1994 World Championships (bronze), 1994 Goodwill Games (gold), and 1996 Olympics (gold).

Since 1984, she has won numerous Coach of the Year awards and been named to the following Halls of Fame: Naismith Memorial Basketball, National Basketball, Women’s Basketball, Women’s Sports Foundation International Women’s Sports, Chautauqua Sports, Greater Buffalo, Buffalo Seminary Athletic and Indiana University.

Every summer, VanDerveer returns to Chautauqua to recharge.

“Chautauqua was a great training ground for leadership and teamwork,” she said. “When I think of how to deal with problems, it comes back to what I learned at Chautauqua. Being a Chautauquan is very core to who I am.”