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Tara VanDerveer

The Secret Ingredient to Tara VanDerveer's Coaching Success

  • Author:
    Joan Ryan
  • Date:
    Jan 29, 2016

In 1996, a few months after the USA women’s basketball team won the Olympic gold medal in Atlanta, I sat down for my first interviewing session with the coach of that extraordinary team, Tara VanDerveer. We were at the dining room table at her house in Palo Alto, not far from the Stanford campus where, by then, her teams had reached four Final Fours and won two national championships.

We were writing a book together.

Well, it was her book. She was the one with the story. I was the one with the tape recorder.

By the time the book was finished early in 1997, I had been VanDerveered. Or at least the civilian version. It’s phenomenon familiar to every girl and woman who ever succeeded under her coaching. She has a sneaky, almost Columbo-ish way of turning around your way of thinking. She gets you to believe you’re better than you are, and then somehow you are. It took me awhile to figure out how she does this.


I know. Kind of cornball and squishy for a hard-nosed coach known for her exhaustive preparation and demanding standards. She’s a brilliant tactician and strategist. No team plays smarter than a Tara VanDerveer team. But those attributes explain only why she wins, not why her players are able to summon the best in themselves. Or why they say they’re better human beings when they leave Tara’s teams than when they arrived.

It’s about joy.

From the time Tara began shooting hoops in the driveway as a little girl in Albany, New York, she loved the game. Few girls in her neighborhood played. To get the boys to let her join in, she saved her allowance and bought the best basketball she could find. If the boys wanted to use the basketball, they had to take her, too.

Read the complete article to learn more about VanDerveer's philosophy and career at:


Joan Ryan is an award-winning journalist and author. She was a pioneer in sports journalism, becoming one of the first female sports columnists in the country. Her work has earned her thirteen Associated Press Sports Editors Awards, the National Headliner Award and the Women's Sports Foundation's Journalism Award by the San Francisco chapter of the National Organization for Women. Her book "Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters" was named one of the Top 100 Sports Books of All Time by Sports Illustrated. Joan now works as a media consultant to the San Francisco Giants. She lives in Marin County, north of San Francisco, with her husband, sportscaster Barry Tompkins. Follow her on Twitter @joanryan.

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