Why You Should Know Coach Tara VanDerveer 

Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

Tara VanDerveer, the legendary Stanford women’s basketball coach, began coaching before digital cellular phones were invented, in the age of Walkmans and MTV. You may not know the name Tara VanDerveer, but you surely should. 

Coach VanDerveer surpassed coach Mike Kryzewski of Duke University as college basketball’s all-time winningest coach on Jan. 31 after her 1,203rd victory against Oregon State. 

To rewind, yes, you read that correctly. Tara VanDerveer has a 1,203-267 collegiate basketball career win-loss record, three national titles, and fourteen NCAA Final Four appearances, earning her a reputation as the best strategist to ever coach the women’s game or collegiate basketball generally. 

To her current and past players, colleagues, and supporters, VanDerveer embodies the pinnacle of balance, which might be the secret to her longevity and enduring successes. She never becomes engulfed in the stressors of being a high performing coach. For example, she plays a daily game of bridge against her mom, 96-year-old Rita VanDerveer.

“I think bridge is a lot like basketball,” VanDerveer told USA TODAY Sports. “You’ve got to play the hand you’re dealt. You’ve got to maximize the cards you have. Sometimes you’ve got a lot of aces, and sometimes you don’t.” 

In the midst of multiple practices, lifts, conditioning sessions, and other athletic meetings, Coach VanDerveer also finds time to walk her dogs and swim in the morning with Katie Ledecky

VanDerveer’s upbringing led her to master the art of balance. From a young age, her parents instilled academic and athletic balance within her, telling her to finish her algebra homework because “basketball won’t take you anywhere.” 

VanDerveer began her successful coaching career at the University of Idaho, as a wide-eyed 25-year-old still in prime shape to partake in her team’s grueling conditioning. She amassed her first 42 wins at this program. Although VanDerveer stayed for only two seasons, she made a lasting impact on the varsity program, shaping many of her players’ lives and laying foundations for her personal success in the future. 

VanDerveer’s players attribute a lot of their success under her reign to one differentiating mindset: winning the last five minutes of the game.

“That was one of her key things,” said Judy Crandell, a first-year walk-on who played for VanDerveer her first season at Idaho. “We were going to outplay everybody that last five minutes, whoever it was that we played against. We were going to be in better shape than they were.” 

VanDerveer incorporated weightlifting and conditioning to Idaho’s program. This was a revolutionary concept in the arena of female collegiate basketball. There were few female programs across the country who regularly lifted weights with conditioning and strength coaches, but VanDerveer wanted her players to be strong: in addition to weightlifting, she had them run hill sprints and trek miles upon miles. 

“Our preseason conditioning was brutal,” said Idaho guard Karin Sobotta. 

VanDerveer elevated the women’s basketball game. Although she began this project over 40 years ago, she is still winning championships today. 

Coach VanDerveer is not only the “Michael Jordan” of collegiate basketball coaches, but she is still in her heyday, attributed to her revolutionary tactics and life balance. VanDerveer provides everyone with a template for a successful and happy life: balance, ingenuity, and adaptability. 

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