Women's Pac-12 coaches get creative with team-building work

Women's Pac-12 coaches get creative with team-building work

Updated Mar. 4, 2020 6:24 p.m. ET

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) Erica McCall is approaching her Stanford teammates with a bit more care and thought these days.

The Cardinal women's basketball team went through a communication workshop to improve conversation on and off the court, one of several activities planned by Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer to develop chemistry and a close-knit group.

''The biggest takeaway I got from it was talking to teammates individually and how I can approach them,'' said McCall, a senior forward. ''I know that not every teammate is the same, so it's just finding the right balance of how I'm going to approach them. Some of them you might have to have a different tone of how you approach them.''

From stand-up paddleboarding outings on the Palouse at Washington State to Arizona's players cooking meals together with a chef in an out-of-the-way cabin, coaches around the Pac-12 Conference are finding unique ways to build strong bonds through creative team-building ideas for their women.


June Daugherty's Washington State team has players representing seven different countries. Along with paddleboarding on the Snake River, the Cougars took a retreat to Coeur d'Alene in Idaho and recently went through a cooking lesson with their team sports nutritionist.

California coach Lindsay Gottlieb holds periodic ''Lessons With Geezy,'' when the Golden Bears discuss anything from financial planning to world events and social issues, or go over chapters from a leadership book. Last Saturday, they focused on family, complete with a slideshow featuring baby pictures of players, coaches and staff - and Gottlieb surprised them at the end by announcing her pregnancy .

''She always makes sure players are aware of things going on outside of our gym,'' new assistant Wendale Farrow said. ''It's nice to have a boss so invested in her players and staff.''

In Tucson, Arizona is getting creative under first-year coach and former star Adia Barnes, who recently showed an outdoor movie at her house and players paired up to bring one dish they had cooked before everyone made S'mores at the fire pit. Dejza James, whose mother is Indian, made traditional samosas.

The Wildcats have gone 14-76 in Pac-12 play the past five seasons and finished the 2015-16 conference schedule by losing 11 of 12.

''I'm trying to give us more time together,'' Barnes said. ''It's been really important and useful for this group. This group hasn't had that much success and they haven't been super confident, so whatever I can do to build them up, that's important to me.''

VanDerveer is constantly evolving and finding new ways to push herself and do her job well depending on the makeup of her team. Her Cardinal, picked to finish second in the Pac-12 behind UCLA , were preparing for Cal Poly to open the season Friday.

VanDerveer gave a book to each player and they in return gifted her with some new reading material.

One day in mid-September, the Cardinal spent just more than an hour in ''Championship Communication'' with Betsy Butterick to develop communication techniques and understand how a teammate might react to a certain approach from another. They later held a goal-setting meeting.

''We did a really fun and a great beneficial communication workshop,'' VanDerveer said. ''This team has been just great. You just feel we're on the same page. You don't want surprises. You don't want to be surprised - `what's everyone doing?' - I like to practice everything. We practice everything. How we're going to warm up. How we're going to come out of a game. There's the anthem. We have freshmen, they forget to check in at the table. We're going to go over everything.''

On one ''Fun Friday,'' Stanford played water polo. The Cardinal had a conversation with football coach David Shaw and former Stanford dean Julie Lythcott-Haims, who wrote ''How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.'' Stanford did a Skype session with author Jon Gordon, who wrote ''The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy.''

A rock climbing course was in the works. On Thursday, three-time Olympic volleyball champion and current U.S. women's coach Karch Kiraly - who has done his own communication exercises with the Americans through peer evaluations - spoke to the team before he worked TV for the USC-Stanford volleyball match at Maples Pavilion.

''You just have to tune in to what this group of student-athletes needs,'' VanDerveer said.

After the session with Butterick , players emailed her one communication element they wanted to work on and Butterick responded. She's a former Stanford camper and camp coach, and intern with the Cardinal who has worked as an assistant elsewhere. Now, she wants to ''help coaches be at their best'' for their teams.

For McCall - nicknamed ''Bird'' - Butterick suggested a sit-down chat with teammates that focuses on their personal goals and what it takes to reach them - including reminders along the way to stay accountable, such as, ''What's the best way for you to work hard?'' McCall said.

''I'm really excited about how I want to use those tips leading into the season,'' she said.

At Washington State in rural Pullman, Daugherty has players from Australia, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Macedonia, Portugal and Serbia. Communication is so crucial, and many of the women attend summer school to get a head start.

''In the offseason we have a little more time with them outside of basketball,'' Daugherty said. ''There are so many neat things to see around our area and it's great to be able to experience that with these young people. It's important we're an open, communicative staff and that we're good listeners. ... It's a task to kind of bring all these cultures together. The more we're available for them and they know we're available for them for more than just basketball, all the better.''