You’re my Hero, Tara VanDerveer: How to achieve Goals, play in College!

If you ever needed guts in sports, I know a coach who will pull it out of you. One of my role models and college coaching heroes is Tara VanDerveer, Director of Women’s Basketball at Stanford University. TARA is a FORCE. And her coaching staff, Amy Tucker, Kate Paye, and Tempie Brown, are the best! Below, I share TARA’S LESSON on how to reach your goals and prepare to play college sports. READ CLOSELY if you want to play in college.

One of my colleagues at Stanford [in the 90s], Tara VanDerveer spoke to my team (I coached Stanford W. Gymnastics) on competing under pressure. Her talk was complete motivation.


Tara at her best, instructing and inspiring her Stanford Basketball Team against Vanguard, 11/3/13.

Tara continues to inspire! Here are Tips for High School Athletes. On March 2, 2013, Tara VanDerveer in conversation with my basketball-daughter, McKenna. I am in deepest gratitude. Tara, you were generous to give your time.

TARA’S LESSON: How to Achieve your Goals & Prepare for a College Team: 3.2.13

I sat next to my daughter in the front row in a near-empty Maples Pavilion at Stanford University. The Stanford players warmed up on the court. Then Tara appeared, walked over to us, and greeted us warmly. For the next 30 minutes, I listened to one of the best basketball coaches in the world give tips to my lanky, high school, basketball-playing daughter, McKenna.

“Number one,” said Tara to McKenna, “do you have a goal?”

“Yes,” McKenna said, “to play at Stanford.”

“That’s good. Write it down,” Tara instructed. “Put it on your mirror so you see it every day. It’s important to look at it and be reminded what you’re aiming for. Then, write HOW you’re going to accomplish your goal; what you will do on a daily basis to reach your goal. Take ownership. Don’t look to anyone else to help you. You must do what it takes on your own.”

I caught myself nodding and felt myself smiling. I love this kind of talk! McKenna was fully engaged.

“Second, stand out from everyone. 40,000 students apply to Stanford. How do YOU stand out? Of course, excellent grades, volunteer work is important, extra workouts, and being a top-top athlete.”

I asked, “Is playing club basketball important?

“The best players play club ball,” said Tara. She suggested looking into a strong club where McKenna lives in Orange County.

Tara went on: “What are your strengths? Can you shoot 3-pointers?”

McKenna: “Yes. I’m good at 3-pointers, and I’m fast.”


McKenna in 2012 after her NJB team won National Championship in Orange County.

Tara: “Okay, I have a drill for you. Around the 3-point line, you’re going to take 3-point shots from seven different positions – three positions on each of the sides, and one at the top of the key. In each spot, you have to MAKE 10 SHOTS before you go to the next. See how many shots it takes to make 70 three-pointers. Send me your percentage, then I’ll send you the percentages of the best players on my team. You can compare and see what you need to be shooting.”


Tara continued: “Watch what the best players do. What moves they make, how they control the ball. You can get good drills from videos on You Tube. Most important is to practice every day. Go before school and shoot for an hour. Can you do that?”

McKenna was enthralled. “Yes.”

“Good. Work hard and it will pay off. You are the only one that can make it happen. If you have a goal, don’t rely on anyone else. Not your mom, not your dad, not your coach. YOU have to do the work.”

Tara spoke with authority and her presence was all grit. I felt energized and I think McKenna was, too. I kept looking at McKenna as she looked up to Tara.

“Can you stay and watch practice?” asked Tara.

Yeah, I can stay,” said McKenna.

Good. Watch closely. You can see how the team works.”

Tara walked onto the court and began to coach her team. After 5 minutes and her team was in action, she looked over at McKenna (we were still front row, about 30 feet away).

Tara called out: “Do this drill. Send me your percentages.” As if she were coaching McKenna in that exact moment. McKenna nodded, “Okay!”

After the practice, the entire Stanford Women’s Basketball team walked around to McKenna and I, shook our hands, one-by-one. Each player said Hello and introduced herself. This was amazing, to say the least. It felt like: WELCOME TO STANFORD!

As McKenna and I walked out of Maples, she hugged me. “Thank you, thank you, Mom,” with the biggest smile on her face.  I said, “That was incredible!” And McKenna said, “I needed that.”

Tara’s words injected motivation into McKenna. You HAVE to be bold to reach your goals, go the extra mile, be absorbed in your dream, and do the work. It’s ALL YOU.

Finally, it doesn’t matter if you play for Stanford or a local college, Division I, II, or III. The point is GO FOR IT ALL THE WAY. Do everything you can to make your dream come true.

Tara VanDerveer was recently selected as the newest recipient of the John Wooden Legends of Coaching award. She is only the 3rd woman to be chosen. Ceremony will take place in April 2014 in Los Angeles. Congratulations, Tara!!!! Read about it here: Tara receives Legend award.

Tara Legend award pic

Tara VanDerveer – for highest standards in coaching and personal integrity.
Photo on NCAA site, credit: Doug Pensinger / Getty Images

reach, sweat, and believe,


(p.s. I love you, McKenna)