What happens when a New England native heads west to study for his PhD?
In the case of Stanford men’s and women’s diving coach Dr. Rick Schavone, a PhD in sports psychology morphed into a 33 years and counting on a pool deck at The Farm.
“I had been coaching diving at the University of Maryland when I got my masters,” said Schavone. “When I started to do my studying (at Stanford), I had a teaching assistant position in the phys-ed department and I taught tennis. After about two months I got bored, so I went down on the pool deck and talked to the diving coach to ask if there were any diving clubs in the area where I could volunteer my services.
“I won’t say what word he used, but he said to take ‘those ___ women.’ It was the first year of Title IX. He was being forced to coach the women and he didn’t want to. So by walking down on the deck, I automatically became the head women’s coach at Stanford.”
That original three-year stint coaching Stanford’s divers ended with the conclusion of Schavone’s PhD work. The salary to stay as the diving coach at Stanford was minimal, so Schavone departed for Princeton, where he continued coaching.
“Then (Stanford) got a new athletic director,” said Schavone, “and he decided to commit to the program for a diving position or do away with it. They chose to commit and asked me to come back. They didn’t really even open the position, so I came back from Princeton and that was 33 years ago. That’s when I started coaching here full-time.”
Schavone’s 33 years worth of divers have remained connected to the program and his current student-athletes certainly understand why that has happened.
“You start out as a freshman,” said Stanford senior Brent Eichenseer, “and it’s kind of a distant relationship because Coach is a scary guy that’s telling you what to do. But as you get to know him and understand him, he’s more of a fatherly figure who coaches with a stern hand. You come to respect that. Throughout the course of training and competition, by the time you become a senior like I am, you come to understand him. We have a great relationship. We’re really close and everything that he says, I respect him to the fullest.”
Meg Hostage, a senior on Stanford’s women’s diving team, has seen a similar progression in her relationship with her coach.
“In junior diving, when you’re in high school, Rick has a reputation of being scary and strict and that he yells a lot,” said Hostage. “Once you get here, you see that he does yell, but it’s only because he cares and because he wants to win.”
“He has a reputation outside of Stanford as the crazy guy who throws chairs,” said Eichenseer. “He used to be really volatile on the side of the pool. He would scream and yell, but he has definitely mellowed out. When I was coming in to Stanford, I was a little intimidated by this character from what I’d heard from other people. Then I actually got to meet Coach and realized he was none of that. He was a much more personable coach than people made him out to be.”
Schavone admits that he has changed his coaching style, but wouldn’t say that he has mellowed out. Instead, he insists that he is changing with the times. Slowly.
“I always complain that I’m a year behind,” said Schavone. “I didn’t dive. I played basketball and baseball at the University of New Hampshire, so I always coached like that. I brought that demand into diving and it wasn’t that common in that day.
“If they were told to do something and they didn’t do it, they could get yelled at or they could be asked to leave practice or something along those lines. For the athletes that worked with, I’d use it. If it didn’t work, I wouldn’t use it. As the culture changes, that’s why I say I’m a year behind. I was probably a year behind when I realized that it doesn’t work for anybody anymore. Now I rarely raise my voice.”
The process of getting to know his divers and learning what works for each of them seems to be a critical factor in Schavone’s success.
“I think as time goes by,” said Hostage, “he sees how best to deal with you as a diver. He sort of learns the best way to get you to achieve your goals. For me, I have a bad temper when I’m in the pool, so Rick has been great about learning how to keep my practice productive when I get into my bad moods. If I am not diving well, he’ll have me stop and calm down. (He’ll say) ‘think about the one or two things that I’m asking you to do and you’ll land on your head. Things will be fine.’ He has a really good way of showing you the positives when you are practicing. That’s been the best thing for me as a diver under Rick. He can make my practices productive when I think I’m having a terrible day.”
Schavone takes a bit of a unique route when it comes to recruiting as well.
“He would rather you come to Stanford not just for him, but for the entire Stanford experience,” said Eichenseer. “The most I got to know him was on my recruiting trip and it was just brief conversations concerning how he runs his program and what he would expect of me once I joined the program. I didn’t really get to meet or know him much because he wanted us to make the decision based on the team chemistry, the team dynamic, the school, the academics and the campus. He wanted us to make a decision based on the entire college experience, not just him.”
“Rick really doesn’t like speaking on the phone,” adds Hostage. “He says every year when it’s time for recruiting ‘I hate this. I hate this,’ because he is so uncomfortable talking to people on the phone. And I think one of the reasons that he may seem standoffish is that he believes he shouldn’t have to sell you on Stanford.”
“Naturally, I’m very proud of what we’ve built,” said Schavone. “Mostly, it’s because we’ve built it on a philosophy that is pretty much in unison with Stanford. I believe people can do both and do it to a high level. If I cross with an Ivy League student like Brent was, I say on your recruiting trip to Harvard or Yale, they’ll say academics are first and diving is second. I say academics is first, diving is first and we balance it every day. I think that’s what Stanford believes.
“In the fall it’s a balancing act. In the winter, it’s probably diving over academics somewhat and in the spring it’s academics over diving. Being a PhD and having taken many of the courses that my students are taking, I understand academics at Stanford very well. I am not compromising them academically. I’m making them demand more from themselves and I’ve been successful enough to do that. As far as recruiting goes, not to give myself too many pats on the back but it’s pretty easy to recruit to Stanford. Most people if we can get them admitted they want to come to a place like Stanford. The recruiting has been 75 percent Stanford University and 25 percent me.
“He’s told us from the day we started to love the game,” said Eichenseer. “I remember my junior year when I realized, because he says it all the time, ‘You have to love the game because otherwise there’s no point. Without any desire there’s no dream, so you can’t let the dream die or it becomes worthless.’ Junior year I remember it clicking in my head. I absolutely love diving and because of that I’m able to dream and I’m able to chase those dreams. That’s what coach has taught me. I think that’s the biggest thing I’m going to take away from this.”
“We work very hard,” said Schavone. “We work long hours for little notoriety. We just sit in the corner of the pool and we’ve been real successful for 33 years. I think that’s just cool. We haven’t asked for much and we don’t get a lot of scholarship money so we do most of it with basic student-athletes at Stanford that pay their own tuition and I kind of think we did it the right way. I think that’s what I’m the most proud of. When I have a 60th birthday and they send me to the Kentucky Derby. It was real expensive what they did, so they must have gotten involved 100 divers from the past. I have that legacy that I have great relationships with all my athletes and they stay in touch forever. Basically, we did it the right way. That’s what I’m the most proud of.”