Monday, January 10, 2011

Q&A with Janice Quinn: The Real Meaning of 'The Best'

Blogger's note: The following is what kids today would call "random." By that I mean, it is one of many Q&As that I conducted while on my tour of UAA schools last fall. It is not intended as favoritism to NYU, women's basketball or Satch Sanders. It is simply the first of many Q&As that I will post.

Janice Quinn, the senior associate director of athletics at NYU, likes to talk, likes to coach, likes to motivate.
Last fall I sat down with her in her office to talk about sports at NYU, the value of the University Athletic Association and the national basketball championship her team won.
Quinn played basketball for NYU for four years and was named head coach of the women’s basketball team at age 23. She coached the Violets to 453 wins from 1987 to 2008. Her teams reached the Final Four three times and won the national D3 championship in 1997.
 Here is a transcript of part of that conversation.

On the value of the UAA
"At its core, the UAA is an opportunity for student athletes at very high-level academic institutions to experience a very high level of athletics -- competing against other students seeking the same thing. The benefit of the UAA is to be able to provide that experience for our student athletes on a broad basis."
"The UAA uniformly allows us to provide this as the norm. As a given. As an expectation that is reasonably and consistently met year after year, decade after decade. If you come in, and you are a women’s fencer, or you come in and you are a women’s volleyball player or you are a men’s basketball player you should uniformly expect this very, very high level of experience. And you are going to be able to interact and engage with other students who are receiving the same experience."

On the unique urban setting
"The cities do give the UAA a different feel.   NYU – as you physically see it – is at the center of the universe. Sitting right at the middle of Washington Square. But Washington University and Brandeis and Chicago and Case Western – these are all in large cities, and that does distinguish the nature of the experience."
"The type of students who are attracted to these institutions is different. Kids who are attracted to a New York City school, to a Boston school, to a Chicago school are different. There’s an eclectic mix and sophistication in the metropolitan and global nature that these types of campuses offer."

Differences between the UAA and Division I sports programs
"By definition, the UAA and Division III are different because these institutions have declared voluntarily, based on philosophy, that they chose to participate in college athletics without giving scholarships. Sometimes people don’t understand this. They might think that a school as big as NYU should be Division I.  It’s a philosophy, it’s a mindset. It represents the most intrinsic, deeply rooted values of the university. It’s a very deliberate, voluntary decision."
"In the UAA you see a longevity in the coaching ranks that is remarkable. People are attracted to these positions for the philosophy, not necessarily only for the career stepping stone. And I think that in a lot of cases – not all , but in a lot of cases—they can get the most out of that academic experience for those kids. In a way, on this level, there is less pressure to win – not to say that the UAA isn’t extremely, extremely competitive – but I think it allows coaches to truly focus on the sport, the love of the sport, the mentorship of the students, the overall development of the students as people."
"You also have to be national championship caliber to get any press. Some kids come out of high school and every thing that they did in sports was celebrated in their hometown. When you get to the UAA, because of the major cities that we are in, you by in large are doing this in relative anonymity. That just speaks so loudly to the authenticity of what they are doing. There’s no way you can say you’re doing it for the celebrity or notoriety or the publicity. So you get a level of authenticity from the players and coaches that is just thrilling. It really is."

The NYU athletic experience
"At NYU we take incredible pride in the quality of events we run… This is not a campus where from Thursday morning until Sunday the entire community revolves around an athletic competition. And we don’t want that. It would change the entire campus. We are recruiting kids to a campus that is an extremely, dynamic, eclectic, diverse environment. We take a lot of pride in when we are doing that the quality of the experience."

Competition, sharing, outcomes
"When someone in the UAA has innovated in events or facilities there is a sharing of ideas."
"When you get on the court the coaches will do everything to win, and the student athletes will do everything to win, but I think beyond that the level of sportsmanship in the UAA stands out. I think there’s a great camaraderie that were doing something that’s different and were in this together."
"The competition level is tremendous.  That level of success comes because coaches are competitive, the  kids are competitive and they’re all putting a lot of commitment into this."
"I tell people what we are doing at NYU and at other UAA schools is impossible to do, and yet it happens every single day. Some people will tell you that over time it can’t sustain itself and yet it has. Its been 25 years, and so I think we can say its sustainable."
      "It takes enormous financial resources, enormous human resources and enormous commitment to keep this thing going. There’s just one Marsha Harris [NYU’s All-America point guard who is now a surgeon in Manhattan] after another. These kids are great academically and great athletes, and they leave here and do remarkable things."

Commitment at NYU
"In New York, this is real life. We can’t do anything to tame it or pretend it isn’t anything it’s not. For the varsity athlete to try to life in New York City and get a degree and carve out 30 hours a week to keep playing, they have to find tremendous amounts of energy and commitment.  This in an environment I have been in since 1981, and I tell people that this is a place that continues to stimulate me. You don’t settle in."
"Men’s soccer practices in seven different facilities. You’re not walking out the back door to a practice field. You have to decide do I really want to do this. When you’re running track or playing soccer or playing tennis, you have to decide every single day do I really want to do this. You get a passion for it. You can’t be in New York and be ambivalent or apathetic."

Academics in the UAA
"No UAA school is letting anyone out easy. You can’t be ambivalent or apathetic about your academics, and that is something that is uniform and consistent across the UAA. And its pretty darn neat when you are going up against that kid on the other team on Saturday or Sunday and you know that by in large they are experiencing in a academic way very much what you are experiencing. I think there’s a great respect that they have for each other."

"It’s a monster. You would be absolutely amazed at the sheer labor-intensive effort required because you are trying to recruit someone who might be eligible for a Division I scholarship and might be eligible to attend an Ivy League school.  So what coaches are doing is giving a nonstop education about what the UAA experience can be. We still call ourselves, 25 years later, ‘an alternative.’ This is the kind of school you thought you would go to academically and this it the type of school you can go to athletically. Guess what, these are schools where you can do both. It will be a life changing experience."
"Recruiting is competitive, cut throat. It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of money and a constant education of coaches, parents, guidance counselors and students.  There’s a lot of competition to distinguish yourself from the other UAA schools by the team, the success, the coach, the coach’s success, perhaps by the team’s projected future success, perhaps by the city.    Each school does an admirable job of highlighting what is unique to them."

1997 national championship
 "The night before we won the national championship my mom said, ‘Good God, Janice, you have to relax.  You can’t put this much pressure on yourself.’ And I said, ‘Mom I know that this is what NYU wants. I know that Dr. Oliva [the former president of NYU who was instrumental in creating the UAA] wanted to make a statement that you could not just do well but win a national championship.’ "
"Satch Sanders [the NYU and NBA Hall of Fame basketball player] came to our event when we were hosting the national championship in 1997.   Everybody was saying good luck and it was a successful season just getting here. Satch Sanders put his arm around me and said ‘Janice let’s not make any mistake about this. We expect you to win the whole thing.’  That kind of concern for our program and support for a non-scholarship approach is running through this program."
"I think what the UAA has done is broken down barriers of the stereotypical image of what sports is and what sports is not. The message I got from Satch was that there was great value in what we were doing too."

What it means to be the best
"One of the things that worries me about athletics in America is  the message isn’t out there enough that doing your personal best is always enough.  I didn’t have more value as a person because I won 450 basketball games. It’s the people who treated us the same whether they crushed us or we crushed them that I have tremendous respect for."
"I think there are so many kids out there who feel badly about themselves if they are not a starter or not the best player. The greatest hope in the UAA is that nobody (there was nobody more competitive than me. Nobody) but I never believed that you had more value if you won. The UAA comes closest to gaining an enormous personal and social perspective that winning a national championship doesn’t give you greater value as a human being."
"You don’t have to be the best to be the best.  All we can do on this earth is the best that we can be."


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