A League of Fans Special Feature
Diana Cutaia has been the athletic director at Wheelock College in Boston since 2005. Wheelock competes at the NCAA Division III level.
Cutaia is a former college athlete who began her coaching career on the high school level at the age of 19. She started the women’s basketball program at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut, where she built a successful program, including an Elite 8 appearance. She went on to coach at Mt. Holyoke College and Curry College. Prior to arriving at Wheelock, she served as the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Governor’s Committee on Physical Fitness and Sport.
Due to her focus on eliminating win-loss records as an evaluative criterion at Wheelock, she has received extensive media coverage for her unique approach to sports. Cutaia instituted a humanistic coaching model at Wheelock and established an athletic department mission that she describes as designed to “complement and enhance the academic experience and measure our success not by the outcomes of games but by the goals set by players and teams.”
Cutaia has become a sought-after speaker regarding the need to change our win-at-all-costs and profit-at-all-costs sports model. She is leaving Wheelock on November 15th to start her own advocacy consultancy. Through this new venture, she hopes to reach more stakeholders in the areas of youth, high school and college sports with her message.
Ken Reed, League of Fans’ sports policy director, recently interviewed Cutaia on a variety of topics.
Ken Reed: How did you arrive at your philosophy regarding not using winning as part of your criteria for evaluating coaches and athletics programs?
Diana Cutaia: Early in my coaching career, I was the typical autocratic coach who got a technical foul every other game. I was driven by winning. I gradually started changing my approach after my first couple years. I came to believe that the winning-obsessed autocratic coaching style wasn’t the best way to get athletes to be their most effective. We had our most success –the Elite Eight – after I had modified my coaching style.
I then took an assistant coaching position at Mt. Holoyoke College and also began working on my master’s. While there, I stopped by the gym one day and watched a sixth grade basketball game. The language from the coaches and parents had a distinct aggressive, violent, and war-like tone. There was a lot of focusing on “attacking” the opponent and very little sportsmanship going on. I walked out of the gym thinking if this stuff is going on during 6th grade games we need to find a better way. We have to make changes. That’s when I began to research and develop my ideas on coaching peace (www.coachingpeace.com)
Reed: How do you think coaches should be evaluated?
Cutaia: Measuring success should be about the process, not the outcome. We need goals besides winning in sports, especially at the youth level, in high schools, and I would argue, through college. If we do that, we’ll have better people when they come out of sports.
My evaluation model is not based on wins and losses. I evaluate on a variety of other things – each of which could potentially impact the win-loss record in positive ways. We strive to win but winning games and championships isn’t why our athletic department exists. It is interesting to note, however, that when we started measuring success in other ways besides wins and losses, we started seeing more wins.
Reed: What types of things do your coaches focus on?
Cutaia: Our coaches teach problem-solving, critical thinking skills, relationship-building, etc. We intentionally structure our sports programs to reinforce and supplement what they’re learning in classrooms. If we’re going to tie athletics to academics then we should have the same standards as academics. We should have a curriculum for athletics that outlines what the athletes are going to learn.
In terms of evaluations, I look to see if the athletes under a certain coach had a positive experience or not. Did their skills improve? I watch practices and evaluate how effectively they’re teaching, the type of feedback they’re giving their athletes, etc. I want more specific feedback from coaches to athletes rather than the typical negative stuff and simple “nice jobs” you so often hear.
Reed: Did you have to let any “old-school” coaches go when you arrived at Wheelock?
Cutaia: No, I didn’t let any coaches go. A couple coaches that didn’t buy in to our philosophy weeded themselves out. The first year at Wheelock is always the most challenging for new coaches. I look at it as a learning year for both the coach and myself. There are rough patches sometimes but things tend to work out. Most coaches are relieved to coach under this model. They can focus on coaching and teaching sport and life skills.
Reed: How do you respond to people who claim your approach is too soft, that we live in a competitive world and that we need to focus on teaching kids how to beat their opponents?
Cutaia: Well, I’d ask, how’s that working out? How’s that playing out in terms of economics and our relationships with other countries?
Sports are about both collaboration and competition. The games themselves are great models of collaboration. If one team walks off the field or court, the remaining team has nobody to play against.
Sports are about me needing you to push me and help challenge myself. Hating your competition, seeing them as the enemy, just doesn’t make any sense.
Reed: The Boston Globe ran a major feature on you, your philosophy, and your program at Wheelock. What type of response did you get to that?
Cutaia: That article initiated a wide-range of support and criticism. Some folks with the local Fox channel said I was emasculating and feminizing sport. Others said I wasn’t preparing kids for life. Some said I only adopted this philosophy because we can’t win. The pushback came from males predominantly.
Reed: How does your boss at Wheelock evaluate you?
Cutaia: I report to the Dean of Students. My evaluations have been wonderful. I’ve been successful beyond “meeting expectations.” Wins and losses have never been a topic during my evaluations.
Reed: What do your college athletic director peers think of your philosophy and situation at Wheelock?
Cutaia: I get nothing but positive feedback from my fellow athletic directors. The most common response I get back is, “I wish I could do that here.”
Reed: Do you think your model could be successful at the big-time Division I level of college sports?
Cutaia: I do because I believe wins are the by-product of doing the process the right way, of focusing on the truly important things. People are quick to assume that if you did this at the higher levels it wouldn’t be successful. That’s just an assumption.
Reed: What’s your take on the state of youth sports today?
Cutaia: I think the excessive focus on winning is so destructive in sports — at all levels — but especially in youth sports. This winning obsession is created by adults and transferred to our kids. It takes away the joy of sports from kids. Kids need that joy in their lives to function optimally.
The emphasis on winning in sports negatively impacts how you deal with both teammates and opponents. It becomes about “How much better can I be than you?” and “How badly can I beat you?” It’s not about collaboration, helping the person next to you. For coaches and players, it becomes about a “power-over” model, how much power can I have over someone else?
Reed: By leaving Wheelock and starting your consultancy, you’re embarking on a new adventure. What’s your vision for your career moving forward?
Cutaia: Well, the biggest thing for me is the understanding that we have such a great medium in sport to use as a way to teach people how to get along better, form stronger communities, improve sportsmanship, etc. We talk about all those things now but we’re not intentional about it, because the focus on winning gets in the way.
We need to intentionally use sport as a tool for positive social change; for positive youth development. Sport can bring people together through collaboration.
I want to help people look at youth sports in terms of access, opportunity, physical activity, a chance to develop core youth development skills, as a form of play, and a great way to have fun. I want to take out the “war mentality” at the youth level.
I also want to be a catalyst in the process of shifting and changing the model of sport on the collegiate level.
Mostly, I want to help us all focus on sport as a way to develop good people.Print
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Terri Lakowski
29 Apr 2014
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Jim Baugh
16 Jan 2014
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Brian Kitts
12 Nov 2013
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Paul Busch
9 Oct 2013
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Chuck Wilson
17 Sep 2013
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Tom McMillen
5 Aug 2013
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Sab Singh
13 Jun 2013
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Joseph Siprut
11 Apr 2013
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Fred Bowen
20 Feb 2013
Q & A with Legendary Sportswriter Frank Deford
27 Jan 2013
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Brenda VanLengen
28 Dec 2012
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Diana Cutaia
1 Nov 2012
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Patrick Hruby
28 Sep 2012
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Allen Sack
8 Aug 2012
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Donna Lopiano
5 Jun 2012
Q’s & A’s with Jim Thompson
14 May 2012
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Activists: Dave Zirin
18 Apr 2012
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Activists: William Dowling
27 Mar 2012
Q’s & A’s with Notable Sports Figures: Taylor Branch
9 Mar 2012
Q’s & A’s with Notable Sports Figures – Joe Nocera
27 Feb 2012
- Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Terri Lakowski
Special FeaturesFrom League of Fans
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to encourage social & civic responsibility in sports industry & culture. See League of Fans Core Principles
Petition from Baseball Fans Everywhere To Mariano Rivera
April 6, 2013League of Fans Calls for More Humanistic Coaching Programs. Click here to see the release.
League of Fans Announces 2012 “Sport At Its Best” Awards
December 20, 2011 Click here to read the news release and report on Ralph Nader's Call for Budding Sports Reformers
December 7, 2011 Click here to read the news release and report on Ralph Nader's Claim that Sports Media Are Dropping the Ball on Social, Cultural, and Economic Issues in Sports
November 22, 2011 Click here to read the news release and report on the campaign to Make the NCAA Live Up to Its Stated Purpose
October 26, 2011 Click here to read the news release and report on the campaign to create a National Sports Commission
October 11, 2011 Click here to read the news release and report on the campaign to Ensure Equal Opportunity in Sports for all Americans
September 21, 2011 Click here to read the news release and report on putting the "Youth" back into "Youth Sports"
September 8, 2011 Click here to read the news release and report on the campaign to abolish the BCS and Establish a College Football Playoff
August 25, 2011
Read the news release and report on Mandatory Implementation of King-Devick Concussion Test in High School and Youth Sports
August 11, 2011
Click here to read the report and news release and about the campaign to promote sports and physical education for all students
Read the news release and report on Campaign to Promote Humanistic Coaching Education Programs
July 13, 2011
Read the news release and report on the Push For Community Ownership in Professional Sports
June 24, 2011
Read the news release and report and Sports Manifesto on Re-Launch of League of Fans
March 24, 2011
NCAA's Reaction to League of Fans' Proposal
March 29, 2011
League of Fans' Response to NCAA
March 25, 2011
League of Fans Proposes Eliminating Athletic Scholarships to Help Restore Integrity on College Campuses
League of Fans is a project of the Center for Study of Responsive Law.