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A Different Kind of Teacher

In the fast-paced, high-powered world of college athletics, coaches are most often judged by two simple numbers: games won and games lost. But to Dartmouth Women's Basketball Coach Chris Wielgus, it's not her 300-plus career wins that count so much as the lessons she teaches—and learns—on and off the court.

Chris Wielgus
Sure, she wears a whistle around her neck, but Chris Wielgus sees herself more as a teacher than a coach. (Photo by Mark Washburn)

"I've always thought of myself as a teacher," says Wielgus, "just by a different name, and in a different kind of classroom."

Much is made of the "teachable moment," that point where teacher and student, or, in Wielgus' case, coach and player, connect in some way that makes clear to both that learning is taking place. For Wielgus, though, it's more a subtle, ongoing process than a major revelation; a process that takes place not only on the court, but also in the locker room and on the team bus. "The problem is that there are no real benchmarks; you have teaching moments every single day," she says. "Teaching moments aren't dramatic. They're not monumental. Teaching moments are tiny little snippets. I think life's lessons are learned quietly ... not noisily or dramatically."

Those teaching moments often come back to Wielgus, in the many ways she says her players make her a better coach. "They make me a better coach by forcing me to rethink the game, by forcing me to rethink how I coach fundamentals, and to customize my approach to the team that I have. You can't teach the same thing at the same time every year. And there is no curriculum that I'm following."

One of the obvious differences between the Ivy League and other conferences is the lack of athletic scholarships, something Wielgus says causes a fundamental shift in the way coaches and players regard one another. "Dartmouth's need-based system of financial aid means that our students are here to play and to learn," Wielgus says. "That makes a huge difference in how you approach them. If you really want to have the kids in the palm of your hand, you have to teach them something. You have to be able to teach the fundamentals. You have to be able to show them how to get better."

And what is the ultimate lesson, the one she's learned and continues to teach to her charges after 20 years at Dartmouth? Wielgus cites the legendary coach John Wooden, who said, "Winning is never final, losing is never fatal." Wielgus adds, "You just have to keep going, you have to keep moving. You can't equate the ups and downs of the season to the pulse of life. It's not life and death."

By RICK ADAMS

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Last Updated: 5/30/08