How to Build a Successful Sports Program

    Illustration by Justin Martinez.
    Illustration by Justin Martinez.

    In the topsy-turvy world of sports, winning often seems to be everything.

    The question then becomes how to build a consistently winning program in order to avoid losses.

    “If the school doesn’t support the athletic department, then the funding will not be there,” said men’s head basketball coach Gordon “Gordie” Johnson in an e-mail to City on a Hill Press.

    Johnson has over 25 years of coaching experience at the high school and collegiate levels. He said there are three main factors that are directly responsible for success in collegiate sports: institutional support from the school, a helpful admissions program and building a winning tradition.

    Support from the school itself, which is usually reflected in how much an institution funds a particular sport, is very crucial in determining how far a sport can really go.

    The Office of Physical Education, Recreation and Sports (OPERS) has expressed support for all of UC Santa Cruz’s official teams.

    “In the NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association] you need to have some institutional support, so all of our NCAA teams have that,” said Ryan Andrews, executive director of OPERS. “It’s not a lot, but they have it.”

    Collegiate teams that have a long, tradition-filled history are usually the ones that are most well-funded by their given institution. Famed programs like Notre Dame’s football team and the Duke and North Carolina basketball teams are prime examples.

    This is the second of Johnson’s success factors because such legendary sports programs are the result of a very supportive admissions program.

    “[Winning] comes from getting the right students and players in the school, and that’s where admissions come in,” Johnson said. “They control who gets in the school or not.”

    Since UCSC is a DIII sports school, it is hard for coaches to recruit nationally ranked athletes. Instead, they have to be more creative and hope that they’ll get lucky and find that diamond in the rough who could help turn a program around.

    “For me, with basketball, we are starting to see some changes,” Johnson said. “We have been fortunate the past couple of years to get some really good walk-on [nonrecruited] players and a couple of ‘below the radar’ players that are DII level players.”

    That’s not to say that DI and DII athletes are necessarily better than their DIII counterparts, Johnson noted. They just have much more time and help to progress throughout their college career.

    “DIII rules will not let coaches work with their players in the off-season unless they are in a class,” Johnson said. “We don’t have year-round basketball programs. Our development of players has to be done during the season.”

    This makes recruiting at the DIII level that much more important so as to get the right players. Such well-evaluated recruiting helped Johnson and the men’s team defeat La Sierra University 106-97 at the DIII Independent Championship in their last game of the season.

    Bob Hansen, the UCSC men’s tennis head coach who, Johnson said, has one of the best programs in the country, is no stranger to success. His team is currently in the NCAA quarterfinals after dominating both Whitman College and Claremont College in the regional championships. His goal every season is simple: recruit well and train hard.

    “Recruiting is what many teams succeed at, which makes their starting level higher,” Hansen said. “But if you do not improve, others will pass you. We have always relied on getting bigger, stronger, faster and better to pass the teams that start with more talent.”

    Such a winning tradition is what Johnson considers the last factor in building a championship program.

    It might be tough, it might be hard, and it might even require a Herculean effort, but Johnson believes UCSC will soon have multiple sports programs that are notably successful.

    “It’s difficult, but it can and will be done here at UCSC,” he said. “The change has already started.”