Preps Lab podcast with T.J. Cotterill: How high schools define athletic success with Suzanne Vick

How do schools define what makes their athletic programs successful? 

Curtis High School athletic director Suzanne Vick says it’s not nearly as much about the end-of-season win-loss record as some people would believe. In the latest episode of SBLive’s The Prep’s Lab with TJ Cotterill, Vick discusses her philosophies and how she determines what makes her school’s programs successful. 

Vick is in her third year as Curtis’ AD after an athletic career that started with 10 varsity letters in volleyball, soccer and basketball at Wilson High School in Tacoma before she continued her volleyball career at Eastern Washington University – where Vick led the program to its first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament after Big Sky regular season and tournament titles.

Vick was elected to the Wilson High, Tacoma-Pierce County and EWU halls of fame. Her three sons, Jase, Zack and Tyce, are standout basketball players, with Jase currently playing at Northwest University, Zack at Seattle Pacific and Tyce is a sophomore at Curtis. 

Listen to the episode here, and subscribe below:

(Full archive of the Preps Lab podcast)

About The Preps Lab

The Preps Lab with TJ Cotterill is a podcast where you will hear authentic conversations about how things get done in high school athletics. Whether it’s a coach, athlete, athletic director of other contributor in the world of improving high school athletes’ experiences, we’ll hear from them and their practical ideas and philosophies on what they do to create successful environments in the ever-evolving world of prep sports. Episodes publish every other Tuesday.

About the host

Cotterill has been covering high school sports for more than a decade. He’s a former sportswriter at The Bellingham Herald and The Tacoma News Tribune, where he spent more than three years as their high school sports coordinator and a year covering the Seattle Mariners. He is a substitute teacher in the Puyallup School District and assistant coach with the Puyallup boys basketball program. Reach TJ on Twitter @TJCotterill.

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Episode breakdown

1:08 minute mark: What led Suzanne Vick to want to get into teaching, coaching and her current AD role. 

6:30: Personal most influential athletic/career successes and how that influences Vick in what she believes make successful programs at Curtis

17:30: How important are win-loss records and how much should high school programs consider win-loss records as a measure of program success? 

22:30: How much parity exists in high school athletics and how does that impact how programs should define success?

26:40: How Vick’s background as a parent to three athletic kids impacts her role and her philosophies as an AD

30:45: Does pandemic-shortened season change what role athletics plays for kids? 

35:30: Advice for how to build successful programs

Notable quotes

Suzanne Vick: “Success can be defined in so many different ways. And it can sound soft to say success isn’t defined by wins and losses, some people would say that’s just soft language, and I love to win more than probably most people I know – but it’s bigger than wins and losses. If you’re not teaching kids and students and not recognizing the impact you can have on their lives, then there’s no win in that at all.” 

“I have one memory athletically that I would say that’s a defining success moment. But they’re not all about wins and losses. They’re about experiences. I think about in the seventh grade I had a teacher-coach say to me, ‘Wow, you’re a big girl.’ And that took me down a really dark path of thinking I was fat. I’m sure the guy was thinking, ‘Wow, you’re really tall.’ But I was tall and clunky and uncoordinated. But there was a coach who believe in me and kept me on the volleyball team despite the fact that he was told, ‘I can’t believe you kept her, she’s so uncoordinated.’ He saw something in me and he’s one of my heroes. He helped define and shape who I am because without him I probably would have never done anything, and never would have continued playing volleyball.” 

“Coaching (volleyball) at Rogers High School is just one of the things I hold so dear because success I would define as being in the experiences we had, the stories that we created and the long-term relationships. I remember meeting with Brandon Bakke shortly after I got hired for this job. He said, ‘You know you’re successful as a coach when your former players invite you to their weddings. I have friends, current friends, that were on those teams … and we went to the state tournament. We wanted to win. It wasn’t about, ‘Let’s go be soft and not worry about winning.’ You can have both/and. I think that’s what defines success for me.”

“Our core values say that we value servant-leadership above all. If that’s the case, are we serving? Are our senior athletes serving our ninth-grade athletes? Are our coaches serving our kids? And what does that look like? The word CORE stands for Commitment, Ownership, Respect and Excellence. Huge words that are so hard to define but are so easy to see when they’re not present. So when I think about success and the wins and losses, if a kid has a terrible experience regardless the wins and losses, then it wasn’t a success. If education-based athletics is not part of a program, there is no win there regardless of what the record was. There’s no success if you’re not teaching life lessons through the lens of sports.”

“That experience of being in the Tacoma Dome is an experience that you can’t get unless you win. But there’s no way to define success solely on wins and losses. It’s unfair. When you have a group of student-athletes that you don’t hand-select and then you say you’re going to determine success based on wins and losses is unreal. However – does a coach make the best of what they’ve been given? And then do kids have a good experience in addition to that? I like to win like none other and it’s good coaches who pull out the best in each and every one of their athletes and sometimes it’s not going to be defined in the win-loss column depending on the athletes that you have at the time.”

“One thing I’m really working on at Curtis – we were very much success in a silo. Here’s the football program, basketball, water polo, swimming, tennis – and everybody was in their own silos. So I’ve been trying to work hard to define success in everybody being part of the same silo. How does basketball support water polo, which supports soccer, which supports baseball and fastpitch?”

“(My kids, Jase, Zack and Tyce), they’ve learned that if I want what I say I want, I have to work hard for it. I have to do something different than what other people are doing in order to get there. That’s success to me. They didn’t just get to go be college athletes. They worked hard to be college athletes and those are lessons that they’ll take into the rest of their lives.”  

“ I’m different than most sports parents. I don’t yell, I just smile, I just watch, and I enjoy watching my kids play. Others sometimes don’t, and then we have to have some different conversations. There’s a lot of sadness in my mind that comes out of watching parents in the stands watching their kids. I’ve always had the philosophy that if I’m going to trust the coach that’s with my child, I’m not going to do anything to usurp their authority. I will always coach my kids’ character. When I see something in a competition where that character piece needs some discussion, because that’s my mom role. But, athletically, their coaches are there for a reason. I’m really mindful to not contradict what my coach says and just love them, and love them through the sport.” 

“Eleven months ago we literally stopped everything, we told them they were grounded, they didn’t do anything wrong, and then they had to stay away for almost a year. That’s rough. So we’ve done some things. I’ve picked up my social-media game to try to give some messages of hope and inspiration. It is not a space that I really wanted to be in, but I decided I’d leave a message to our student-athletes every day until they came back. Our focus is really on caring for kids and their social-emotional health as the No. 1 priority. Honestly, kids want to win, we want to win, but wins are so far down the list right now.”

“We are going to hire a coach who is the best in their craft. They have to be intentional and goal-oriented and growth-minded and they want to consistently learn their game. Competency is important. Because your team needs to be confident in you that you know what you’re talking about …  But the coach has to line up with our philosophy. If they don’t line up with the philosophy of you as the AD or as the school, that’s a recipe for a disaster, as well.” 

“ Kids have to get better. If you get done, even in this short, six-week season, if your athletes aren’t better at the end of these six weeks that coach probably needs to find something else to do. Kids have to be getting better and I think that can be a measure of success if it’s not by wins and losses. Are they better at the end of your season than when they started. Sometimes they’re not, and you wonder why. If kids will run through a brick wall for you because they know you care about them and you know your game, you’re going to get great results because they’re going to grow and they’re going to feel more confident about themselves. This is a passion for me.” 

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