Diana Cutaia

Website – https://coachingpeace.com


Email – diana@coachingpeace.com

Diana Cutaia is the founder of Coaching Peace, an organization  designed to create positive and safe cultures that empower members to lead with empathy and understanding.  Diana’s clients range from school districts to national organizations to global companies.

Diana’s coaching experience includes serving as the head women’s basketball coach at Curry College and as assistant women’s basketball coach at Mount Holyoke College. She was also the head women’s basketball coach at Norwalk Community College where she took the women’s basketball program to National Standing in only four years. Her Panthers finished three seasons ranked #1 in the New England Region and among the top eight in the Nation.

Prior to starting Coaching Peace, Diana was the Director of Athletics and Sport-based Initiatives for Wheelock College where her unique approach to sport was featured on the front page of the Boston Globe, NCAA On Campus, and Athletic Management Magazine.  Diana also began the first ever academic program in Sport-Based Youth Development at Wheelock College.  Over the years, Diana has presented to colleges on topics ranging from diversity and gender equity, sportsmanship and decision making, and Title IX.

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Grab your notebook before you listen to this episode with Diana Cutaia, founder of Coaching Peace.

What We Discuss with Diana Cutaia

  • Growing up in Queens, New York and loving to play defense as a young basketball player
  • How Title IX gave girls more opportunities to play sports, but limited opportunities for female coaches
  • The professionalization of youth sports and how that has inhibited Moms from becoming coaches
  • The changing role of physical education in the United States
  • The lack of opportunity for kids to learn a sport in a non-competitive environment
  • “When a coach is super hyper-focused on the outcome of a game, as opposed to the process of kids learning how to play the game, then you are going to lose a whole bunch of kids.”
  • “In many communities, you can’t play on a rec league or a town league. The only thing that is there is some non-profit or for-profit youth sports organization that costs a whole bunch of money.”
  • “What’s most important to me is that you’re learning the game. You’re making mistakes. You’re figuring out how to overcome those mistakes. Those are the things that are most important.”
  • “We have not given young people a chance to create their own understanding of the game through trial and error, through being able to play for fun.”
  • The disappearance of free play and why youth sports are too scripted
  • Making adjustments to the game so it’s more fun for kids (lower basket, smaller ball, shorter court, closer three point line) and why people are resistant to those changes
  • “If my kid is good, then my status in the community gets better.”
  • “We have sold a myth to parents and the myth is if your kid’s really good, then they’re going to get a scholarship and they’re going to be able to go to college for free.”
  • Early specialization and the danger of burnout in young athletes
  • Young athletes need fundamental movement skills, social connection, and fun as a result of participating in sports
  • Avoiding the mentality of “I’ll only do what’s best for the kids if I reach the outcome that I actually want.”
  • Emphasizing learning and growth over outcomes and winning
  • Asking players “How can I coach you better or what could I have done differently?”
  • Why “good job” isn’t the best choice of words to say to a young athlete
  • Using specific praise and instruction with kids
  • “When you struggle, I will be there, but I’m not going to ever let you feel as though you can’t reach this goal.”
  • The idea of “taking care of you team” and being a great teammate
  • The lasting impact of a coach’s words
  • The letter she wrote to Georgetown Men’s Basketball Coach John Thompson and learning that there actually were Women’s College Basketball Teams
  • Looking at coaching from a different perspective (not crush or kill or other violent terms), but rather coaching with peace
  • “Instead of opponents, the other team is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to get better.”
  • Applying coaching in sports to coaching in business
  • The importance of relationships in building the business of Coaching Peace
  • The challenge of changing systems that were designed by and for one specific group of people
  • You can be an athlete no matter what your body looks like

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[00:00:00] Mike Klinzing: Hello and welcome to the Hoop Heads Podcast. It’s Mike Klinzing here with my co-host Jason Sunkle tonight. We are pleased to welcome to the podcast this evening. Diana Cutaia the founder of Coaching Peace and a long time basketball coach. Diana, welcome to the Hoop Heads Pod.

[00:00:16] Diana Cutaia: Thanks so much for having me here, gentlemen.  I really appreciate it.

[00:00:19] Mike Klinzing: We are excited to have the opportunity to talk to you. There’s a lot of interesting topics that we’re going to touch on and curious to learn more about your background and what your, what you’re doing to impact the coaching profession through coaching piece. So let’s start by going back in time to when you were a kid.

Tell us a little bit about your first experiences with the game of basketball and athletics, how you got into the game when you were young.

[00:00:43] Diana Cutaia: Yeah, absolutely. I was really lucky. When I was a kid my mother was not an athlete but took me to a park. I was born in Queens, New York and took me to a park down the street from the apartments that we lived in and taught me chest passes.

And I think that’s probably the only thing she knew of the game. I think she played it back in PE you know, in the early sixties, late fifties. And she taught me how to make chest passes. I remember I just thought it was so fun and the game was so fun and I love dribbling the basketball everywhere I possibly could, but there were tremendous opportunities.

I couldn’t really play until I got into the fourth grade. And then there was a team. I went to a small school and there was a team for girls that we could participate in and I loved it. And to the satisfaction of many, a coach. My most favorite part of the game was defense. I absolutely loved defense.

I thought it was so much fun. And all I wanted to do is play defense. So it, it worked out really well for me.

[00:01:51] Mike Klinzing: Coach’s dream right there. Absolutely. That’s funny. So you and I talked a little bit in our pre pod conversation about the opportunities for female players today versus 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago, when there just wasn’t as much opportunity.

So when you look back on your childhood and you think about your upbringing in the game of basketball, or in athletics in general, and then you look at the opportunities that girls have today, let’s start with the positive. What are some things that you see that have changed for the better when it comes to youth sports for girls?

[00:02:32] Diana Cutaia: Now, obviously we can’t deny the fact that girls have more opportunities to participate in sport than they did. You know, 50 years ago and title IX first came into, into play. Even 10 years ago, five years ago as each year that goes by girls have more and more opportunities and also stretching outside the bounds of what traditionally the sports that they had access to.

So we see girls playing baseball, we see girls playing football there are more and more girls that are wrestling. So it’s, we’re kind of breaking into all aspects of sports. Which I think is, is pretty amazing given the fact that you know, title nine is only one year older than I am. So given the fact that within my lifetime, we’ve seen all of this change.

[00:03:26] Mike Klinzing: I agree, 100%. I think it’s interesting. My daughter who’s in sixth grade, played flag football this fall for the first time a group of her friends who had played other sports together, they played basketball and they’d played soccer together. And one of the dads had a son who was playing in the flag football league, and they decided here in our community to start a flag football program for, for girls and my daughter signed up and loved it.

Never would’ve thought my son who’s a sophomore in high school, never set foot on a football field, never played flag football, nothing. And here my sixth grade daughter is given an opportunity to play flag football and she loved it. And so to your point, there’s just so many more opportunities like that in terms of an organized setting for girls to be able to play.

Again, if you want to call them the traditional sports, but also to be able to branch out and play flag football, that would have been, I guess, unimaginable when I was a kid that you would have had a girl’s flag football team. It just wasn’t something that was around at the time. And yet at the same time, you and I have also talked a little bit about the challenges that we have in terms of getting more women involved in the coaching profession, both at the highest levels where we oftentimes see, if you think about division one, women’s college basketball, the number of teams that are coached by men, but then you have that trickle down effect, or maybe it’s the trickle up effect.

So to speak that girls who are playing youth sports very often are coached by dads rather than moms. So I guess it’s a two-part question. And then we can dive into some of the more specifics, but part one is why do you think we don’t have more moms that get involved and then. From that, how do you think that we can get more female coaches in front of our girl, youth athletes?

[00:05:22] Diana Cutaia: I think there are a couple of reasons why we don’t have as many female coaches. The first of which is when we look at title IX prior to title IX, 50 years ago you know, 90% of coaches were female. So 90% of coaches for female teams, girls teams were female. Most of those positions, however, were unpaid.

And, or they were paid very low. So now title IX comes into a fact, we make this a federal law and colleges in particular, as well as high schools start to move into the direction of providing more opportunities for women’s sports. Those women’s sports then get funded in, in ways that they were not funded prior to title IX.

Well, now these become paying coaching jobs. So it, it opens up the field of who will apply for that. Obviously, as we know prior to I mean, I would say even still in existence, most athletic directors on college level are male. So if we are now opening up all of these new positions that are paid positions women are most likely not going to get those positions.

We hire who we know we’re not looking to address our own bias 50 years ago, 40 years ago, 30 years ago. So. That’s one of the reasons why we’re at where we’re at, when we think about it on a youth level, right. It’s a little bit different. I think we talked a little bit earlier around all this positive girls have all this access and yes.

But think about it like this access is just opening the door. When I go in, if there is nothing in there that has changed right then I don’t necessarily, I might feel like I’m included, but I don’t necessarily feel like I belong. And I think one of the things that we have done in youth sports cause I’ve coached youth sports.

I’ve been the only female coaching in a town where all of the travel coaches for the girls teams are dads. I applaud the dads who will want to volunteer. You know, we have professionalized the youth sports so much, and we don’t recognize or understand that the amount of time that it takes now to coach a youth team is not what it was 10 years ago, 15 years ago, 20 years ago when I played sports and I played in college.

But when I played, we did not play on the weekends. We did not play all year round. We did not play in the summer. That’s not the way we thought about sports. Especially on the youth level. If we want to get more moms and more females involved, we actually have to begin to change the structure a little bit.

We have to really rethink how we do youth sports and many women in youth sports in, in these kind of small town organizations are pushing for some of these changes. You know, I talked to a lot of moms and who will say my. Eight year old, has it a practice at nine o’clock at night or eight o’clock at night on a school night.

And that will go until 9:30. Well, we don’t have the ability to just do that. You know, we can’t, I can’t, I may have other kids at home. I may have other responsibilities. I am not going to sit then and be there for an hour and a half in the evening until 9 30, 10 o’clock at night. Number one, how I think that’s really great for kids.

You know, at all, we’ve professionalized youth sports so much that we’ve created a very narrow pool of who can coach in that and who will want to coach in that space. And then we say, well, if you don’t want to coach in that space because of X, Y, and Z then you shouldn’t be in it because we’re not willing to change the system.

And I think we need to change the system and then different people will come to the system.

[00:09:26] Mike Klinzing: That makes complete sense. And yet at the same time, I think I know. And you know, that the challenge of trying to change the system comes from something that you talked about a little bit, which was sort of that professionalization of.

You sports, where we have a lot of adults who earn a living from youth sports. And so if I’m going to have a travel basketball program or I’m going to have a travel soccer program, and I only have so much access to facilities or this or that. And so I have to have practice at nine o’clock, I’ll give you a good example.

Diana, last night I was sitting at my son’s high school basketball game and it was three games. There was a freshman game there’s JV game was a varsity game. And this family that was sitting in front of us, who I sort of know, not real well, not close friends, but they stood up. And the group that was sitting around them, this was at probably halftime of the varsity game was probably last night.

The game was running super long. So this was probably at, I don’t know, it was maybe quarter to nine, maybe even nine o’clock and they got up and they said, we got to go. Susie has soccer practice tonight at nine. Yeah. And this is a Tuesday night and here they are leading the scan. It’s already running over.

I’m like, gosh, this game is super late. We’re going to be home. And now they’re getting up to go take their daughter to a soccer practice that starts at nine 30 at night. I mean, it just is. It’s a little, it’s a little crazy. And so I look at the system and I try to figure out and think about what are some ways that we can change it.

And one of the things that I keep coming back to is, and tell me if you’ve had this thought before or talk to anybody about it is that we’ve kind of gone away. And you described how, when you were a kid that we didn’t think about youth sports as being year round as, okay. You’re going to be a soccer player for 12 months a year.

When you’re nine years old, you went from one season to the next. And then the other thing I think that’s changed is we used to have multiple. Tracks, so to speak of where kids could go to play. So you could play in your community rec league and the community rec league was well-run and it had good coaches and it had good players in it.

And then maybe for kids who, or families who wanted a little more, maybe there was one opportunity to go and take one step further than that and go above the rec program. But I feel like now today, that re local recreation programs have been so devalued that kids really don’t have the opportunity to even participate in them.

If you have even a mild interest, it seems like the rec programs have skewed because of the way that people perceive them, where kids are participating in them at the same level. And then it ropes everybody into this trap. Practice three nights a week and all these odd hours of playing every weekend.

And it’s just, it’s a challenge. So have you thought about that in terms of local rec or maybe you have some other ideas of ways that we can sort of get back to giving kids multiple different ways to interact with our sports?

[00:12:37] Diana Cutaia: Well, a couple of things I think you bring up that are important. The first to note is in my generation, like I said, I’m 49 years old.

So I go back a ways when in, in my generation when we went to physical education, We didn’t really physical education was not competitive. It was education. So we learned sport in a very non-competitive model. So while my mother took me out to learn chest passes, when I was younger, I really learned at the game of basketball, through my physical education teachers in elementary school, well, we’re eliminating physical education across the country.

We’re also moving in many physical education spaces to a kind of more lifetime fitness focus around things. Good, bad or indifferent. What we are doing is we are taking away an opportunity for kids to learn the sport through a non-competitive model. So then when I am now six years old and I want to get my child into sport.

I am going into a travel league or I’m going into a recreational league. That is a very, is either highly competitive or at a minimum competitive. And the challenge. I’m not by any means saying that competition isn’t good. So we can, no, don’t, don’t at me at that, but it’s, it is more along the lines of competition as my only entry point to learn a sport really makes it challenging for young people to learn. And when my coach is super hyper-focused on the outcome of a game, as opposed to the process of me learning how to play the game, then you are going to lose a whole bunch of kids, either who enter and drop out or who won’t even enter at.

So we really have to rethink our kind of recreational models. We also need to think about how we are teaching at least the fundamental movement skills involved in sport within our physical education classes and we’ve devalued physical education. And we should be heroizing our PE teachers. I mean, the work that they do, if you think about it, when the pandemic kid, what did we all do?

We tried to build up our home gyms. We tried to find ways to get movement in our lives. These are skills. We didn’t try to figure out a way to do more algebra, right? And yet in schools we spend all of this time, effort and energy, trying to build up more time for academic skills by no means. Am I saying that those aren’t valued or important, but then we do that at the cost and the expense of physical education. So now our young people are not getting any introduction to sport at all. In many communities, you can’t play on a rec league or a town league. The only thing that is there is some non-profit or for-profit sports youth sports organization that cost a whole bunch of money.

So now we’re creating this unbelievable inequity in sport for young people to be able to participate or not participate. I am, I’m going to pull it, put a call out there. We, we have a couple of communities that we’re working with, but we want more, we want a community who is willing to say, we want to do things different and show us how to do it differently and revamp their entire program so that we really begin to think about doing sport a completely different way.

So when I’m I’ll give you a perfect example. You know, we have a Facebook for our community and somebody posted the other day about we wanted to find a basketball team for our first grader. And they said we found one league, but they don’t play games. Can you find a league where they play games?

And I so desperately wanted to write they don’t need to play games. Like in fact, when we, when I coach basketball and when we think about the way we coach basketball, I don’t teach plays. I teach kids how to play and you know, up into a certain level, if you score and if you’re able to win games, that’s great.

And if you’re not, that’s great too. It doesn’t matter because what’s most important to me is that you’re learning the game. You’re making mistakes. You’re figuring out how to overcome those mistakes. Those are the things that are most important. We have to get coaches to get back to that a little bit, not for the outcome, but for the process for learning, that is what becomes more important.

That was a long answer to your question.

[00:17:27] Mike Klinzing: It was a great answer and it dovetails exactly with, I can tell you right now, Diana, that I have a program going here in the Cleveland area that I working with a local, it’s basically a CYO program and a cat, a Catholic school, and it’s a K to two program and we call it a K to two fundamental.

It’s called a league. We don’t play any games. And we really, in all honesty do one thing for the last three minutes where the kids even take a shot at a basket that’s at about seven and a half feet. And the rest of the time the kids have the ball in their hands and we’re working on different dribbling skills and footwork and all these different things that if you do it well, you can still make it fun.

But you still have parents who will come up to me and say, Hey, when are they going to play? And, and I look at the parent and then I turn around and I look at the kids and I look at what they’re doing. Well, first of all, they’re all smiling. They’re all having fun. Nobody’s worried about, am I winning? Am I losing?

There’s none of that pressure is there. And then I also look at them trying to just execute a simple pivot, or be able to dribble the ball three times in a row without it bouncing off their foot. And you think to yourself, How could you think that playing games with those kids at that age is going to be beneficial to them?

And the answer is it’s really not. And so to your point, I think if you could put them in a situation where you can learn the basic movements, as you said, whether it’s class, whether it’s a program, like the one that I’m describing that I’m involved in, where we’re just trying to get kids introduced the game and let them have fun, let them explore, let them make mistakes without the pressure of a scoreboard, without the pressure of mom or dad or a coach looking at them and worry about how, what that child does impacts the final score of a game between six year olds.

It’s just, it’s crazy in a lot of ways that we get to that mentality, but that’s sort of really where we are with youth sports that we’ve kind of set ourselves up for this situation. Everybody thinks you have to be playing all the time, which leads to my next point or question for you is I’m a big believer and I’m not quite sure exactly how to do it.

And I teach elementary school phys ed. So I’m one of the people that you were describing that tries to do some of the things that you’re describing. And yet at the same time, I can tell you that it’s sometimes difficult to teach movement, especially as kids get to the upper elementary age, because you have such a divide between kids who have grown up in the travel competitive world.

And then you have the kids who have not. So you have to be able to differentiate your instruction and do all these different things to be able to accommodate the needs of everyone. But I think that free play is something that you probably grew up with that I grew up with where we were able to play our sports in a backyard, on a driveway at a friend’s house in a basic.

Without somebody watching us and therefore we were able to experiment and we did it not because we wanted to get better. Not because somebody was telling us we had to, but just because it was fun. And then we ha we tried to figure it out. So I’m curious, what’s your thoughts about free play and how we can figure out a way to incorporate that more into what we do from an organized youth?

Standpoint, if that makes any sense, how can we get more free play into organized?

[00:21:15] Diana Cutaia: Right. Well, you, you touched on something that is really important to me. When I grew up playing basketball I had some tremendous coaches. I had really great coaches but not really until I got to the high school level.

That’s when I really had kind of the best coaches and who taught me the most. Where did I learn the game? I learned the game playing pick-up. I learned the game playing pickup at the park, down the street from me. I learned the game playing pickup at the YMCA. I learned the game by just playing and not playing to win, not playing to just compete.

And getting the opportunity to be out there and to learn different styles of play, to be able to play against different styles of play. You know, we script everything for young people. Now everything is scripted. So run the play, do the play shoot this way, come this way, move this way. Right in. We have not given young people a chance to create.

Their own understanding of the game through trial and error through being able to play. So when, when I coach we have what we call goal time and they take 10 minutes, sometimes five minutes, it can be short. And what we do, as I say, make a goal, I don’t care if the goal is, I am going to try to see if I can do a last second shot.

So every three seconds, I’m going to count out 3, 2, 1, and shoot it. How many of you think you’re going to make in this time? Because I want to encourage them to think outside the box. I want to encourage them to have that free play. I think that’s so valuable and important, and we have absolutely lost that because everything, what, when would a young person now have time to go play pickup?

Because everything they do is so scheduled and everything has to have a very specific outcome. So the ability to just go and play and, and I’ll tell you, I learned a lot not saying that that, that I should have had to, but I learned a lot how to speak up by having to play pickup, because you go to a park, you show up and you sit on the sideline and the game ends.

And if you don’t say I got next or step up and move to the court, you will not play. And it was an opportunity for me to kind of take some space, take up some space and say, I belong to be here. I deserve to be here. And to, and to change the system. You know, I remember when I used to play at this one park down the street from where I lived and I was the only female that played.

And I remember one day another young girl who showed up and she kind of sat on the sideline and I thought, I am not going to make you have to suffer. Like I did in the sense of when do I speak up, are people going to give me a chance? I’ve got to fight for this chance. And I walked over to her and I said, you’ve got next.

Even if we lose, I’m going to step out. Or even if we win, I’m going to step out of the game so that you can come in. And I think those are the things that we have to begin to think about and change. How are we providing those opportunities for young people to really get in the game in play? And how do we make it fun again?

[00:24:39] Mike Klinzing: That’s huge you’re right. Diana, that’s a huge piece of it is, is how do we make sure that sports doesn’t become like a job for our kids when they’re again, when they’re eight, nine years old, 10 years old, It just seems like, okay, I got to go to training and know that I’ve got to go and I got my individual lesson and now I’ve got practice and I’m doing all these things.

And part of it is to one. And I remember before I had my own kids, I used to say this, I probably don’t say it as much anymore since my own kids have gone through it. But it’s still something that I think is, is relevant. And I remember looking at these travel programs when I was a young parent before my kids were, let’s say the under the age of five and saying, I cannot imagine that there are 30 kids or 40 kids that want to play and go practice soccer, basketball, whatever the sport is for two hours, three or four nights a week, and then go play.

Five or six games on the weekend. Is there one kid in the community who probably loves that? And that’s probably the right scenario for that one kid. Sure. There’s probably one out of a hundred or a thousand or whatever we want the number to be. But I think most kids given the opportunity, if they could just hang out at home with their family or they could just go out on the driveway or in the backyard, or have a group of kids in the neighborhood.

I think, especially when they’re young, I think that’s how you develop that fun. And that’s how you develop that love for whatever game it is that you ultimately end up wanting to spend your time with. And we take that away from kids so early, because we forced them into this track of you have to do this.

And it’s outcome-based and all the things that we’ve talked about. And I think another piece of advice that I feel is relevant for, for parents is when you, when you think about where, what, what you sports should be about, and you got to keep coming back to your why, but you have a lot of people that are focused on.

Pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, whatever it is, maybe it’s just the next, they want to be on this team or they want to be a varsity player. They want to get that college scholarship, which is obviously for a lot of people. That’s ultimately what they’re at least from a family standpoint they’re shooting for.

But you just have to remind people that if it’s not fun and they don’t love it, they’re never going to work hard enough or spend enough time at it on their own to get to the point where they could have some of those opportunities. And you and I both know that if you’re not going to put time in on your own, you can go to all the team practices you want to go to.

But if you’re not spending that extra time, you’re not going to get to the level that you want to get to. And again, for most kids, they don’t want to get to those levels. They just want to be able to play and have fun. And as you said, multiple times, we take that away from them when we don’t provide these different avenues for them to get into the game.

So when you’re talking to. Community for the first time when someone comes to you and says, Diana, we want to rework the way we’re doing youth sports in our community. What’s the first step or the first stage. The first question that you asked them, or the first idea, you start tossing around to help them see how they can rework or rethink what they’re doing with youth sports.

[00:28:04] Diana Cutaia: Generally ask them,  what’s most important to you? What do you value? And if they tell me, well, I value the experience of the kid. That’s the young person. I value their experience. I value them. They matter, then I say, okay, we’re going to, we’re going to do that. If they say things along the lines of well, we want to put our kids in the best position so that they really can make their high school team and their college team.

And we want to make sure that we’re competitive on the state level and all of that. I’m not the person that you want. Can I do that? Could I, could I create programs and curriculum and training so that your athletes become some of the best athletes? Absolutely. Do I want to know, because there are plenty of people who are going to do that for you.

I also believe that the two are not mutually exclusive and we’ve had a couple of communities that have been, I wouldn’t say resistant, but they’ve been skeptical when we’ve come in. And when we’ve started to change things and they see, wait a second, kids actually are learning and they really are having fun and they’re good.

And they’re getting better then all of a sudden, right. Things start to shift and they say, oh, okay. We might want to do this. This makes a little bit more. You know, I think basketball is, like many sports, but I would say it’s a hard sport on the body. You know, I was a college athletic director. I saw a lot of kids come in through college who had been playing since they were six or seven years old.

And the amount of injuries that they have, the knee problems that they have, the back problems that they have. Right. And it’s a hard sport on the body. And if we’re not allowing kids to really kind of play other sports, but also to take a break and take a rest, then we’re doing an injustice to them.

I also think what’s so interesting is, I don’t, I’ve worked in a lot of sports but basketball, for some reason, I feel like they have a great resistance to changing the game. So when we say, well we can use lower baskets or we can allow kids to take travel one or two steps if they need to, in order to do that.

People like, whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a second. Now you’re changing the game. And if you allow them to do that, then they’re never going to learn. And you’re like, Nope. Actually kids are pretty resilient. They actually know if you progress through something, you, it’s not like what they learn. When they’re six, they’re going to learn for forever.

That’s the only thing they do. They will continue to learn and we will continue to teach them, but it’s okay to change the game. You can make the court smaller. You can make the free throw line close. You know, you can even say that you can make a three-point line. That’s closer than what the actual three point line is.

If you want to give them the ability of shooting and the feeling of shooting a three-pointer, we don’t have to keep the rules the same. But what we do have to do is recognize what is developmentally appropriate for kids. And oftentimes we’ll say, well, we’re not going to start shooting with kids when they’re six.

And they said, well, they’re not going to learn and they should learn. And you know, he over there, this guy over here, this woman over here, this girl over here, they can do it. And I would say the exception is never the rule, but what is developmentally appropriate and how do we get kids to really understand the game and enjoy the game and the fundamental movements and skills that are necessary.

[00:31:53] Mike Klinzing: I agree completely. And I always find it funny, the opposition to, to two things. One is the opposition to lower baskets. I, how can I, I just don’t understand how you could look at a situation and say, okay, here’s my seven year old and he or she is shooting on the same basket that LeBron shoots that. How does that make any sense that a six foot eight, 280 pound grown adult male is shooting on the same basket as a seven year old.

It just doesn’t make any sense. And I oftentimes will watch, especially since my own daughter right now, she’s in sixth grade. Oftentimes sitting in different places in gyms and watching different age levels play. And so you see, especially, I mean, my, my daughter’s in sixth grade and she could greatly benefit.

And so could the other players, she could greatly benefit from playing on a eight and a half foot, nine foot rim, eight foot rim, because guess what what’s fun about basketball. Diana is making shots, right? Why do you start playing any kid? They pick up a ball. The first thing they want to do is try to get it to go in the basket.

And so if you play on lower baskets, guess what’s going to happen. The ball is going to go in a lot more on an eight foot basket, then it goes in on a 10 foot basket. And so it just makes the game more fun. So people that are opposed to that, I never quite understand that opposition. And then I think the other piece of it that goes along with what you mentioned about shrinking the court.

I think there’s a pretty strong argument to be made that if, and this is never going to happen, but if there was a way to. Just to have our kids play three on three half court basketball until, and pick an age, whether you want to say until fifth grade, or they want to say it and say it until seventh grade.

But at some point, the amount of time when you watch like this past weekend, I watched third grade boys basketball game being played on a regulation in high school court. And so those kids are spending two thirds of their time. If not more, just jogging back and forth in between the two free throw lines where they’re not, they’re not learning any basketball skills, no kid has the ball in their hands.

And I just don’t understand the opposition to some of those things that seem like it would be very, very simple. And again, we’re fighting against the system. That is entrenched. And as you said, basketball does have a lot of people who are, I think, opposed to, to some of the things that we’re talking about and part of what I think, and this is what I wanted to ask you is when you go into a community, I would guess that the first group of people you have to educate are the decision makers, whoever those decision makers are.

And then the second group I’m guessing is you have to educate the parents about what this looks like and what the benefits are as compared to the system that they’re used to, not only in basketball, but also the other sports that their kids may participate in. So how do you handle those conversations with decision makers and parents to help educate them about, okay, this is what we’re going to do, but helping them to understand the why.

[00:35:08] Diana Cutaia: Yeah, I think it’s challenging. And it’s challenging and I partly understand a little bit of it. Number one, the interesting part about sports and a community-based sports. Is it if my kid is good, then my status in the community gets better in that. Right. I I’m elevated in some way in the community at times, if my kid is really good.

So the more that I can kind of have my child be the star athlete. The more that I also gained some credibility within the community at times, and that’s hard to, to get through. The other thing is when I went. To college. My college, I think was $11,000 a year, and that was expensive.

That was worth room and board and everything. And that was expensive. My college that I went to is now over $60,000 a year, which just doesn’t make sense to me. Parents really believe that the key to getting their kid in education is sports. And I respect that. Right. We see who has an extra, what’s a full 1824 through $240,000 sitting around to put your kid through college.

I mean, it doesn’t make any sense. So yes, now 3%, right? Less than 3% of kids who play in high school, not even on youth load, but in high school are going to get a scholarship. And that in order to play at their, their college and most of those scholarships won’t even be full rides, right? They’ll get partials of some way or some scholarship.

Yet 40% of kids will get some form of financial aid for academic achievement. Right. See if a high GPA or you graduate top of your class, you have a much stronger likelihood. So we have sold a myth to parents and the myth is if your kid’s really good, then they’re going to get a scholarship and they’re going to be able to go to college for free.

And now because of the name, image and likeness stuff they also can make a ton of money while they’re in school. So. We’ve sold this, this myth that doesn’t really happen. And in the process, we’re losing a lot of kids and a lot of opportunities. It will not if your child is a good athlete and has some innate ability and gets training early on, but also gets the exposure to fun and to learning, to use their bodies in different ways, through different sports.

You’re probably setting yourself up for just as much success as if you put them in a year round program and have them practicing at 9:30 every single evening. The likelihood that they will burn out in that process is far greater than burning out or giving up in the, the approach that we like to take, which is really let’s talk about fundamental movement skills.

Let’s talk about social connection. Let’s talk about how we have fun. You know, we’ve seen so many young people in the course of this pandemic. I mean, we’re all experiencing collective trauma. As adults. We have resources to manage our trauma in many ways and manage the impact of the pandemic as, as hard as in as much stress as it also puts on us.

We all recognize that we’re an unbelievable stress. Some of that stress for many of us is toxic at this. And we’re suffering well, picture being a a 5, 6, 7, 8 year old who doesn’t have those resources, doesn’t have the ability to say, Ooh, I need to take a day off. I’m a little stressed out right now.

I’m going to do some self care. Right? Doesn’t have any of that. We’ve taken away something that really can be a connector. We’ve taken away the ability to make sport something that is fun and safe. And I am not being evaluated or judged in it or critiqued, but I am just able to be and be in that space.

And that is a gift. And we are taking that away from young people.

[00:39:24] Mike Klinzing: I think when I hear you say that sports are a gift and that opportunity to be able to participate in them again at varying levels. Is where I feel like we are, we are doing our kids a huge disservice. It’s really, really difficult for a kid today to dabble in a sport.

It’s like either you’re going to practice three days a week and go play every weekend or you can’t play. And that model just isn’t effective for most kids. And, and I just wish that there was a way that we could continue to revamp the system. And I do think that educating decision makers, whether that’s community recreation departments, whether that’s non-profit organizations that are attempting to influence how we do use sports.

And then I think even more importantly, you have to be able to get to the parents and help them to understand what the benefits are and help them to understand. I think you made a great point when you said that the path of allowing kids to play and have fun and not be on this super competitive. Right.

From the very moment they enter a sport. Doesn’t preclude you from having that end game success down the road. It doesn’t prevent you. I think one of the things that you also hear when you think about coaching, and we talk about how you want to develop relationships with your players as a coach, but you want your players to be great teammates and to get along and to play for one another.

And to do some of those things that sometimes if you have an old school, coach might look at it and say, oh, that stuff it’s, it doesn’t that doesn’t help us. I’m not going to take the time to spend a half hour every week going through and doing team building activities and getting to know our, getting to know our players and having them get to know themselves that I think people sometimes forget that it’s not mutually exclusive.

That those things that you and I are talking about tonight are things that not only are benefits. The kids as athletes and as people, but ultimately when you have kids who are having fun, who care about the people that are on their team, and it’s not just an individualistic, I’m on this team so that I can be seen and I can get somebody to notice me and I can be the star.

And as you said about the parent, I can become larger and my community. And eventually I can get that scholarship because somebody saw me instead, if we’re playing for each other, we’re building those relationships and we’re taking the time to get to know and get to know each other. Ultimately, in many cases that leads to more of that outcome based success that everybody seems to be chasing anyway.

[00:42:11] Diana Cutaia: Yeah, absolutely. I mean it’s funny cause we we’ll folks will say, well but the way you do things what, if you reach the same outcome isn’t that like, that’s, we’ll do it. If you’re saying we can reach the same outcome.  It’s this idea that I’ll only do what’s best for the kids if I reach the outcome that I actually want. And we always say like, what if the, the alternative is a better outcome, a different outcome, but a better outcome for that young person. Right. And we’re talking a lot and I’m the first to say winning doesn’t matter. And I’m also the first to admit, I love winning and I love competition and I love kids and putting them in situations where they can compete.

I think. Awesome. I think competition teaches us a tremendous amount of things, but when our value is measured on the outcome of that competition, then I feel like it’s a fundamental flaw. I will be the one on the sideline, the coach that can not sit down that just gets so excited and is up and is moving because I thrive on that competition.

I absolutely love it at the end of the day though, I treat it the same. So whether I win or I lose, I treat it the same. It is this, if we’ve had great successes, if we’ve overcome challenge, if we’ve met goals, we’re going to celebrate those. If we have things we need to work on and things that really kind of highlighted what we potentially need to improve on.

Great. We’re going to focus on that. That becomes really important instead of walking into a locker room, and you’re either happy because you won or you’re, you’re upset because you lost, what if you were always happy based on what you have accomplished and achieved, and you are always focused on the things that you can improve.

And if we approach coaching like that, then we are true educators. We are true facilitators. And that’s what I think is so important. You know, what, if we do this with a lot of our corporate clients and we use this kind of analogy, but I really think it applies to. So what if, as a coach, you walk into the locker room at halftime and you say, okay, before anybody says anything is there anything that I could have done better to prepare you?

Is there any ways that you felt as though you were not prepared for this game? Are there any things I could have done in the first half to coach you differently that would have been a little bit more successful? Any timeouts that you might’ve wanted or things like that. Right. And obviously you ask developmentally appropriate questions based on what level you’re coaching.

What if we actually allowed our athletes to provide us the same feedback we provide them. So that we truly understand that this is a reciprocal process. This is a relationship, right. And how they do that. And sure. Maybe the first time you do that, they’re like, yes, you are awful. You’re the reason we lost, blah, blah, blah.

Part of me says, great. We realize how ridiculous it is when we do that to young people. And we say, you didn’t show up to play today and you didn’t put in your best effort. Right. And we recognize and understand like that. Actually isn’t helpful that doesn’t do anything. If we’re going to motivate young people by fear than we’re motivating them by what they’re going to lose.

I want to motivate them by what they can gain. I want to motivate them to be inspired. And that takes far more effort than the other way.

[00:45:56] Mike Klinzing: That’s well said. It goes along with something that we’ve talked with some other coaches about as well, Diana. And that is that when you’re coaching and you think about what you say and how you say it, and you make a great point about your demeanor and how you are when you win versus how you are when you lose. And a great example of that would be you. The other team misses a buzzer beater and you win by one and you’re the happiest person in the world. And if that miraculous heave would’ve gone in and you would’ve lost, you would have been the unhappiest person in the world where in reality, the same game occurred up until that last one second, where the ball not even shot by your own team either goes in or goes out.

So I think you make a great point about keeping your meat demeanor the same. And then I think to go along with that, when you’re talking about motivating by fear, and you’re talking about just the way that you talk to young people, whether it’s in practice in games after the game, the locker room, before the game in the locker room, I always think it’s really, really important when.

You’re trying to give coaching instruction to make sure that the things that you are saying are things that are actionable for your players to be able to improve upon. So you gave the example of a coach saying to the player, you didn’t come to play today. You didn’t, you didn’t show up, you didn’t give your best effort.

Well, what does that, what does that mean? If I’m a kid and I’m sitting there and I’m nine years old and my coach tells me that, or even if I’m 15 or I’m 18, if nobody’s ever explained to me what that looks like, like what’s my, what’s my best effort in this situation. What does that look like? Show me, then I can actually take that and improve.

And I know that that’s something that I’ve tried to do when I’m standing on the sideline. I try to limit the amount of times that I’ll say something like, okay, we gotta play good defense, this possession. Well, okay. What does that actually mean? Give them something that they can actually do when you give them instruction that can help them to improve their performance, as opposed to these generalities.

I think sometimes we have a tendency to fall back on.

[00:48:14] Diana Cutaia: Absolutely. You know, you brought up something that really kind of is a thing. I talk about a lot in this idea of how we praise and teach young people. And in sport we are, we do the good job, good job, good job. And we clap. We great job, great work, great job.

And I always tell people, if you walked into your bosses office and you were getting an evaluation and you know, it was your year end evaluation, you were pretty stoked. Do you think you’d? Yeah, I think I did pretty good today this year I think I’m going to get a pretty good evaluation and your boss slut slides a piece of paper across and says here’s your evaluation.

I wrote it all up for you and you turn it over and it says, good job. You’d be like, wait, good job at what, what did I do? Like, I was, there’s a good job. Like what, what did I do? So eventually what happens is kids tune that out. It doesn’t matter to them anymore. So we, I might say that was really good. Why do you think I said that?

What did you do that you think that I think was really good. So sometimes I’ll ask them to actually self-evaluate and find the good, oh, I made her I made a good pass. I passed away from the defense. You are, right. That’s exactly what you did. And now I will praise them for that. Sometimes I’ll just be like, if I don’t think that they’ll be able to make that connection right away, or we don’t have time to do it, I will be very specific.

I saw the way you passed away from the defense. Yes. That’s exactly what we need. Keep that up. And I will always ask them when they do something. Well, I will say, remember the feeling and. My high school basketball coach was amazing. She actually doesn’t live far from me still, and I’m still 30, some odd years later in a connection with her.

And I remember that I was really working on free throws and I was struggling with free-throws and I made a free throw and she turned to me and she said, great. Now remember the feeling. And at the time I was like, huh, I don’t know what that means, but okay. And I started to practice more and more.

And every time I did it, I started to really focus and be like, what is the feeling? And it, at first, what I used to think it was when I first started was how does it literally, okay. My arm is in my shoulder, feels this way. I’m and later what I realized was remember the feeling was how do you feel in that moment when you have felt success, remember that feeling and go back to that feeling when you.

Because it always is there. So I would always tell my athletes when you’ve experienced success, it’s like putting a a dollar in a jar. It doesn’t go away. You always have it. It’s always there for you, you know? So the more and more you add to that, the more you will begin to feel and want that feeling over and over again.

And I don’t need to tell you about it because you are just building it up for you, but until you do, we’re keeping it right here. We both have this jar, we’re keeping it right here. And I’m going to continue to give you that feedback and you are continue to, to, to try and internalize that. And what we so often do is we spend so much time with young people, telling them all the things they did wrong and recognizing and understanding that they eventually will intern on.

And they will become more fearful. They will be, they will take less risks. They will take less opportunities to learn because what they will do is just enough to not get punished just enough to not get that feeling. That doesn’t feel good, that critique that feeling of disappointment. And I don’t want my athletes to feel that.

[00:51:57] Mike Klinzing: Exactly. And I think that goes along with what we talked about earlier, where kids are always under the microscope, where a coach is always watching them. A parent is always watching them. They’re never just playing where they can make that pass away from the defense. And it’s not an adult praising them.

It’s the fact that, Hey, the other team didn’t steal the ball and my team scored. And that’s how you figure out what that feeling is. So I think as coaches, as adults, We have to provide that opportunity where it might’ve happened organically when you or I were kids. And we were just playing pickup basketball or playing a Sandlot baseball game or whatever it was.

But now I think we as coaches really have to be cognizant of providing those opportunities for kids to have that feeling of success and point out to them the why of where, how, how they were successful. And then to your point, coaching by asking questions is something that I don’t think any coach I ever played for.

And I’ve finished playing in 1992. So I never, in my own recollection had a coach ever asked me a question, like, what did you see there? Or why did you make that pass? Or what could you have done differently? And as a coach early in my career, I know that I coached pretty much the way. I was coached and over time, and honestly, through talking to so many coaches through the podcast, I have completely changed the way that I approach that part of coaching and the way that I talk to kids.

And I find myself asking far more questions about, Hey, what did you see, or what could we do differently? Or you mentioned in the locker room, what, how could I coach you in a better way to help you to be at your best? And I think if, if all coaches out there could incorporate more questions into their coaching, I think we probably see the improvement of our athletes go faster.

And I think their experience with us as coaches would also improve. Go back. And go ahead. Go ahead. Jump on that.

[00:54:13] Diana Cutaia: No, I agree with you. We coach the way we were coached and I think sometimes it’s important for us to recognize that and understand that. And I, like I said, Carolyn Pegnona, one of the greatest high school basketball coaches, I think ever walked the planet.

She was one of the greatest coaches for a myriad of reasons, but one of them was, I always felt like she was invested in my growth more than she was invested in the outcome. And she was highly competitive, won national championships in a variety of different sports. And yet I never felt like the outcome ever became even remotely close to each of our individual success. And she would we would watch game film and she would ask me my opinion and she would teach me how to look. I was a point guard. So I had to kind of really understand what was going on. And she would show me and teach me all about that.

So it was really about learning the game and understanding the game and she held me accountable, but also provided support. And I think that those two things have to go hand in hand. And if I can do anything, if I could be a coach that has that level of accountability and that level of accountability is really about the fact that I knew that you can perform at this level and you might be struggling. So when you struggle, I will be there, but I’m not going to ever let you feel as though you can’t reach this. And that was the level I should not have been playing in college at a D two school at all. I did not start at that level at all.

I don’t think I was that tremendous of a player, but I really learned to be a good player in that system because I always felt supported.

[00:56:15] Mike Klinzing: What’s your favorite memory from playing college basketball?

[00:56:20] Diana Cutaia: I only played college basketball one year. And you know, I would say that the. The greatest memory that I have is my roommate.

And I we’re both point guards and we were both freshmen and we came in the same year. So of course there’s we’re roommates and we’re teammates and we’re competing for the same starting position. You know, and it was, it was a battle and she I got a concussion kind of through the year and My roommate, Patty was a far better athlete than I was anyway, but that didn’t help me.

She earned that starting position. Got that starting position. I have to say, I showed up every day saying I am going to make Patty the best player that I possibly can. I’m going to play hard defense on her. You know, even to this day, her and I can’t play one-on-one, it gets very competitive. You know, but I wanted to really make her the best point guard.

If, if that wasn’t going to be my spot, then my contribution was going to be, to play as hard as I possibly could in practice to make sure that she was prepared when we got to games. And I really, I relished that role. I mean, I, I appreciate it. Sure. I would have liked to start and play more and do all of that.

But I actually felt really good about being in that space.

[00:57:44] Mike Klinzing: Was that easy for you to. I don’t know if transition to that thought process, but was it easy for you to get to that point or did it take, did you really have to convince yourself that, Hey, this is what I need to do,

[00:57:58] Diana Cutaia: I mean, any athlete who’s competitive wants to play in some way, but I have to go back to my high school coach who I remember in a game one time we were, we were down and we had kind of a last second shot to end the half and one of my teammates, I kind of put my head down and I was like upset. And I walked away and she came over and she lifted my chin up. And she said, you are an extension of me on the court because I was a point card. And she said I do not put my head down. Because I don’t get disappointed in the moment and I will not in any way allow you to do that.

Either you, this team looks to you and they need to know that even in mistakes, it’s going to be okay. And there was this constant feeling of team and team was what was important and taking care of my team. So when the opportunity to kind of presented itself, well, I have to take care of my team and I was a, nobody, I was a freshmen.

I was a rookie. I was but I’m going to take care. I’m going to do my part as much as I possibly can. I, I don’t think it was a big challenge at all. I think I was, I felt good in that role.

[00:59:17] Mike Klinzing: We’ve been prepared for it. Somebody had taken you under their wing, and I think what, what that speaks to for me, Diana, is something that.

I find to be utterly fascinating, having gone through it on both sides of this equation. Meaning as an athlete, I have had things that my coaches said to me, going back to grade school that I remember. And conversely, I’m sure there are kids out there that hopefully are carrying things that I said to them that if they came back to me with it and I’ve had this happen once or twice coach, do you remember when you said this to me?

And of course. Debbie. I and say it, I have no recollection of ever having said that, but I’m glad you’re still carrying it with you.

[01:00:08] Jason Sunkle: Mike, I still think of a time when you said something to me, way back in the day, Mike. Okay. Way back in the day. So you don’t know this Diana, but Mike, Mike is a, I’ve known Mike since I was like 10 years old.

He runs basketball camp here in Cleveland. And I was a kid who went to the camp and I I hurt my finger really bad. I actually think, I probably told like this one or two summers ago, I hurt my finger. And like the, the doctor said that I can’t, I wasn’t supposed to keep playing or whatever. And, and I went cause like I wouldn’t get the, ER, it was a broken finger or whatever.

And we were at steeled center, middle school and I decided that I was going to play and I came back in the game and scored two straight back. And then Mike goes, it’s like Michael Jordan with the flu game. He’s coming back from injury. I still remember. I still remember that.

[01:00:56] Mike Klinzing: And I have no recollection of ever having said that.

And yet Jason’s carrying that with him. And it’s still something that when he thinks about me as his coach, that he thinks about and your coach I’m sure may remember, or may not remember that specific incident of lifting your chin up and getting you to understand the point that she was trying to make about it being team first and your teammates looking to you.

And that’s something that you still remember to this day, and it’s something that’s influenced you. And I think as coaches and teachers and educators, that we sometimes forget the power that our words can have, especially on young athletes where they’re looking to us for that guidance, they’re looking to us for.

Validation of what they’re doing. They’re looking to us for help and achieving what we want to achieve. And sometimes as athletes, especially young athletes, we’re not sure how to ask for that. But as coaches, when we can provide the type of guidance that your high school coach provided to you think about the value in your life of what she gave you.

And yet she probably doesn’t even realize though, at least not in the specifics of what she said, she sure, certainly knows that she had an impact. But when you think about the specific words that you carry with you from coaches, it’s really kind of a.

[01:02:25] Diana Cutaia: Oh, absolutely. And I think coaching when done well is one of the most selfless things you can do.

It’s like teaching. I mean, you really are putting a tremendous amount of effort and work into supporting a young person, knowing that they may not realize the impact of that work till many, many years down the road. And you have to be in it for the right reasons and you have to be doing it for the right reasons

[01:02:51] Mike Klinzing: I’ve found, and this is something that I haven’t really, I don’t think I’ve even talked to Jason about this, but one of the things that I’ve tried to do this year in my job as an elementary school phys ed teacher is I’ve tried to find one, at least one kid a day who maybe sometimes struggles to make good choices or do the right thing when they’re in my gym.

But on a given day, they have, they’ve done a good job. I find something. That they’ve done well. And so I’ve tried to make it a point of at least once a day to find a kid that I can go and I’ll call them back as their classes, leaving the gym and I’ll put my arm around them. And then I’ll explain exactly what we talked about a little earlier of I’ll find one specific thing that that kid did said, Hey, I saw you do this.

You really did an awesome job of helping to pick up the equipment when nobody asked you to help. And I want you to know how much I appreciate that. And I know that you’re a leader in my classroom, and if you’ll start to do that all the time, other kids look to you and they want, they want to follow you.

And if you can be a force for the positive, that is going to make a big difference. So I’m going to try to do that every day with at least one kid. And it’s not something like you just said that kid may not. Maybe they appreciate it in the moment. I’m sure some of them do. And some of them maybe don’t, but you hope down the road.

As they look back on it that maybe I touched one kid or two kids that you’re able to have an impact on them, just by taking that extra. It takes me 15 seconds out of my day to be able to do that. And what I’m hoping is that I’m creating the kind of moment that you described with your high school coach, that those kids are, that somebody is going to remember at some point, and maybe it’ll help them out in a situation somewhere down the road.

And you have to be intentional about it. It’s something that if you don’t think about it, it’s easy to not do. And I find that I have to be very intentional when I’m trying to do things like that.

[01:04:56] Diana Cutaia: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

[01:04:59] Mike Klinzing: When did you know you wanted to be a coach? Was that something that you always knew growing up, being an athlete, or was that something that as your athletic career came to a close, did you go to high?

Did you go to college with the idea that, Hey, I’m going to be an educator. I want to be a coach. What, what was your thought process? As you headed into college in terms of what you wanted to do for your, for your.

[01:05:21] Diana Cutaia: So when I was in the eighth grade I remember drawing up all the plays from my team and the team we are playing in the championship which we did lose.

And we lost, I think the score was like 17 to 23. It was a very, very rivetingly high scoring game.

[01:05:44] Mike Klinzing: And it should’ve been played on eight foot baskets.

[01:05:48] Diana Cutaia: Exactly. And I wrote up all of the plays and hand copied them and made little packets for all of my teammates. And I put them in little Manila folders that said top secret.

Like somehow we were the most amazing team ever. And I would sit and watch Obsessed with the Lakers. Went back in the eighties, Showtime. I loved I didn’t have any real field, female basketball role models to watch other than the Olympics. So I didn’t get the opportunity to really see anybody.

In fact, I was also obsessed with the Georgetown Hoyas and in the I think it was the 1985 championship when they played Villanova. After that game, I made a decision. I was in the seventh grade. I made a decision that I was going to play for Georgetown. That was what I was going to do.

[01:06:45] Mike Klinzing: You and Michael Graham

[01:06:46] Diana Cutaia: Exactly. I did not know that. I didn’t even realize that, like there was a women’s team. Like it wasn’t even on my radar. So I wrote a letter to John Thompson and said, I just want you to know, like, I play basketball and I want to figure out a way that I can play in college and I want to play or be part of your team, like who knows?

Well, I got a letter back from him. I wish I would’ve kept it. I don’t know. You know, maybe somebody else wrote it. I don’t know, but it was very nice. And he inserted put a brochure. For their women’s team. And I was like, what? Like, you can play women’s basketball and college. Like, this was amazing, but I was obsessed with watching and deconstructing games and figuring out, like, I really loved the idea of coaching.

I liked the, the adrenaline of it. I liked kind of being part of. And I got my first head coaching job at a college. It was a community college junior college when I was 22 years old. So I was I started coaching very young and continued to coach. And when I was that 22, 23 year old, I think I thought I knew absolutely everything.

I learned very quickly that I knew nothing. And now fast forward, 30 years later I know nothing. I know. I know. So I realized that I’m just I learn every single day and it’s so important, but I knew I wanted to coach and I started my business coaching piece 10 years ago and I started it because.

When I was it’s the title of my master’s thesis actually was called coaching piece. And that started probably 15, 10, 15 years prior. And it was, I was walking through walking home and I would go through a gym. It was really cold. So I’d go through this kind of, there’s a college that I lived near and I walked in and there was a fifth grade girl’s basketball game going on.

And. The team, there was one team that was up by 15, 20 points. And the other team was trying to just get the ball over half court. And the team that was up was still pressing. And I sat and I was watching and it was the first time that I sat there and I thought something doesn’t feel right. You know, I saw the game completely differently.

I started to listen to the language that we, people were using. Crush killed the feet, destroy annihilate upon opponent, opposition, enemy, territory attack, or offense defense. And all of a sudden those words took a completely different meaning for me. We, we had recently invaded Afghanistan at the time when this was happening and I kept thinking we’re a nation at war and.

It didn’t feel like anybody was talking about that. Not in the way that I thought we should. And then as I sat and I watched that game, I thought, oh, I get it. We’re so desensitized to it because we coach it every single day. And I thought, what if we coached peace? What if that’s the way we did it? What if we completely thought about, instead of opponents, the other team is an opportunity.

It’s an opportunity to get better. You know what if we thought about the way in which we coached young people through the lens of building connection, Healing creating support and really started kind of a journey, a good 20 plus year journey around what that might look like. And I think I’m still in that process of figuring out what that looks like.

I love to hear the stories of other people and figure out what they’re doing and how they’re doing it and they’re being creative and thinking outside the box and stepping outside of the norm because you know, sport is, is one thing in this country that we don’t really ever touch. And it’s about time.

We started to deconstruct and think about sport through a completely different lens. So that’s what Coaching Peace was. And to answer your question, I mean, I knew that I wanted to do something in this very early on. I think I’m finally getting to a place where I figured out what that is.

[01:11:03] Mike Klinzing: All right. So to go along with that, how, when you’re sitting there and this idea first crosses your mind.

Versus where you sit today, what’s a direction that coaching piece has gone, that you didn’t anticipate when you were first formulated the idea.

[01:11:23] Diana Cutaia: Oh, well, I mean I thought we would do. Doing a trainings for coaches and leagues and things like that. That’s not, I mean, we do that work.

That is definitely something that we do. But we really look to take a lot of those principles about coaching piece. We bring them in corporate settings. We do a lot of work with corporations, fortune 500 companies, global companies, small companies. Non-profits we do a lot of work around equity and not just equity in sport or in that lens, but also through, through businesses as well.

And you know, we’re taking a lot of the principles that we applied to coaching piece within a sport context, and we’re using that in a variety of different. I also do a ton of keynotes and a ton of speeches to really kind of advance a lot of the ideas around how we build spaces of belonging and how we build spaces that really are embedded in the idea of community and care.

[01:12:26] Mike Klinzing: How did it take that turn the first time? Was it a connection or relationship with somebody that you had? Was it somebody reaching out to you? Just, how did you go about making the transition from, Hey, I’m using this in the realm and the context of sports to this might actually be relevant in other areas of life and other contexts as well.

So how did that transformation or that shift? How did that happen?

[01:12:53] Diana Cutaia: Well, I mean, part of it is just natural business development. I mean, I’m an extrovert. So I talked to everybody. I mean, I know everybody at the dog park. I know people that walk in front of my house. I know everybody. I go to the grocery store doesn’t matter.

So in connecting and talking with folks and initially we were really did a lot of work with a lot of sport based youth development programs and nonprofit programs. And what we found was that we were building a lot of curriculum and training coaches, but organizationally, a lot of these programs needed and wanted support.

So we started to kind of work in there. And then just grew our reputation grew. I mean, we’ve been very, very lucky. We don’t do any advertising or things like that. We really build relationships and we believe in the value of building relationships. You know, when we do our work with an organization or a school or a business or whatever it might be.

We spend a lot of time getting to know folks. We do focus groups, we do meet and greets. We go on campus when, when there’s not a global pandemic, we meet people and get to understand them and get to understand the culture because we believe that what’s most important and valuable are relationships.

Relationships are what matter. If we want to help people understand how they create spaces of belonging within their organization, we have to build trust. We have to build a relationship with someone so that we can have those hard conversations so that we can, they also feel like they are supported in that process and how we do that.

And that becomes really important.

[01:14:26] Mike Klinzing: It is amazing. The similarities between running a successful team slash organization within sports and doing it in other areas, whether it be corporate America or whether it just be running your own family. I think a lot of the principles that you and I talked about tonight and things that Jason and I have learned in the course of doing the podcast from talking to coaches at all levels.

You just see how so many of these things are applicable to life in so many different ways beyond sports. And I think that’s one of the things that makes sports so great is that we can learn things in this small semi controlled environment and we can then apply them in our life in general. And again, whether that be in our professional life, when we’re talking about business or whether we’re talking about our personal life, when we talk about family or friend relationships or whatever it might be.

So I just think that it’s, it’s so interesting, the work that you’re able to do, and to be able to bridge that gap between sports, between business and then between the relationships that you have just in your normal life and before. Sort of wrap this up. I want to ask you a two-part question and it’s a question that I’ve used with other people at the end of an episode, but I think it’s going to be especially interesting here, when you think about where you’re headed and what you want to do, and you look ahead, let’s say in the next year or two, what is the biggest challenge that you think you have in front of you?

And then part two, when you think about what you get to do every day, when you wake up, what brings you the most joy about what you get to do on a day-to-day basis? So the two part question is your biggest challenge moving forward and your biggest joy.

[01:16:23] Diana Cutaia: So I think the biggest challenge is continuing to try to change systems that were designed by and for one specific group of people who whomever that might be.

And I think that. The way that we go about doing that is hard work. And the challenge is. That just, as you were saying, it’s, it’s hard sometimes to get by. And when we, when we say, Hey, we need to change sport. We get a tremendous amount of resistance. So once we get in and we do the work and we start to talk to people, we, people come around and we get folks in, but it is hard to think about changing systems that are so embedded in our society and begin to change to, to change those.

The, the other thing I would say as far as the joy is, is, is also that like joys that I get to wake up every day and feel like I am dismantling systems of oppression dismantling systems that have excluded women from participation that have excluded trans women or trans men from you know participation that creating opportunities for young people to really.

Embrace the, the idea that they are an athlete, regardless of whether or not they’re going to get a D one scholarship or playing college, that they can be an athlete that their body matters no matter what their body looks like and what it does matters, no matter what it can do, those are the things that really excite me.

[01:18:11] Mike Klinzing: All right. Final thing. Before we get out, I want to give you a chance to share how people can connect with you. How can, how they can find out more about what you’re doing with coaching piece, share social media website. Email, whatever you feel comfortable sharing, how you want people to reach out to you.

And then after you do that, I will jump back in and wrap up.

[01:18:31] Diana Cutaia: Fantastic. My friend, while I appreciate this so much so that this was a lot of fun, really. It’s always nice to be able to talk hoops and coaching. But it’s really been nice to get to know both of you as well. So thank you for that. And thank you for all the work that you’re doing, especially in physical education education in general.

During this time, I really appreciate that if folks want to reach out for any reason, they can check out our website www.coachingpiece.com or go to our Instagram, which is @coachingpiecelive. And we have an inquiry form on our website and it goes directly to me. So I do see it.

Sometimes people get a little bit scared when they’re like, oh, I don’t know who’s going to see this. I do see it. I promise you

[01:19:18] Mike Klinzing: Well, The feeling is mutual. We cannot thank you enough for taking the time out of your schedule to jump on with us and talk all things coaching. And I always have a an enjoyable time getting a chance to talk you sports and just how we can make it better for kids.

It’s an area that I’ve been working in with my camps and with elementary education for 30 years or so. So it’s definitely something that I have a passionate about. And so I always enjoy talking to other passionate people when it comes to that particular topic. So thank you for that. And to everyone out there, we appreciate you listening and we will catch you on our next episode.  Thanks!