Sterling Richards dives into coaching

By By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

Managing a full class schedule and competing in university athletics is often a tricky balancing act for U athletes. Sterling Richards spent four years adjusting to the dual life of student and All-American Diver on the U swimming team, but nothing prepared him for the juggling act he currently performs as full-time student and Ute diving coach.

“I obviously had the time commitment as an athlete, but there is more of the office work as a coach,” Richards said. “Working with recruiting, working with setting up competitions-that (time management) has been the hardest thing.”

Richards was first presented the diving coach position when last year’s coach, Katie Beth-Bryant, was offered a teaching job at Texas. After taking some time to deliberate the pros and cons of finishing out his academic career as a U diving coach, Richards found himself accepting the position before the team started training for the 2006-2007 season.

“With Sterling, it’s kind of a natural fit for him,” U head coach Mike Litzinger said. “He’s familiar with our program, he’s familiar with the divers that we have and he knows what it takes to dive in our conference.”

Litzinger also pointed to recruiting, which is a critical job for any coach, as another area in which Richards has excelled.

“He’s already been out there recruiting and doing a good job with those things,” Litzinger said. “I think he has a lot of pride and a lot of personal investment in the program. It just turned out to be a natural fit.”

This year, the diving team has thinned to five competitors, four of which were Richards’ teammates last season. This smaller group has helped Richards adjust to his new position nicely, but he cites his divers’ attitudes as the primary reason for his comfortable transformation.

As one might imagine, Richards did hold some apprehension on how some of his players would warm to the idea of a coach that was merely a teammate a summer before. Contrary to Richards’ reservations, his players responded better than anticipated.

“It’s actually been a lot smoother than I expected,” Richards said. “They have responded very well?they show me a lot of respect in the pool, which is all I can ask for.”

Richards also pointed to the great relationship he developed with the divers when he was their teammate. That relationship has carried over to Richards’ new place on the team.

“I completely trust him and being a friend on top of a coach, I just think that makes things easier,” Kelsey Patterson said.

Richards has an interesting philosophy toward coaching his divers. Other coaches with Richards’ experience might be tempted to keep a Speedo on underneath the warm-ups, in case a diver needed a visual example of how to perform a technique, but Richards doesn’t take that approach.

“I am a visual learner, so I benefit from watching other people learn, but not everybody is like that,” Richards said. “I try not to say ‘well, do it this way’ because some people don’t learn that way.”

This way of teaching is helpful, especially when Richards has very capable divers. In fact, sometimes Richards can set his job on cruise control, especially with Patterson. The 2005-2006 Mountain West Diver of the Year is Richards’ most decorated diver, and she had nothing but good things to say about her former teammate turned coach.

“I think the fact that he was such a good teammate, and that we were so close, I think that just transfers over to being a coach,” Patterson said.

Richards has an arduous task ahead of him in his inaugural season. The Ute divers have been invited to the prestigious Georgia Diving Invite in January to ring in the New Year.

Richards, like many college students, admitted he was a little ambivalent about sticking with a major, but he is happy with the way things played out for him in his last year of college. Coaching gives him the chance to remain intimate with his passion for athletics and has been a seamless transition.

Richards will continue to coach the Utes for the remainder of the season, and feels that time will give him the opportunity to decide if he wants to continue coaching, or pursue a career in some other avenue of fitness or athletics.

“As far as making coaching my career, I don’t really know,” Richards said. “This year will be a big teller, I guess you could say, as far as whether it sways me one way or the other, but I haven’t decided yet.”

It might be wishful thinking, but given Richards’ vacillation when it comes to his major, coach Litzinger might be able to keep Richards on staff for years to come.