Dana Skelton, John Tanner Named Among USOPC Coaches of the Year

STANFORD, CA-APRIL 22, 2011 - Undefeated Stanford Women's Water Polo vs. San Jose State
John Tanner; Photo Courtesy: Don Feria

Swim coach Dana Skelton and water polo coach John Tanner were two of eight coaches recognized as United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) coaches of the year Tuesday.

Skelton was named the Developmental Coach of the Year for her work at First Colony Swim Team in Texas. Tanner, who coaches Stanford women’s water polo, is the College Coach of the Year.

“Behind athlete success and well-being are the dedicated and passionate coaches that guide Team USA athletes in sport and in life,” USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland said in the awards release. “In 2020 we watched so many coaches adapt and create innovative ways to support their athletes. It’s an honor to recognize these individuals and showcase their achievements in this especially challenging year.”

Skelton’s work at FCST in Sugar Land, Texas, has focused on the club’s Strong Girls program, developing girls ages nine and older to be strong athletes and leaders. She’s adapted her coaching during the COVID-19 pandemic via virtual sessions, emphasizing stroke analysis and guidance outside the pool. Her pupils include Olympic gold medalist Simone Manuel.

From the USOPC release on Skelton:

Her commitment to mental and emotional strength has been unmatched as she encourages her athletes to complete journal entries that spark engaging questions to help foster positive and healthy communication.

Tanner has spent 23 seasons as the coach of Stanford’s water polo program, developing it from the ground up into a seven-time NCAA champion. He’s mentored 12 Olympians in Palo Alto and was elected to the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame in 2019.

During the pandemic, Tanner has instituted “athlete-led TED talks” that include experts in the field to inspire his athletes, seeking to “cultivate a healthy environment and establish a platform for individuals to share their interests with the team.” Out of the pool, he’s worked with his athletes on career development workshops about resume-building and has helped a pair of athletes in launching the Swim4Diversity nonprofit.

“After a year spent video conferencing at my dining room table, away from the Stanford campus and Avery Stadium Pool deck, I was stunned to receive word that the USOPC had chosen me as their College Coach of the Year,” Tanner said in a Stanford release. “Paradoxically though I could not be more honored in that we are holistic and integrative in our approach, always focused on long term outcomes. Water polo is the world’s toughest sport, the perfect vehicle for developing lifelong leaders for this past year’s extraordinarily difficult environment and for future challenges we will face. I’m so grateful to be surrounded by our coaching staff, athletes current and former, Olympians past and aspiring, who make every day here a rocket ship ride. No one got to chase their ultimate 2020 competitive aspirations, but we learned and grew so much more in the wake of that disappointment and are grateful to have a renewed, distinct opportunity in 2021.”

“JT is an amazing coach,” said Ann Friedlander, Ph.D, an Adjunct Professor of Human Biology at Stanford. “During my time engaging with the Stanford Women’s Water Polo Team as a Faculty Fellow, I have been continually impressed with his holistic view of coaching and his ability to bring out the best in his athletes both in the pool and in their lives. Through rigorous practice, team events, interactions with Stanford faculty, TED Talks and bonding experiences, JT helps his players maximize their potential as athletes, teammates, good citizens, and future leaders.  JT should also get extra praise for keeping a sense of team spirit, high moral and focused training (both in person and remotely) during these challenging times of COVID-19.  His success in the pool is only one part of what makes him an exceptional coach and I have enjoyed watching him in action.”

Also recognized as USOPC Coaches of the Year are fencing’s Greg Massialas (Olympic Coach of the Year), para-equestrian’s Michel Assouline (Paralympic Coach of the Year), speedskating’s Cherise Wilkins (Volunteer Coach of the Year), Alpine sports’ Gillian Bower (Service Provider of the Year) and Chris Packert (Coach Educator of the Year), and ski/snowboard coach Jeff Lackie, who won the Doc Counsilman Science Award. Award winners are nominated by national governing bodies and selected by a selection panel of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation.