U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee honors supporting coaches of the year for 2020
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee today announced its annual award recipients for eight supporting coaches of the year for 2020. The recipients span six different sports, including four summer and four winter coaches.
The summer award recipients include Greg Massialas as Olympic Coach of the Year, Michael Assouline as Paralympic Coach of the Year, Dana Skelton as Developmental Coach of the Year and John Tanner as College Coach of the Year. Three coaches from U.S. Ski & Snowboard took home honors, including Gillian Bower as Service Provider of the Year, Chris Packert as Coach Educator of the Year and Jeff Lackie as the Doc Counsilman Science Award winner, while Cherise Wilkins earned Volunteer Coach of the Year honors to round out the winter award recipients.
“Behind athlete success and wellbeing are the dedicated and passionate coaches that guide Team USA athletes in sport and in life," said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland. "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.”
National Governing Bodies nominated their 2020 coaches as part of the USOPC Coach of the Year Recognition Program, and the winners were then determined by a USOPC selection panel. The USOPC Coach of the Year Recognition Program aims to recognize and award the work of quality coaches and providers that are creating significant impact in their sport and NGB throughout the year.
Olympic Coach of the Year – Greg Massialas (fencing)
Three-time Olympian Greg Massialas became the head coach of the U.S. Men’s Foil Team in 2011 and has since built the program into an international powerhouse, winning world championship titles and Olympic medals in both individual and team competitions. Coming off the squad’s first-ever senior world championship title in July 2019, the U.S. Men’s Foil Team ended the 2019-20 season ranked No. 1 in the world with three gold medals and one silver medal through the first four world cups before the season ended due to COVID-19. Those four podium finishes continued the team’s streak to 17 medals on the world cup circuit as the team looks to become the first U.S. fencing squad to win gold in the team event at an Olympic Games. Massialas has led the program to outstanding success with four Americans ranked among the top eight in the world, marking the most top-eight fencers of any country in any weapon. Massialas also established a development pipeline from cadet (U17) to junior (U20) to senior that stretches across all levels, with the U.S. Junior Men’s Foil Team most recently finishing last season ranked No. 2 in the world.
Paralympic Coach of the Year – Michel Assouline (Para-equestrian)
Michel Assouline began working with the U.S. Para-equestrian Dressage program in May of 2017. His innovation and persistent drive to grow the sport and expand the program has positively impacted the Para Dressage community in the United States. Through the pandemic, Assouline has helped athletes work through emotional pressures and repositioned training schedules by utilizing technology and focusing on enhanced communication to ensure athlete preparation and confidence. His efforts have included the integration of online judging and virtual coaching, as well as the organization of group and one-on-one meeting sessions, resulting in significant performance improvement from athletes across a range of grades at the 2020 U.S. Para Dressage National Championships in October 2020. In just three years, Michel has built the Para Coach Certification Program, introduced across the country during the latter part of 2019 and in early 2020, which saw significant participation and 32 coaches joining the program. In March 2020, the U.S. Para Dressage Team ranked No. 1 in the world having achieved scores that would have tracked Team USA to be on the podium at Tokyo 2020. At the heart of Assouline’s success is his ability to work with each athlete and build a specialized program around them to improve their development and performance, best exemplified by Roxanne Trunnell, who is currently ranked No. 1 in the world in her grade and across all Para-equestrian grades.
Developmental Coach of the Year – Dana Skelton (swimming)
Dana Skelton has dedicated her tenure at USA Swimming to developing individuals and paving the way for coach, athlete and parent development on First Colony Swim Team, Inc. in Sugar Land, Texas. Her mentorship encompasses a wide reach of athletes, including the FCST Strong Girls program that was developed to show girls ages nine and older that they can be strong and fearless leaders. During COVID-19, Skelton continued to coach through virtual training sessions to develop high-level analysis of the sport, physical guidance and a safe space for athletes. 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. Her work on developing age-group individuals has been inspiring, in addition to her proven track record of assisting competitive athletes such as four-time Olympic medalist Simone Manuel.
College Coach of the Year – John Tanner (water polo)
John Tanner has spent 23 seasons at the helm of the Stanford women's water polo program where he took on the developing program in 1998 and turned it into a nationally-ranked team that has won seven NCAA Championship titles and five Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championship titles, and produced 12 Olympians and dozens of U.S. Senior National Team members. Stanford most recently won the 2019 NCAA Championship, and Tanner was subsequently inducted into the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame that same year. The Cardinal owned a 15-1 record with wins over 14 ranked opponents when COVID-19 halted all sports, forcing Tanner to find creative new ways to engage his athletes. Tanner adjusted the team’s athlete-led TED talks to include professors who inspired and sparked interest in their presentation topic. The TED talks were created to cultivate a healthy environment and establish a platform for individuals to share their interests with the team. Additionally, he hosted LinkedIn and resume workshops to prepare athletes for their future and set them up for success after their time at Stanford. His commitment extends outside of competitions in supporting athletes Sarah Klass and Lauren Indart, who launched Swim4Diversity, an organization dedicated to raising funds for racial justice causes.
Volunteer Coach of the Year – Cherise Wilkins (speedskating)
Cherise Wilkins serves as the only certified coach for the Syracuse Speedskating club and is passionate about creating an inclusive program while promoting opportunities to grow the sport. Wilkins’ coaching philosophy not only emphasizes competitive excellence, but appreciates each individual’s development beyond their physical goals. Her experience growing up with the club and personal achievements on the national scale has made her a cornerstone of the team, inspiring athletes to strive for success. Wilkins' love of coaching extends to all levels of skating, from her learn-to-skate program, to adults trying the sport for the first time, to aspiring national champions. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, she provided her skaters with tailored training workouts, various technique videos, virtual meetings to discuss mental health and two virtual workouts a week. During this time, she constantly reiterated that speedskating is a reliable force for good in an athlete’s life. Her ability to engage with her athletes and build meaningful connections through virtual meetings or other reunions during the pandemic highlights her devotion to the sport as a communicator, coach and mentor.
Service Provider of the Year – Gillian Bower (Alpine, Cross-Country, Freeski, Freestyle, Snowboard)
As the sports medicine director and lead physical therapist for one of the largest National Governing Bodies in the country, Gillian Bower is making a remarkable difference for athletes across a wide range of sports. In addition to her day-to-day role, she is pioneering a new return-to-performance framework for implementation across all of U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s disciplines. She has been the central figure in U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s COVID-19 planning, spearheading efforts to create structure to allow athletes to train and compete safely. She chairs a weekly meeting with an external COVID-19 medical committee to develop and review a 200+ point camp/competition mitigation plan, return to training guidelines, domestic competition guidance and all U.S. Ski & Snowboard protocols. Bower conducted more than 4,000 COVID-19 PCR tests in the past six months with a positivity rate of less than 0.5%, and she sourced and implemented rapid antigen tests for additional screening purposes in Europe so athletes were able to participate in more than 50 training camps and competitions in over 10 countries safely and effectively. Bower recently co-chaired U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s expanded mental health committee and implemented a Question, Persuade and Refer for all U.S. Ski & Snowboard athletes and staff, which addresses suicide prevention training.
Coach Educator of the Year – Chris Packert (Alpine, Cross-Country, Freeski, Snowboard, Freestyle)
Chris Packert has brought an elevated level of professionalism to coaching education during his time as Coach Development Manager with U.S. Ski & Snowboard. Working collaboratively with other expert coaches, Packert facilitates the creation of highly accessible, engaging, relevant and impactful educational programs for member coaches of all snowsport disciplines. His Coach Certification Program certifies over 1,000 coaches per year and provides continuing education for an additional 5,000 coaches for seven disciplines. Packert was the project leader on ‘Guide to Ski Fundamentals,’ an interactive product designed to serve as an in-field resource to support coaches in evaluating athletes, building programming and developing drill progressions. He has also contributed to numerous national publications, including co-authoring the series by the United States Center for Coaching Excellence: Professional Development in Sport Coaching: How to Develop and Support Coaches in Creating a Positive Sport Culture. Packert enjoys the collaboration he receives from working with other professionals to best serve the coaches within the ski and snowboard community.
Doc Counsilman Science Award – Jeff Lackie (U.S. Ski & Snowboard)
As the conditioning coach for the U.S. Ski Team’s women’s alpine tech (slalom/giant slalom) athletes, Jeff Lackie’s application of science in virtually every facet of training programs and daily life is an example for all teams. Lackie applies scientific principles to many areas that have not typically been informed by data, including the dissection of video to motion analysis and running mathematical probabilities to help inform competition schedule planning. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, he has engaged with outside sports organizations to learn and share best practices while he is actively involved in the USOPC’s National Team Coaches Leadership Education Program, contributing to the long-term success of Team USA. Considering the health and safety of athletes in transit and at competition locations is paramount, Lackie deployed similar methodologies to develop a travel plan, looking at everything from socioeconomic impact to plane cabin transmission to times of travel to keep the team safe.