A great honor this week to our good friend Charley Sullivan, the associate head coach of men's rowing at the University of Michigan: He was chosen the the Collegiate Coach of the Year in a poll by US Rowing. Sullivan got 36.7% of the vote in beating out four other coaches.
Sullivan has been openly gay for a quarter century and is active on the Equality Coaching Alliance page on Facebook. I asked him if that contributed to him being a successful coach:
I think one of my absolute strengths as a coach is being openly, unapologetically gay. It models for the athletes one of our team's core values, which is that they get to be who they are, and all of who the are, when they come down to the boathouse. We ask them to work too hard to also have to worry about not just being themselves. And working with an openly straight Head Coach, we model that you can work with, and respect, and like, and even share very core values with people who aren't the "same" as you.
Successful coaches are people who bring authenticity to their work. Coaching is fundamentally about human relations; the technical side of sports is actually pretty easy to handle, particularly after 20+ years. It's asking people to put themselves on the edge every day that is fostered by creating a team culture where they can just be themselves. Open lines of communication are key. And I think, actually I know, that the guys I coach know they can come to me with anything that's concerning them, or bringing them joy, or that they just want to talk about, in large measure because by being out, I'm being "real" about my life.
There's a whole cadre of young gay male coaches sticking their heads out these days, and they're finding the same thing. Luckily, I've been in places for the past 25-27 years or so where I felt I could be out, and where athletes let me learn about coaching and learn about them.
Sullivan went out of his way to credit the athletes at Michigan for the team's success, saying: "They're hard workers, and motivated by excellence, and personally, I know that's the type of person I like to work with. Our challenge is that most of these guys have never rowed before college; they're just good athletes we get to walk on to the team, so there's a lot of teaching we have to do relative to some other programs. But, we get good kids, so we're able to be successful, so we get good kids, etc. It's a virtuous cycle."
Since rowing at Michigan is a club sport, Sullivan can't support himself just on that. So he will miss the ceremony since he is in Indonesia doing research for his PhD in history. The vote shows just how respected he is in his sport.