Jan. 15, 2013
Cal women's water polo coach Richard Corso knows a little something about balancing athletics and academics. He was the head coach at Yale and an assistant at UCLA.
So when he was hired as the Bears' head coach eight years ago, the first thing he noticed was the program wasn't achieving its full potential in either area. "It was a huge red light," Corso said. "Nobody was overachieving in the water. Nobody was overachieving in the classroom. What the heck is going on here? My opinion is that you can change kids. You can change their thinking. You can change their culture."
When Corso took over, the women's water polo program's cumulative GPA was 2.9. It hasn't dipped under 3.0 under his stewardship.
And it's getting better and better. Last spring, the program's team GPA was 3.37, the second-highest on campus behind volleyball.
"I knew we had to get to work," Corso said. "Not only do we have to teach offense and defense, but they're here for a reason, and the No. 1 reason is academics. I'm happy about the progress that we've had. It's something to hang our hat on in some respects. We changed it and got it going in the right direction."
Corso took the women's water polo program's academics to the next level by taking what he learned at his previous coaching stops and employing a proactive approach to the classroom. He meets weekly with academic advisor Chris Grace, who gives him a thorough update on each player's performance in the classroom. If Grace's report includes a subpar result on an exam or paper, or a player generally struggling in a class, Corso addresses the situation - that day.
"The girls have to know that it's important," Corso said. "It has to start from the top. You have to talk about it as a head coach and you have to have a staff that embraces it as well. We're lucky we have that."
Corso isn't just cracking the whip when a player takes a dip in her studies. He's more interested in praising a player when she has a superlative classroom accomplishment or finding ways to help those that may have a struggle or two.
"Holding them accountable also means you have to give them props," Corso said. "If someone pulls down an A or B on a paper or in a class that's really, really difficult for them, you have to recognize that. Whatever report Chris gives me, when I go to the pool, that's just as important as the game plan for that day."
This fall, women's water polo won the Most Improved Team award, handed out by Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour for the program that showed the most improvement in team GPA from one semester to the next.
"He takes academics very seriously, and he was very proactive from the beginning," aid Grace, who played water polo for Cal from 1997-2002. "He just really understands the academic rigors of Cal. He brings students in who should be able to do well. Because of his background and where he's been, he gets it. He gets Cal's culture."
Corso says he takes a big picture approach when he recruits student-athletes to come to Cal. He doesn't just talk to them about the Cal experience. He wants to know where the high school kid wants to be doing in five years.
"What is your goal? What do you want to study?" Corso said. "A lot of 18-year-olds may not know, but it gives you an indication and gets them thinking about it."