Tradition and success in sports often go hand-in-hand, and Pete Avdoulos knows a little something about both.
But the Springfield College women’s and men’s diving coach understands that success is not just about how many awards you have, and tradition doesn’t just mean reflecting on the past. Legacies can be created by looking into the future, by taking what you’ve learned through your experiences – everything you’ve accomplished along the way – and paying it forward.
Avdoulos, who was recently named the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference Diving Coach of the Year for both the men’s and women’s teams, first began his coaching career at his alma mater through an act of kindness extended toward his former teammates.
“I never left [Springfield],” said Avdoulos, who graduated from the college in 1985 with a degree in Business. “After my senior year, the diving coach position was eliminated. After I graduated, I worked in the area, and after work I would come by and help my teammates, who didn’t have a coach.”
Twenty-nine years later, the East Longmeadow, Mass. native has established himself as one of the best coaches in the Division III program. He has taken the NEWMAC Coach of the Year award 11 out of the past 12 seasons, including the past three years for both the men’s and women’s teams. In his coaching career at Springfield, Avdoulos has been named the National Coach of the Year five times and has produced numerous All-Americans and national champions.
While Avdoulos admits that coaching has become more difficult in recent years due to increasing levels of competition shown by opposing schools, he still expects the very best of his divers every time they take the board.
“The goal is always to get the most out of everyone,” Avdoulos said. “You really want to get more out of them than they ever thought possible.”
Senior Jen Thompson epitomizes this philosophy. She said that if it weren’t for her coach, she might not have even given collegiate diving a chance.
“My freshman year, I wasn’t too sure,” Thompson said. “Then I came on a recruiting trip. It was in that moment after meeting Pete that I realized I should give it a try for one year. And then I went to nationals. I thought, ‘I could really improve myself. I could really be something.’”
Springfield’s team of nine divers is considered to be one of the largest in the country. Thompson said the reason for this is Avdoulos’ willingness to coach everyone and get to know his athletes as people.
“It’s important to establish a relationship with the athletes as far as learning about them and what motivates them and what makes them tick,” Avdoulos said. “That’s not the same for everybody. We have divers of all different ability levels and personalities.”
Avdoulos’ squad includes some familiar personalities – and faces. His daughter, Melanie, is a sophomore on the team. He is also assisted in his coaching responsibilities by second-year graduate assistant Kimmi Schmidt, who he began coaching when Schmidt first started diving at 8-years-old.
“Everything that I learned about how to dive is from Pete, and everything I’ve known about coaching is from him as well,” Schmidt said. “His legacy of being a coach and his reputation in the school and nationally have really helped me appreciate every second I have here.”
Just as Schmidt has learned her coaching style from Avdoulos, the head coach himself said he’s taken cues from those who mentored him throughout his competitive diving career.
“I’ve taken bits and pieces from each coach that I’ve had and molded them into what I want to be as a coach,” Avdoulos said. “There’s the personal part, the relationship part that you take from one, and the technical part you take from another.”
John Bransfield, who is now the head diving coach at the University of Connecticut, was Avdoulos’ coach at Springfield. The two have kept in contact for over 30 years.
“While it has been said that the only thing that is constant is change,” Bransfield said in an email interview, “I think it is fair to consider Pete in the converse. In all that has changed over the years, Pete is a constant. He is unwavering in his personal convictions and his dedication to doing things right. Springfield College and the sport of diving have been fortunate to have his service.”
Prior to his time at Springfield College, Avdoulos was a stand-out swimmer at East Longmeadow High School, where he won Western Mass. titles his junior and senior years. His senior year, he also won the Massachusetts state title and the New England Championship.
Avdoulos’ first coach at East Longmeadow, Dave Laing, is now the head diving coach at Westfield State University. Laing, who was an All-American diver at Springfield College, said that he knew Avdoulos was going to be a successful coach from the start.
“He has one of the best age-group diving programs in the Northeast and to me he is second to none in Division III diving,” Laing said in an email interview. “Every diver that enters his program leaves with not only a great and highly successful diving experience, but also they have been part of an unbelievable, fun and educational environment.”
For Avdoulos, the most rewarding part of diving was being able to take something he loved to do recreationally and have the chance to compete, and high school was where it all began.
“From that point on, it became my whole life,” Avdoulos said. “I may not have achieved everything I wanted in my diving career, but I think that’s what makes me a better coach because I want everyone else to live up to their potential beyond what they think their potential is.”
Thompson, who struggled this year with injuries, is making her fourth trip to Nationals. She said that Avdoulos has been a father figure to her, guiding her to this point.
“Just seeing him believe in me, I suddenly began to believe in myself,” she said. “I’m so much more of a confident athlete now. He’s the first coach that’s really taken the time to sit and discuss our personal goals, discuss what we want, and really taken an interest in us as people [to] help us get there.”
Thompson will be joined at Nationals by junior Jack Lewis, who is making the trip to compete for the first time.
“I’ve been the first alternate for the last two years,” Lewis said, “so to finally make it is really exciting for me. It’s always been the goal to get me to Nationals, and [Avdoulos] finally got me to go there.”
Avdoulos recognizes that, with so many goals and such high expectations to meet, the career of a collegiate diver can fly by.
“You’ve got four years in college to be an athlete and compete,” he said, “and you want to use that to its fullest so that it’s something you can look back on later in life and say, ‘I’m glad I did that and I’m happy with what I did.’”
Almost as innumerable as the accolades Avdoulos has received over the years are the lives of athletes he’s inspired throughout his tenure. And while trophies can’t give testaments, plenty of Avdoulos’ divers, both past and present, can speak with pride about their athletic careers.
Avdoulos said that when he celebrated his most recent birthday, his eldest daughter, Deanna, a junior at Springfield, put together a video of well-wishes from several of his former athletes. Many of them, just like their coach did for them, are laying the foundation for the next generation of divers.
“When they’re done, they’re so happy with what they’ve done that they go and pay it forward,” Avdoulos said. “A lot of them are out there coaching, whether it’s at the age-group, high school or collegiate level. Lots of them are out there keeping the tradition going.”