COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee announced its annual award recipients for eight supporting coaches of the year for 2021. The recipients span six different sports, including one winter and five summer coaches.
The summer award recipients include Karch Kiraly as Olympic Coach of the Year and Nathan Manley as Paralympic Coach of the Year. Two coaches from USA Swimming took home honors, including Ron Aitken as Developmental Coach of the Year and Todd DeSorbo as College Coach of the Year. Earning Coach Educator of the Year was Phil Edwards, while Kara Kessans was named Service Provider of the Year, and Mary Murphy tabbed Volunteer Coach of the Year. To round out the awards, Dr. Randy Wilber earned the Doc Counsilman Science Award.
“Coaches play an instrumental role in the success of athletes, both on and off the field of play,” said Rick Adams, USOPC chief of sport performance and NGB services. “These deserving individuals dedicated their time, energy and resources into the wellbeing and preparation of U.S. athletes, who put on exemplary performances representing Team USA. It’s an honor to recognize these individuals who supported their athletes.”
National Governing Bodies nominated their 2021 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 – Karch Kiraly
Led by head coach Karch Kiraly, the U.S. Women’s Indoor Volleyball Team made history at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, earning the program’s first Olympic gold medal in history after defeating long-time rival, Brazil. While the path to Olympic glory saw a few injuries, five of Kiraly’s players earned six individual awards for their performances during the tournament, including Most Valuable Player. The U.S. women’s team additionally saw success in 2021 as it recorded in a three-peat championship performance in the 2021 Volleyball Nations League. As a coach, Kiraly has built trust and respect among his coaching staff and players. His coaching staff integrates sports medicine, strength and conditioning, and analytics into its decisions, while also allowing players to provide input on roster selections and starting lineups. Considered one of the greatest volleyball players to date, Kiraly won Olympic gold in indoor volleyball (1984, 1988) and beach volleyball (1996).
Paralympic Coach of the Year – Nathan Manley
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the postponement of the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, Nathan Manley adapted his coaching style to ensure the 16 athletes training at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center felt safe and supported. To ensure safety during training, he used a unique communication system that allowed him to communicate with his athletes while following COVID-19 distancing protocols to ensure safe and immediate feedback. His efforts helped lead U.S. swimmers to three world records and eight gold medals in Tokyo, including 22 of the 35 total medals won by the U.S. Paralympic Swimming Team.
Developmental Coach of the Year – Ron Aitken
As the head coach and CEO for the Sandpipers of Nevada Swim Team since 1994, Ron Aitken had three of his current swimmers qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, including silver
medalists Erica Sullivan and Bella Sims, and 15-year-old Katie Grimes. Like many other coaches, Aitken was innovative in his coaching during the pandemic, utilizing available pool space, training in open water, holding weekly Zoom meetings, watching videos on technique, and bringing in guest speakers to focus on mental and physical health. In 2021, Aitken’s team was one of 21 clubs that earned Gold Medal Clubs status, honoring his commitment to the club’s development of athletes ages 18 and under. Further showing his commitment to developing his athletes, Aitken had six athletes qualify for the 2020-21 USA Swimming Scholastic All-America Team.
College Coach of the Year – Todd DeSorbo
While serving as the assistant coach for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, Todd DeSorbo saw four of his collegiate swimmers compete at Tokyo 2020 and claim four Olympic medals. He is currently the head coach for the men’s and women’s swimming program at the University of Virginia, where the women’s team won the NCAA D1 Women’s Swimming & Diving Championship title. Known for his spirit and energy on the pool deck, DeSorbo maintained positive team culture and connectivity when his athletes were not able to train together on campus during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Volunteer Coach of the Year – Mary Murphy
Mary Murphy’s contributions to the Madison Speedskating Club have been substantial. She has increased the membership number of girls and women ten-fold, while she also helped secure several local and regional grants for equipment and ice costs to increase access to participation. Murphy additionally identifies ways to connect more people to the sport of speedskating by finding grants, creating weekend clinics, collaborating in podcast creation, carpooling to competitions and building in-practice racing series.
Service Provider of the Year – Kara Kessans
Physical therapist and athletic trainer Kara Kessans was instrumental in helping the U.S. Women’s Indoor Volleyball Team win the first Olympic gold in program history at the Tokyo 2020 Games. On the road to and during the Games, Kessans custom built treatment, rehab and recovery plans, and helped nearly one-third of the Olympic roster recover and heal from acute injuries on its way to Olympic glory. Beyond her work with the U.S. volleyball team, Kessans built a robust female athlete program in 2021, working with FitrWoman to study female performance and physiology more deeply, including individualized symptoms checks, nutrition adjustments, athlete education and more.
Coach Educator of the Year – Phil Edwards
A member of the Coach Education and Learning department at USA Field Hockey, Phil Edwards has developed several impactful initiatives that assist in the development of coaches. He has worked extensively to help create online courses through the program RISE Articulate, a platform that helps certify coaches. Edwards has additionally created a community among coaches, cultivating dialogue around a wide variety of topics, including sport specific content, leadership development, sport analysis, academic research, and sport science. Amid the pandemic, Phil also designed a fantastic resource for players and coaches to help continue to engage with the sport, which included a collection of fun, creative, engaging games and practices for players and coaches working in isolation.
Doc Councilman Science Award – Randy Wilber
As one of the leading sport physiologists in the world, Randy Wilber has dedicated his studies, time and energy to helping American athletes be the best version of themselves in every situation through science. A behind-the-scenes unsung hero, Wilber is a resource to science
questions about training design, altitude, international air travel, extreme climate adaptation, overtraining, recovery, sleep and overall health interpreted through blood chemistry results. He has authored more than 35 papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals and has written several book chapters in the areas of sports medicine and sport science. A teacher, mentor, coach and friend to hundreds of athletes and coaches, Wilber’s quest to understand and be better in the sport through science is unparalleled, and his impact will continue for generations to come.