[A] huge priority and a huge thing as a coach is to get people to let go of the ‘me’ and just really embrace giving themselves over to the greater good and getting an outward mindset and also a growth mindset.

Charli Turner Thorne

During her time playing for the Stanford University women’s basketball team, Charli Turner Thorne (MEd ‘90) developed a keen interest in helping other athletes perform their best. She came to the University of Washington to study educational psychology, with the intent of becoming a sports psychologist in the future – but then she realized that coaching was her true calling.  

Now, Turner Thorne is the head coach of the Arizona State University women’s basketball team – becoming the winningest coach in program history with more than 450 career wins while leading the team to 19 postseason appearances in the last 20 years.

During her graduate studies at the UW College of Education, Turner Thorne worked as a graduate assistant coach on the women's basketball team, then led by Chris Gobrecht, helping to motivate and train players.

“The women’s program [at UW] was at an all-time high. We were one of the top-five programs in the country," she said. "It was just an amazing experience being part of a program that successful, and, you know, I just love teaching.”

Part of her studies at UW centered on adolescent psychology and motivational theory. “It was a great primer for me to learn about just motivating people and being an effective teacher,” Turner Thorne said, and since then, “I’ve tried to be a life learner.” Despite working long hours seven days a week, she makes time to read about effective teaching and helping young people communicate and build relationships.

That knowledge base is particularly helpful in collegiate athletics, when each year is different as some players graduate and others join the team. “As a coach, you just have to learn your team and have hopefully the pulse of your team and know how to help motivate them and help them continue to get better every day, and that’s what we focus on a lot. It’s [to] get better.”

When players have difficulty learning on her team, she takes them through film of their games and practices. “Very few people learn primarily through auditory [instruction],” she noted. “Although, that’s probably the primary way that we teach, right? We talk to people.”

While athletic performance is important to her team’s success, Turner Thorne also prioritizes mental and emotional fitness.

“Especially in today’s world, I feel like we kind of have an epidemic in the young adult population with anxiety and depression, and sort of a lessening of coping skills,” she said. In earlier years, “people didn’t live on their phones and things like that. I feel like people are a lot more disconnected.”

For Turner Thorne, that poses challenges in helping players build connections within their communities. In team sports, she said, "a huge priority and a huge thing as a coach is to get people to let go of the ‘me’ and just really embrace giving themselves over to the greater good and getting an outward mindset and also a growth mindset.” 

Even when players aspire to be selfless, she finds that this can be difficult to balance with meeting the demands of being student-athletes. Consequently, Turner Thorne focuses on providing players with strategies to manage their emotional and mental health, authentically communicate, and build trust and relationships. She starts this from day one and makes sure players use these tools consistently throughout the year. The team also employs the work of a life coach and energy psychologist.

While many of her players play professional basketball after their time at ASU, Turner Thorne strives to prepare all her players for life after basketball. She said that this involves shaping them into strong, caring leaders and helping them impact their communities.

“It’s really important to us that they take advantage of their academic career and … have a sense of who they are,” Turner Thorne said. “[T]hat they find their voice with us and they put more value on performance characters than they do [on] performance measures.”

Story by Tracy Dinh, marketing and communications student aide.


Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications
206-543-1035, dwunder@uw.edu