Coach swims in wins, awards
Jane Figueiredo coaches while perched on the edge of a red cooler. Her soft voice delivers instruction and encouragement to her divers as they flip through the air and slip into the water, and her Zimbabwean accent is just noticeable in between her contagious laughs.
But Figueiredo is not an ordinary coach.
She is the longest tenured coach in UH history and one of the most decorated, but she sometimes finds herself cancelling practice in favor of Starbucks or beach volleyball to keep things fresh and fun, which is not often a priority for highly competitive coaches and their teams.
Figueiredo was selected as C-USA Diving Coach of the Year every year since the award’s inception in 2002 and is a four-time recipient of the NCAA Diving Coach of the Year. In 2010, she was inducted in the UH Hall of Honor joining the ranks of Carl Lewis, Elvin Hayes and Wade Phillips.
Her divers have won eight national championships since 2001, a record in the NCAA. A Houston diver has also won C-USA Diver of the Year every year since 2002 as well. Throughout her 22 seasons as coach, Firgueiredo has led 14 divers to 79 NCAA Championship appearances, two divers to eight NCAA titles, 14 of her athletes to 51 All-American honors and two former Cougars to win Olympic medals.
“Coaching is just in my blood. I always wanted to be a teacher and I didn’t realize that at first. I thought I could have a big impact on students,” Figueiredo said. “This is just where my forte lays. I think it is really my calling.”
More than a coach
Figueiredo said her biggest priority is not to be a good coach, it’s to be a good person and teach her divers that there is life outside of diving.
“I always tell my girls that the most important thing is that people won’t ever remember your accomplishments, but they will always remember the person that you were and are,” Figueiredo said.
“Just to prove my point, I’ll ask my girls if they know who won the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics. None of them will have a clue. But I remember not because they won gold but because of who they were as a person.”
During her four years at UH as a student, Figueiredo won the 1984 Southwest Conference title on the 3-meter springboard, was a five-time All-American and finished second at the 1985 NCAA championships establishing herself as one of the top divers in UH history. She also competed in two world championships and the 1984 Olympic Games.
Swimming Head Coach Augie Busch is happy to have Figueiredo by his side.
“Jane knows the sport as well as anyone. She is an incredible teacher and very patient. She works with her walk-ons the same way she works with her NCAA champions. She is a very passionate and energetic teacher,” Busch said. “Her divers know how much she cares about them. What she does transcends way beyond practice time. “
Setting the benchmark
Entering into her 23rd season, Figueiredo has the same goals for her divers as she has every year —qualify as many divers to the NCAA championships as possible and for those divers to perform their best once they get there.
“This is our last year in C-USA, so I want to go out with a bang and make sure we finished what we started,” Figueiredo said. “It has been 10 years of winning pretty much every event, which is a great feat. Now, we are moving on to bigger and better things and hopefully we can keep that going.”
Diving senior Julia Lonnegren believes that Figueiredo’s lofty goals are what make the team so successful.
“She has the ability to bring out the best in everyone. She has the kind of leadership style where you just always want to perform for her. You just never want to see her disappointed but in a good way,” Lonnegren said. “You want to live up to her expectations, which are high and that makes you just set the bar higher yourself. And I think that is why she is able to bring athletes to a whole other level.”
Life is bigger than sport
Figueiredo said that when she does decide to retire, she dreams of travelling, spending months discovering a new place and then opening a small café.
“Most coaches in any sport live, breathe and eat their sport. I actually don’t. I do it when I’m here at the pool,” Figueiredo said. “There is life after diving. There has to be. I always tell my girls that, and I believe it for myself too.