We had the good fortune of connecting with MICHELE MITCHELL, Ph.D. and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi MICHELE, how do you think about risk?
Taking Risks?

I won two silver medals for 10-meter platform diving (1984 and 1988). Hitting the water at 33 mph in front of global audience in a 3-ounce bathing suit. – yes – risk taking is in my DNA! However, risk must always be calculated; one must prepare to take the risk. The role of risk is in our everyday life…take a mortgage to buy a house? That’s a risk. Saying “I do” – a definite risk. Leaving one job for a more challenging role …. a big risk. But “risk taking” is how we grow as people.

The adage “growth is outside your comfort zone” is the cornerstone of my career – as an athlete as well as an administrator. But what does “calculated” mean? To me “calculated” is gaining the necessary experience, education, and connections which allows me to make a decision to turn risk into reality. Those “calculations” help me feel confident to take the chance to expand, and mitigate the fear of the dreaded, “what if” of something new.

And don’t get me wrong. Take a risk on something new is SCARY. Just like diving 10 meter was every time I climbed the ladder. But the reward – awwww – the reward of having challenged myself and feeling accomplished – THAT is the result of taking a risk.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My life has been circuitous path yet always within the boundaries of sport, and usually in a leadership role. Coaching/teaching is my gift but planning, organizing and implementing events and strategies is my drug.


Working with teenagers and college athletes came most naturally. I started coaching at 16 and continued through college to make a few bucks. After college successes at the NCAA level, I headed to the next state over and joined the Mission Viejo Nadadores diving team in 1983. In 1984, I won a Silver on 10 meter in the Los Angeles Games. Within a month I was in Law School. Talk about changing horses in the middle of the stream! After a year, my Olympic coach (and Nadadores coach) told us he was headed to a new program in Florida. After consulting with my parents who said, “You can always go back to school,” I followed, to the East Coast. A 4-year whirlwind of international travel ensued and in 1988 I won another Silver in Seoul, South Korea. At 26, I hit the end of my athletic road and began working in sports. I was hired as the Sales Director for the Aquatic Center, then moved 45 minutes down the road to the International Swimming Hall of Fame to become the Marketing and Events Director. I dabbled in coaching all along the way effectively working two jobs – a day job that made my rent and my passionate job of coaching.


In 1995 and 1998 my daughter and son were born, and I realized my parents were across the country. An opportunity to become the college coach at my alma mater, University of Arizona, opened and I took it. My children would be 90 minutes from grandparents instead of 9 hours.


During my 17 years as Head Coach, I built the Arizona program from nothing. National Champions, Olympians, summer camps, age group divers, a million events later, I decided to move into the Athletic Department administration.


I was prepared for the risky career change, as along the way, I’d earned both a Masters in Sports Administration and a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology. I had also become educated in the behind-the-scenes politics by serving in leadership roles for numerous committees within the governance of USA Diving, the USOPC, the Women’s Sports Foundation, and the NCAA.


Five years late, with kids off to college I wasn’t enjoying my collegiate role anymore. After 22 years, I retired thinking I was going to ride bikes and jet skis and enjoy the desert air. Then a friend called three times about a coaching job in Mission Viejo. It was a rebuild of my old team, the Mission Viejo Nadadores. The facility was near completion after 2 years and a $12 million renovation, the program was on fumes, and they needed strong leadership. One creative contract and a ride across the desert later, I found myself in California once again. A year of 80-hour work weeks to change a culture boiled down to my 3-S rule. Leadership often does.


Once at Mission Viejo I convinced a good friend to co-coach with me. We’d always wanted to work together. I knew his nurturing nature, technical skills and loyalty to our mission and me would be a good combination to grow a program. 4 years later, with an entirely new staff, schedule and culture, we won the national team title – the first time in 18 years! The program had more than tripled in size, the budget had doubled, and the happiness factor across the spectrum was in the 90% range. Life was good – really good.

Lesson #7 – LEAVE A LEGACY

Then an opportunity came to fruition as the Board of Directors decided the program needed a leader, a point at the top of the pyramid and someone who could plan and navigate the program toward the windfall of benefits the LA 2028 Olympic Games would bring. I was asked to apply.

However, with 6 years left on my professional horizon, did I want to start over yet again or just relax and enjoy what we had built? 3 interviews later, I was offered the job and presented with the biggest quandary of my professional life. It boiled down to where I could use my skills for the greatest impact and on a personal level, what I wanted my legacy to be. 6 months ago, I became the first Executive Director of one of the most storied, successful and largest clubs in the country.

I now have the opportunity to use my life lessons, my entire skill set and my war chest of experience to enrich a program and leave my legacy on it. It’s not an easy job and I’ve already had to swerve around some major potholes in the road, but so far so good.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
When friends come to visit for the very first time, a boating afternoon at Lake Mission Viejo is always on the docket. Prior to that it’s breakfast burritos, fresh orange juice and a hot donut from Surfin’ Donuts. In the evening its dinner at home (my husband is a great cook) or at a local upscale restaurant at one of the local beaches.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
As the decades and seasons of my life have come and gone, the reflection upon those omnipresent strong redwoods in my life remains the same.

My parents stressed education, experiencing travel and being kind. They never really said no to the things I wanted to do. My three sisters and extended family were always there for all the milestones. My children enabled me to feel what my heart outside my chest felt like. My coaches saw more potential in me than I saw in myself – and then brought it out. And finally, my friends and many teammates, the “chosen family”… they have carried me through more of life events than I can count.

Website: missionviejonadadores.org

Instagram: @mission_viejo_nadadores

Facebook: @missionviejonadadores

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