J.J. Hunter, a former assistant coach at the University of Pennsylvania, was hired as head coach of Kenyon’s men’s and women’s track and field programs in July 2020. Hunter spent the previous four seasons at Penn, where his coaching focus was on sprints, hurdles, horizontal jumps and multi-events. While there, he developed nine Ivy League sprint/hurdle champions, eight NCAA regional qualifiers, three Penn record holders, and 10 Academic All-Americans. Additionally, his athletes produced 23 top-10 all-time Penn performances and combined to form the No. 1-ranked 100m and 200m event groups in the Ivy League two years in a row (2018-2019). He was named the men’s USTFCCCA Mid-Atlantic Region Assistant Coach of the Year for the indoor 2018-2019 season.
Hunter made his return to coaching at Penn in August 2016 following a successful corporate career in biotech clinical research. During his time in the private sector, he built and led teams of clinical data management professionals, primarily in oncology therapeutics. While at Amgen, Hunter’s team was responsible for the clinical trial data management for a drug (Kyprolis) that earned FDA approval in 2016 for patients with relapsed/refractory multiple myeloma.
Freelap USA: In the past, coaching education was very driven by governing bodies such as USATF and IAAF. Now the private sector is involved more heavily. What are the pros and cons of external education, especially online?
J.J. Hunter: I am incredibly grateful for the coaching education that I received from both USATF and the USTFCCCA programs. As far as pros and cons for private sector coaching education?
- Pros: I think that a private entity might be able to adjust the curriculum more quickly, as it is not tied to a larger governing body that would require consensus to make the change.
- Cons: One that comes to mind would be the challenge of any private enterprise—delivering a desirable product while not compromising the quality of the education in pursuit of maximizing profits. As an example, I think that ALTIS has done a great job balancing those competing pressures with respect to their coaching education offerings.
Freelap USA: Race modeling is more than just clearing blocks and patiently accelerating. Do you have any tips for athletes who are trying to learn how to feel the race come to them?
J.J. Hunter: Without question, that is one of the hardest things for a developing sprinter to learn. Part of my answer might be borrowed from the latter part of your question: “feel the race come to them.” I sometimes use the cue “run where you are.” Another more global approach is to strongly remind them that, although the start and acceleration are clearly essential, no one is handing out medals at 40 meters. Modeling in the 200m is even more critical, especially in the first 70-80 meters.
If the athlete has a sound understanding of acceleration, you can try using the image of stretching that acceleration out just a little bit longer than the 100m model. I believe I heard Coach Vince Anderson use the term “accelerate deep into the run.” I really like that imagery and have used it quite a bit. (My apologies in advance to Coach Anderson if I have misattributed that cue to him.) Additionally, and maybe more effectively, I’ve shown examples of classic races where sprinters have shown tremendous patience, such as Carl Lewis in the 1991 100m World Championship and Eli Hall in the 2018 60m NCAA Championship.
Freelap USA: When creating a rhythmic motion in sprinting, excessive tension from intensity can stiffen up joints that need more subtle movement. How do you use submaximal sprinting to help create fluid sprinting?
J.J. Hunter: Although I completely understand the approach to eliminating submaximal work in a sprint program, I just have too much empirical data that supports its use in the real world. The ability to run just under one’s maximal velocity and learn how to “turn the dial” up and down provides the opportunity to learn postural awareness at high rates of speed. This awareness is what leads to the ability to run fast but relaxed consistently.Although I completely understand the approach to eliminating submaximal work in a sprint program, I just have too much empirical data that supports use in the real world, says @JJ_Hunter. Click To Tweet
The slightly longer nature of the runs (120m, 150m, 200m, etc.) gives the sprinter more time on task, which helps them build their personal technical model—i.e., taking control of their performance en route versus waiting for the coach to provide feedback. This skill is more critical as the race distance increases (100m vs. 200m). Disclaimer: This view is biased from my experience as a sprinter and the role this type of work played in my improvement.
Freelap USA: Training matters. Today we see too much emphasis on “air guitar” drills and not enough work on training. In what ways do you create balance in your training program so technical improvements are made without losing fitness and power?
J.J. Hunter: Based on what my mentors have taught me and my personal experience, I try to ensure that the training elements are close to what the athlete needs to execute in competition. In my opinion, the more removed a drill is from the complete movement, the more you risk “pantomiming” a position without the appropriate Newtonian mechanical precedent. More specifically, I do my best to design sessions that keep athletes out of sprint positions that I don’t want them to replicate in competition.I do my best to design sessions that keep athletes out of sprint positions that I don’t want them to replicate in competition, says @JJ_Hunter. Click To Tweet
In other words, I don’t want them to write bad code in training because the program will inevitably crash at the meet. I believe Coach Tony Wells referred to the concept of training what you need to bring to the starting line. I’m not perfect in that regard, but I always try to keep that at the forefront of my mind when planning sessions.
Freelap USA: Academics are often neglected and seen as a barrier to competition, specifically eligibility. How do you feel academics and guiding athletes with their post-track career connects coaches to their sprinters and field athletes? What is the role of a coach besides making sure athletes are able to compete?
J.J. Hunter: High school and collegiate coaches all want to see their athletes succeed in and out of the classroom. I will never accept that academics are a barrier to competition. There are many examples of athletes in our sport who excel in both areas.
I work to design effective and efficient training to provide ample time for athletes’ academic responsibilities. I’ve taken the road less traveled in my professional career, which has provided me with a diverse set of experiences that can help my athletes prepare for and navigate their post-graduation journey. It is a true privilege when they ask for guidance on internships, different job offers, industries, etc. I’m grateful they trust me with such important decisions and that my experience in other fields can be helpful to them in some small way.
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