Ron Grigg has been the Director of Track and Field and Cross Country for Jacksonville University since 2002. During this stretch, the JU track program won the ASUN Indoor and Outdoor Championships for more than 10 consecutive seasons—with Coach Grigg earning “Coach of the Year” through each of those titles. Since taking over as head coach, Grigg has directly coached more than 130 conference champions in track and more than 300 all-conference performances.
Freelap USA: You grew up in Massachusetts and now coach in Florida. Can you share how weather relates to developing sprinters and what differences you have seen between college and high school programs regarding sprint training? Climate matters, but sometimes we forget the importance of good training environments.
Ron Grigg: Control the controllable, influence what you can influence, and don’t unnecessarily stress about everything else. In Northeast Florida, it is nice for the speed power events that we can be outdoors most days from November through February. However, those days aren’t always ideal weather for maximal work. On the flip side, there are no indoor tracks anywhere in the state of Florida, so we must remain outside.
In Massachusetts, if you have access to an indoor track, or even a hallway with a rollout runway to sprint on, you may be in a better position to do “maximum velocity” training in the winter months than those in the “South.” I think the biggest advantage of the South comes during the outdoor competitive season. We can start earlier, and we have great weather that allows us to showcase the work we do in training.If you prioritize the fundamentals of speed and power development, you can prioritize your training objectives and align them with your specific weather/facility situation, says @RonGriggJr. Click To Tweet
My objective as a coach, when dealing with any weather- or facility-related limitation, is to figure out how to maximize the opportunities I do have. I believe if you prioritize the fundamentals of speed and power development, you can prioritize your training objectives and align them with your specific weather/facility situation. Good coaches and good motivators will always find a way to get it done. Be wary of those who spend too much time focusing on what they don’t have.
(However, I am not opposed to the best high school speed power athletes from the Northeast taking a serious look at spending their college years in Northeast Florida near the beach.)
Freelap USA: Your video on wickets is amazing and will be reviewed soon here on the SimpliFaster blog. Could you share some of the errors you see with team sport coaches just adding in repetitions without really knowing how to implement them? Many strength and conditioning coaches tend to take track training concepts and water them down too much. Any advice here?
Ron Grigg: I have never met a coach who intentionally designed poor training. We all are at different stages of learning and have different perspectives and different levels of experience. I had the wicket measurements and concepts in my notebook for YEARS before I felt curious enough or comfortable enough to start to explore using them. Only with time spent experimenting and learning have I evolved to the way I currently use the wickets. As coaches, we want to do our best, and we want to avoid mistakes, but trial and error is part of the process. If I could do it over again, I would have begun experimenting as soon as I got those measurements from Coach Vince Anderson.I have never met a coach who intentionally designed poor training. As coaches, we want to do our best, and we want to avoid mistakes, but trial and error is part of the process, says @RonGriggJr. Click To Tweet
My idea with wickets is to be as close to maximum-velocity sprinting as possible. With that as the objective, the common error I see is having spacing that doesn’t allow for achieving high velocities. Of course, there is a learning curve for both the coach and athlete to “figure it out” with regard to proper spacing progressions and execution, but the goal should be to move toward timing the middle and later portions of wicket drills to validate they are at high velocities relative to the athlete’s ability.
My opinion is that if the wicket drills are too “sub-maximal” they become more of a pantomime of what we think sprinting should look like, as opposed to a high-velocity endeavor that results in the mechanics we desire. All the things we call “sprint drills” have their place in training, but the unique qualities of top-speed sprinting can’t be replicated without high velocities. This is why I think wicket drills have such great value. I do think they have the opportunity to present a teaching/learning environment at very high velocities.
Freelap USA: Over the last 10 years, you have recruited some great athletes. Can you get into details on how you see the role of a parent with recruiting? Does it seem that moms and dads need more support on shopping for a good school versus trying to select programs for their son or daughter?
Ron Grigg: The first thing that I tell families is that they are in control of the decision-making process, and their goal should be to become as educated a consumer as possible. To me, that means asking lots of questions of coaches, of current team members, of professors, of academic advisors, of sports medicine staff. Families should make no assumptions, especially in our current environment. Moving forward, things may be VERY DIFFERENT than they were just one year ago.
My next piece of advice is for the student-athlete, with the help of the family, to make a list of criteria that will be important TO THEM and then investigate all of their options with those criteria as a measuring stick. My final piece of advice is to find a place where you will feel valued. That sometimes means leaving “recruiting mode,” where everything is complimentary and magical, and figuring out what day-to-day expectations will really feel like.
Freelap USA: Running a college track program takes more than just understanding how to coach events. Is it possible for you to share how leadership and administrative duties are essential to success, as those are often overlooked?
Ron Grigg: I believe I have the best job in the world, but no one should think that it is just spending a few hours at the track each day teaching the sport. To run a program, you must know how to operate within NCAA rules, conference rules, university rules, and athletic department rules. You must understand budget and finance; you must understand travel logistics, equipment ordering, and inventory; and you must be realistic about the life of the student-athlete, both at practice and away from practice. If you want to be seen as a successful program, then you better be an even better recruiter than you are event coach. These are not the “sexy” things about college coaching, and they tend to only be spoken about when they are not done well.
You must be a teacher and a mentor. My responsibility is to prepare the student-athletes for life beyond college and life beyond track and field, while attempting to represent our university in the best way possible and producing the best measurable track and field performances possible. I taught second grade in inner city Baltimore with Teach for America right out of college before I started my coaching career. I endeavor to coach with the heart of a teacher. That means balancing motivation and empathy with appropriate expectations.I endeavor to coach with the heart of a teacher. That means balancing motivation and empathy with appropriate expectations, says @RonGriggJr. Click To Tweet
While the head coach is the director of the programs, assistant coaches, sport administrators, university administrators, support staff, and professors all play a vital role in the lives of the student-athletes.
Finally, if you are fortunate enough, as I have been, to find success in one place long enough, you are gifted with the additional responsibilities of being on internal committees for things like coaching searches for other sports, or return to play protocol in the times of COVID-19. Or you are given official and unofficial mentoring roles for newer and younger coaches. While some may feel this is an additional burden, I feel it is a concrete evidence that my opinion is valued, and it gives me a real opportunity to influence the direction of the athletic department and, in some instances, the university.
Freelap USA: Everyone trains differently, but many coaches have similar approaches due to influencers. What three mentors have helped you better shape your program and what adjustments have you made to accommodate the differences between you and your role models?
Ron Grigg: It will be hard to be succinct with this answer, but I will try. I would be nothing without great mentors, peers, and coaches’ education. I was very fortunate that my USATF level 1 and level 2 sprint instructors back in 1995 were Loren Seagrave and Kevin O’Donnell of Speed Dynamics fame. They taught me that the nervous system was key in speed development, and they set me on a journey that has prioritized speed and power. While Kevin hasn’t been involved with track and field in some time, we have continued to remain connected, and I spoke with him on the phone just last month to catch up. He shipped me some vintage acceleration ladders and all of the original Speed Dynamics videos converted to DVD.
Boo Schexnayder was my USATF level 2 jumps instructor. He further advanced my understanding of elastic strength development, and his knack for succinctly explaining complex concepts was invaluable. While the organization of his training menu is very prevalent in our program, he taught me the value of the coach’s eye, the importance of the coaching done inside of the workout or inside of the drill, and not to rely on the workout or drill to do the coaching for you. I have been really fortunate to have come full circle and to have taught at USATF level 1 and level 2 schools as well as host and instruct a couple of USTFCCCA Academy classes.
The third “mentor” isn’t a single person, but a peer group. There is a group of coaches and now close friends who went through coaching education together, and they are my go-to guys on a daily basis for coaching talk and sanity. Marc Mangiacotti and Kebba Tolbert at Harvard, Todd Lane at LSU, Jim VanHootegem, now at Purdue, and Mike Young of Athletic Lab are primary among a plethora of coaches that I “grew up with together.” I can’t stress enough the importance of coaching education, not only for the knowledge, but for the relationships formed.I can’t stress enough the importance of coaching education, not only for the knowledge, but for the relationships formed, says @RonGriggJr. Click To Tweet
Of course, there are my bosses—like Ernie Barrett, who hired me for my first college coaching job at Coppin State, and Paul Souza at Wheaton College, who taught me to recruit—who encouraged and funded coaches education and gave me the autonomy to coach sprints on my own, and also Becky Motley, who brought me to Jacksonville. Additionally, Cliff Rovelto, who is a coaching giant and my boss at Kansas State, and who taught me about program management and really accelerated my training design skills.
There really are so many people who have helped and continue to help me develop. In fact, my favorite weekend of the year continues to be doing the Complete Track and Field Clinic with Latif Thomas and all of the coaches and friends I get to spend time with annually.
As for accommodating differences, I try to listen and learn, I attempt to synthesize and experiment, and I try to embrace the things I understand most and feel work in my particular environment. I would call it a process of evolution as opposed to differences. I might attribute most of the “differences” to the fact that I just don’t understand the concepts they are teaching fully, yet.
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