Coaches use drills to reinforce the movement concepts they teach, so it’s important to understand why a drill is used. Coach Parno breaks down the concepts behind the hurdle wall drills, wickets, and toe drags and explains why and how he uses them in is track and field program.
If you are a sprint coach and want to improve your program, it’s wise to explore the work of other coaches. I wrote this top 10 list to get coaches to understand how to get value out of all experts, not just the ones they know or compete against. In no way is this a list of the coaches who influenced me the most or the top coaches I either admire or have been impacted by—these are the coaches who make me stop and rethink things. In fact, every single coach here has made me better because they made me reflect on what I needed to do better. This is a list of coaches who ground(ed) me with a reality check, which is a fair exchange, I think, as I asked questions that perhaps helped them in return.
Regardless of your background, here are the names and information you may benefit from or that may inspire you to create your own list, complete with the experiences you think matter. If you are a sprint coach and want to get better, network smarter by meeting or studying people you think are doing something special. I promise you will reap the benefits in time.
A Last-Minute Call to Slow Down
Some coaches will quickly ask why I didn’t include names that everyone can agree are legends. Sure, Pfaff, Francis, Anderson, Behm, Tellez, Smith, and Holloway are all geniuses. We can add in a few other coaches who are successful, such as Lance down in Clermont or countless coaches in Europe, South America, and Africa. Even coaches in the past, such as Bud Winter, should be represented. The only reason that I chose to go the unheralded route is because it’s always good to give credit to everyone, not just the heroes.
I should include PJ Vazel or even a jumps coach here and there, as Randy Huntington and Boo Schexnayder have made me far better than I could ever thank them for. It’s okay to have a list that you think bucks trends or supports a common belief; just find the people that have helped you and don’t hesitate to thank them. Here is my way to give thanks to the people who have helped me get better. In no particular order, these include:
I remember the whispers years ago, when Oakland started to get some traction at the community college level. The gossip was nothing negative, it was just other coaches who respected the hard work and craft of Curtis Taylor. Coaches in the know were talking about the work of Coach Taylor. Taylor was influenced by Tony Wells, the only high school coach on this list, but he was a sharp mind on his own.
It’s important to learn from others, as knowing how to apply great collective knowledge is just as important as being individually innovative. Currently, Coach Taylor is at the University of Oregon, and he seems to find ways to create speedsters every season. While obviously he is talented as a coach and recruits able-bodied athletes, he also does a lot with what he gets. To me, it’s how much you get out of an athlete that matters, and Curtis seems to be able to squeeze a lot of juice out of the fruit he inherits. I interviewed Curtis a while back, and I am always mesmerized by how he finds ways to get athletes faster.
Strangely, this coach seems to have more medals than many countries when either the World Championships or Olympics are over. Not only is Coach Reider a fine sprints and hurdle coach, he is a phenomenal jumps coach. Rana is the stereotypical blue-collar coach—he grabs his lunch pail and goes to work every day. He is one of my hero coaches who doesn’t need to present at a workshop to share information, as his workouts speak for themselves. Rana also brings in biomechanics experts and uses the latest technology, so when he invests in something, I buy it.Maybe what I learned most from Coach Rana Reider is that every day matters, and putting in the work will reap more than you can believe, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
I have only met Rana once, but my annual call always energizes me to appreciate putting the time and effort into training. Sometimes training must be a little bland or exhausting, as you can only use so much creativity to solve monotony. At times a straightforward program of foundational training will get more out of an athlete than all the fancy drills and exercises. Rana can’t coach forever, but for an elite coach, his constitution and endurance are dumbfounding. Maybe what I learned most is that every day matters, and putting in the work will reap more than you can believe.
I was at the Level 3 school for USATF years ago and overhead a debate between Kebba Tolbert and a stranger. That stranger was Coach John Hunter, and over the years I have robbed the man of his knowledge by listening to the questions he asks. He is humble, nearly to a fault, so I have learned to challenge him with some questions back from time to time.
His own personal experience of running fast was something I was extremely envious of, as he was able to tap into his experiences as an athlete while providing excellent reference points as a coach. Many athletes go on to coach and never seem to recreate magic without running, but Coach Hunter seems to have that perfect balance between experiencing speed and conjuring it. I have grabbed a handful of really nice modifications to conventional training concepts, but the most important quality I have learned is the never-ending pursuit to discover the truth. I have a lot to thank Coach Hunter for, and his generosity with his time is just the tip of the iceberg.
Many coaches will be surprised by my selection of Gary Winckler as he is a Hall of Fame coach, but his contributions to the international scene and to USATF education are frankly underappreciated. Gary was a math major, and, yes, you can see it in his training. I interviewed Coach Winckler for a Friday Five years ago, and the most impressive aspect of his coaching was his constant growth and thirst for improvement when he could have simply coasted.Gary Winckler crafted every workout like an architect building a bridge—while it may have been functional, it certainly also approached elegance in design, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
Gary is a man of engineering and clarity, so don’t expect fluff discussions or vague training theory. He crafted every workout like an architect building a bridge—while it may have been functional, it certainly also approached elegance in design. Gary helped me go from an unorganized neophyte to someone who respected the math and science in the sport. He was also a fountain of wisdom, knew the importance of training, and had an uncanny ability to discern what the athlete needed. His work with international sprinters and hurdlers for more than three decades was mind-blowing, as he seemed to always have an athlete at the world stage, not just the collegiate level.
Another branch from the Tony Well’s coaching tree is Carol Smith-Gilbert, who was a sprinter from Colorado and an accomplished athlete. She eventually coached at Tennessee and Central Florida before taking the helm at USC. Many coaches will be familiar with the big names such as Andre De Grasse and Michael Norman, but her work over a decade ago is certainly deserving of a second look. Coach Smith-Gilbert is a no-nonsense coach who was super transparent and down-to-earth in her presentation at the USATF Level III school. At first it was a little difficult to understand because of terminology I wasn’t familiar with, but years later it really hit me.
Smith-Gilbert’s coaching and lecturing are underrated, and while she may be known as a sprint coach, I think her concepts and the way she wields her knowledge are very useful for jumps and even the endurance events. I only met Carol once and don’t actually correspond with her, but her results speak for themselves, and I am excited to see what she does in the next 10 years.
I call Coach Hegland, “Super Dave,” as I admire his ability to stay true to his word and make athletes better. While other big names seem to be visible on social media, Dave always comes through in real life with his coaching efforts, even if he is below the radar. To me, Dave Hegland is about finding ways to get athletes better without an exact philosophy. He constantly takes recruits from solid and talented to championship form.
Once, Coach White (Roger White) was working with a high school athlete and wanted to know where his protege should run to. I was quick to hand over a shortlist of coaches and the rest is history. Dave took Coach White’s athlete from a small school in Michigan and helped guide him to professional status. When I saw another athlete run 7.49 in the high hurdles from Syracuse, I felt empowered because Dave was open to sharing workouts and asking all the right questions in pursuing faster running times.
Dave even has a small coaching tree, with Coach Rizzo evolving from a strength coach under Buddy Morris to a full-time college track and field coach. Dave and I have similar influences, as we both overlapped Andy Miller, who was instrumental in my own early growth. Dave Hegland is a great person, too—a gentle soul who cares about his athletes and does so much beyond the track.
The biggest mystery to me is the lack of love for Wilbur Ross. His book on hurdling, while exhaustive, seems to be seen as a nice to have instead of a bible of great knowledge. True, some of the parts need a bit of refreshing, but Wilbur was a coach who never rested on his laurels. When he was in New Jersey, he helped the biggest names in track get better, even in events like the long jump or short sprints. He was the head coach at the Tampa Clippers and was responsible for a stable of great talents— many of them went on to win medals at the Olympic games.
Coach Ross was caustic but lovable, and he was extremely patient with coaches asking really primitive questions. I remember him describing the value of stick drills that he was using in North Carolina in the 1950s! I loved Wilbur, as he was so passionate and thirsty to help others learn. Wilbur left us years ago, but his timeless wisdom lives on in his books and athletes.
Perhaps one of the most underground hurdle coaches is Santiago Antunez, a Cuban genius who has trained multiple Olympic champions and super hurdlers for decades. My favorite innovators and coaches frankly love to take talents and make them world-class. I recall 1997 Indoor Championships when Anier Garcia started to shake things up and wondered how to get to Cuba without resorting to an illegal speed boat ride from Miami.
I have picked up more “useful and practical to apply on Monday” coaching ideas from Santiago because he is so pragmatic with his training. Sure, nothing he does is secret, but the island of Cuba did have some logistical issues for years, making it hard to learn from him. Thanks to the Obama Administration, accessibility to Cuba has much improved over the last decade. Coach Antunez has presented (in Spanish) about training several times now, and his expertise is just too vast not to include him on this list.
Tony Wells deserves and will get his own article later. The greatest sprint coach in high school history, Tony Wells is a master coach, which is a title they don’t give to a flash-in-the-pan coach. Wells is a pioneer, and one of the most underrated coaches in sport. If Tony was not at the high school level, he would probably be praised more, as Tony has done things long before they were in vogue.Tony Wells did things long before they were in vogue. Beyond training at high intensity or max velocity, he really pushed the envelope in both measurement and output, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
Beyond training at high intensity or max velocity, Tony added another dimension to coaching by really pushing the envelope in both measurement and output. What he did over in Denver for years was majestic. He produced countless national champions and insane times, with most coaches only dreaming about being close to the numbers he produced. My favorite nugget about Tony, though, has nothing to do with sprint technique or training. He simply made the sport better.
Another coach who certainly deserves a nod is Amy Deem. She has coached at the University of Miami for 30 years. Amy has done far more for the sport than just winning the recent 2018 ACC Outdoor championship; her longevity and international success earned her the right to be included as a leader in the sprinting world. I have heard her speak many times over the years and she does a great job pushing the essentials. I admire her ability to refine what works instead of attempting to get outside the box too much.
I believe what makes Amy consistent is that her training is perhaps the truest to the classic coaching theory. No fluff or junk, just true to what she learned from her own mentors. I heard her speak 20 years ago, and she was never afraid to give either details or credit for her training inventory or approach. Amy has earned every shred of success in her program, and we should praise her for the consistency that the program has enjoyed over the last three decades.
Find Your Own Personal Mentors
You don’t need to spend years being an apprentice or volunteer to get value from your peers or mentors. Just investing in the patient process of asking for help from time to time is vital to growth and sometimes an unpleasant wake-up call. I have found that each coach can be a small puzzle piece in your coaching career, and you don’t need much to get better as a professional.
My recommendation is to call, email, text, and even visit people you think do great work. In my experience, each coach can serve as a mentor to parts of your coaching, as you don’t need to program hop from year to year. Just keep up with smart and crafty people, and I am sure you will grow yourself over time.