Coaches' Corner: Coach Smith on Keeping Focused

MileSplit AZ reached out to a handful of coaches in Arizona to get their reactions to COVID-19. Note that these interviews were done before the official cancelation of the 2020 high school track and field season.

Coach James Smith
Westwood High School

Q: How many years have you been coaching in Arizona? At Westwood?
I have been coaching for 23 years. 16 years with the AZ Flames TC, 12 years at Westwood HS, 7 years at Mesa Community College.

Q: What's your brief running/coaching background?
Founder / Coach AZ Flames Track Club since 2004 with 231 All Americans, 26 National champions, World medalist, State, Region, and National record holders Level 2 USATF certified. I am most known for developing great hurdlers, but I have coached many national-level athletes in Javelin, Jumps, Throws, and Distance. Maryvale High School State Champions boys and girls in 1983. Ran 110HH and 300IH / 400IH 6-time Masters National Champion, World medalist, Masters state record holder in multiple age groups, Masters American record shuttle hurdles, Business owner with Degree in Logistics / Production Operations Management. Worked in the semiconductor field for 24 years as Global Logistics Operations Manager.

Q: What has been the level of disruption to athlete training and competition because of COVID-19?
Athletes mainly are disrupted by the unknown. They do not know where to train. They do not know a timeline for when they need to be ready as the dates have been postponed or canceled. The colleges and high schools have all closed their campuses. We have no public tracks in AZ at parks so for our sport it is very difficult. With no school access, we cannot host track meets. This has affected both the elite down to the youth club athlete.

Q: What have you been telling your athletes during this time? Are they on some sort of modified training regimen?
Track is a continuous improvement sport. I have been telling my athletes that they can only build off what they have put in so far this year. Sitting around and do nothing means you will start off back at the beginning of 2020. Each year you want to build on what you have achieved and get better. You can get better in time, distance, height, race preparation, race execution, training, and race recovery. There are many areas athletes can improve. I send out a weekly workout for the athletes to do on their own. We are also starting to implement Team Snap live to make it a little more interactive and fun. Depending on their access to facilities around their home I can adjust their workouts. The biggest thing, for now, is the safety of the athletes. We can adjust training to achieve goals once we get some timelines.

2019 Track and Field Preview - Warrior Network News

Q: How do you keep athletes motivated during this time?
The best motivator is celebrating an athlete's success. Try to be the best athlete you can be. Celebrate your past accomplishments. Stay motivated. Look at old video of your races. Break down your races and see where you could have done better or where you did really well and want to repeat. Build off what you have achieved and know that this dead time will pass and things will resume. Do you want to be in a better place or still where you are today? The body is a building block. You can continue to build on your strengths and weaknesses or you can choose to stay where you are.

Q: How are your seniors handling this situation?
Fairly tough for the seniors. With no set timeline, it is hard for them to know what to do next. If the High School season gets canceled then there will be some specific things that will need to take place. If the HS season is shortened then there will be another set of specific things that will need to happen. This all comes back to being a student-athlete. Always keep the grades up because it shows the colleges your level of commitment. It also shows them how you can deal with multiple activities. In college you have to deal with eating, training, class time, assignments/projects, sleep, and most important - relationship building. Most colleges are looking for good student-athletes who can come in and make their team better. Do what you can do. Take your ACT and SAT tests. Communicate with the colleges you are interested in. Maintain your fitness level as incoming college workouts are no joke.

Q: What, if anything, is positive that may come from COVID-19, that you have witnessed or heard in regard to your team/athletes?
It is a scary time for some. It puts all of the sports into perspective. First, take care of yourself and your family. check up on family and friends you have not heard from in a while. Gas pumps, ATM, Card machines, shopping carts used to be filthy at times. From a hygiene standpoint, it has forced businesses and all of us to go to another level of clean and safety precautions. I think that is a good thing.

Q: What are your thoughts about a high school season this spring? If there is track by late May/June, are you going to suggest your athletes do club races?
Everything is predicated on the schools opening facilities and allowing athletes to return. If that does not happen then we will not have a season. If they continue to postpone then there is a chance of a reduced/compacted season but at some point, it will be too late. I always suggest athletes do club if they are not doing another sport right after track. It will be important for those seniors who need to put down a mark or try to get a better mark to get more scholarship money. In club you run against different athletes and get challenged in a whole different way. It is also broken into 2-year age groups so your freshmen and sophomores do not have to run against seniors. It is a great way to get additional exposure for athletes looking to go to the next level. The competition at the national level is very competitive and AZ athletes do very well. Normally there are college coaches at the national meet reviewing talent.

2019 Chandler Rotary - Watch Rahni Turner's anchor leg.

Q: What's been the biggest challenge for you as a coach during this time?
Track is a continuous improvement sport. This dead period affects seniors tremendously but also affects freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and all other age groups. If you look at others that may have won state as a Sophomore or Junior. They now cannot be a 2 or 3-time state champion. The development from one year to the next will be reduced. If an athlete was to run 11.00 now and would have run 10.70 by the end of the year then that development has been hindered. So next year they are starting at 11.00 instead of a PR of 10.70. Yes, we can talk about what they would have done, but in track, the clock and tape measurer does not lie or wishfully think about what an athlete could have or should have performed. Additionally, as a coach, we all work on timelines. Timelines for competition, entries, hotel reservations, communications. With everything shut down, it is very hard to plan for an upcoming event that may or may not happen. It would be easy for me to tell my athletes to go do a certain workout and report back. Most cannot find the right training facilities, so we have to improvise. I would hope as things go along the school's outdoor facilities will reopen for public use. Most sports involve some level of conditioning and running. This will at least give the athletes a place to train with adequate social distancing. You have to stay optimistic that things will get better and we will return even stronger later in the year and next season.