The hurdles coaches, Tom Sage and Dan Johnson, sat down to talk about how they prepare their athletes and their philosophy on offseason training. Coach Sage in his third season as a coach of the VCU Track and Field team. He oversees the development of the athletes who compete in the hurdles, multis, and vertical jumps. Coach Johnson is a graduate assistant currently enrolled in VCU's Center for Sport Leadership. Johnson was a decathlete at East Stroudsburg University and was an assistant high school track coach at Mililani High School in Hawaii while serving as a Captain in the United States Army.
Sakia Konin has shown a lot of progress in the past year in the multis. What have you done to contribute to that growth?
Tom Sage: Sakia has been a blast to work with. Her positive can-do attitude is what I look for in a multi athlete. She came to VCU with a background competing in multiple disciplines, but never really had a focus in high school. I think that has been the biggest change for her in college, she is dialed in to the multi. She listens to instructions and is able to experiment, adapt, develop, and improve positive habits. I also have to give credit to the rest of her multi group. They all came in together last year as freshman and each one has different strengths and weaknesses, but they work really well together to pull out the best of their abilities.
Dan Johnson: Nothing out of the ordinary, just sticking to the process and allowing Sakia to grow and develop to the best of her ability. It was clear that she took her summer training seriously and started coming to practice with a competitor's mindset. Seeing her confidence grow in practice has really transferred over to confidence in competition for Sakia. She knows that on any given day she can compete and beat anyone she is up against.
Can you describe the approach you take with your hurdlers? What makes your approach unique?
TS: I have been blessed and am still blessed to have some incredible coaching mentors around me. I guess I am somewhat known for using analogies, so I will use a well-known one here. I am a like a mechanic, and the hurdlers are like racecars. Each element of that car has to be in balance in order to achieve maximum potential. I spend the majority of my time trying to deconstruct bad habits and reinforce positive posture and mechanics. We talk a lot about pushing through the hurdles, and I think that sometimes resonates in their own personal lives.
How do you plan your offseason to best benefit your athletes?
TS: If you asked my athletes on the importance of offseason training, they will tell you that it is paramount to their in-season success. It's always apparent in the fall who has had good or great summers. I have been fortunate enough to have some fantastic leaders. Each student-athlete in the group is a leader in their own respective ways. They hold themselves and their fellow athletes accountable for getting it in over break. As far as specifics we are trying to accomplish in the offseason vary based on each athlete. They all have different positives and negatives, but each of them have clear concise instructions over the summer on what to work on in order to come back in the fall ready to be the best version of themselves. We also work on increasing strength as well as broadening their athletic bases. The ones that zero in over the summer come back in shape and ready roll are the ones who are consistently improving.
How has coach Johnson helped you develop your athletes?
TS: Coach Johnson has been a huge help this year. We both were former decathletes in college and for those who are familiar with the multi events know that there is a brotherhood that exists. We immediately got along well, and I knew that because of his broad knowledge base as well as his prior coaching experience he would be a major asset. We have been able to work in a collaborative effort to improve upon training methodology and split time with groups to get more than one perspective on what the athletes needs are. I have complete trust in him.
How has coach Sage aided you in your development as a coach, both from a psychological and fundamental perspective?
DJ: Tom has been a great mentor and friend to me this past year. He has given me a lot of autonomy and influence over the group that has gone a long way in helping develop my coaching method. It is great having another former decathlete to bounce ideas off of and argue strategies with. Psychologically, Tom has shown me how to take talented kids on the track and make them better athletes, and how to train athletes at a higher intensity than I am use to coming from the high school world. Fundamentally, he has helped me sharpen my skills by taking me through how he believes a season should be structured and allowing me to study and experiment with his methods and phases of the season.