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Coach Me if You Can

Olympics-seasoned college coaches share their games strategies

The Olympic Aquatics Stadium inside Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will be among the facilities greeting athletes at the games. Felipe Dana / AP images
The Olympic Aquatics Stadium inside Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will be among the facilities greeting athletes at the games. Felipe Dana / AP images

Matt Scoggin

Coach, men’s and women’s diving,  University of Texas at Austin

ROLE AT THE GAMES

2009 and 2010 U.S. Olympic Committee National Diving Coach of the Year, 2012 USA Diving Olympics coach.

MY FIRST OLYMPICS

Scoggin says the size and scope of the Olympics can make it hard to focus on the task at hand. He was a seasoned vet of age 28 in his first Olympics, but says he still found himself thinking about people in the grandstands and other distractions because he had never been in that situation before. “If I were to make a comeback at age 52,” he laughs, “I’d know more what to expect and be a little more calm.”

OLYMPIC PHILOSOPHY

“If you’re an athlete who’s in the moment and totally confident, the stress can really come off you, and it can be exhilarating. As a coach, you prepare your athletes so they can be that way, and you’re hopeful. But once they’re on the board, it’s up to them.”

STRATEGY FOR RIO

Like other coaches, Scoggin concentrates on helping his athletes stay focused on what they already know how to do. And he helps them develop strategies for getting back to a calm, aggressive, confident state of mind.

 


 

Connie Price-Smith

Coach, men’s and women’s track  and field and cross country,  University of Mississippi

ROLE AT THE GAMES

Coach for the U.S. women’s track and field team at the 2016 Olympics. Price-Smith was a 25-time U.S. champion in the shot put and discus and participated in four Olympics.

MY FIRST OLYMPICS

Before the Opening Ceremonies, a teammate advised Price-Smith to take a trash bag along for the walk. She thought he was pulling one over on the first-timer, so she left the trash bag behind. “Then I got to the ceremonies and they released the doves,” she recalls, “and I wished I had a trash bag.”

OLYMPIC PHILOSOPHY

“Be patient. Go with the flow. You want it to be like any other event, but you can’t help it – when you’re there, you know it’s special.”

STRATEGY FOR RIO

Price-Smith expects to feel more like a juggler than a coach. “I’m not there to coach the athletes because they all have individual coaches. I’m there to facilitate. You want to take the burden off the athletes and not make them stress about things.”

 


 

Bob Bowman

Coach, men’s and women’s swimming, Arizona State University

ROLE AT THE GAMES

Men’s swimming coach, 2016 U.S. Olympic team, and coach of Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time.

MY FIRST OLYMPICS

He admits he got emotional in 2000 in Sydney just seeing Phelps walk under the Olympic rings adorning a doorway. “I cried,” Bowman recalls. “‘We’re here! We’re doing what we wanted!’ I can still have those emotional moments, but I have a responsibility to help these guys be at their best in that moment.”

OLYMPIC PHILOSOPHY

“Process is more important than the outcome. You don’t focus on gold medals. You focus on things that have to happen in order for you to swim your best 200 fly.”

STRATEGY FOR RIO

Aim for a “normal, predictable swim in the middle of an unpredictable and very abnormal environment.” He tries to minimize time in the Olympic Village, where some athletes are more focused on the party than the medals. “When you get there, you want to take care of business.”

 


 

Cliff Rovelto

Director of men’s and women’s cross country and track and field, Kansas State University

ROLE AT THE GAMES

Has coached 14 Olympic athletes, including silver medalists Erik Kynard, Austra Skujyte and Matt Hemingway, and is a nine-time Team USA staff member. 

MY FIRST OLYMPICS

He was nervous about the time commitment but the Olympians’ presence inspired his college athletes. “They look at these folks and think, ‘Hey, that guy’s not much better than me! Maybe I can do those same kinds of things!’” 

OLYMPIC PHILOSOPHY

“Even the Olympic Games are a little like just another day. I know that sounds crazy, and I’m not trying to make light of it. But it’s not about anything magical we’re doing at those meets. It’s what we do every single day in practice that enables us to get to those meets and perform at our best.” 

STRATEGY FOR RIO

An Olympic coach’s role is specific. “Coaches work with athletes for many years, so it’s not like we’re gonna show up in Rio and rewrite training plans. We want to take the plan they’ve designed and help with it. That’s our job.”

 


 

Mike Bottom

Coach, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, University of Michigan

ROLE AT THE GAMES

He has coached Olympic athletes from Serbia, El Salvador, Venezuela, Croatia, Poland, Israel, Trinidad and Tobago, and the U.S.

MY FIRST OLYMPICS

Bottom was selected for the U.S. Olympic team in 1980, the year the country boycotted the games in Moscow. “What I saw was a political disruption of what I thought the Olympic ideal was, and I wanted to make that as right as possible by coaching people from different countries, ideologies – teams that would stand together and support the Olympic ideal.” 

OLYMPIC PHILOSOPHY

“It’s not really about ... winning medals. It’s creating champions, positive relationships with other teams and other cultures.”

STRATEGY FOR RIO

Bottom is always preparing for the next Olympics. “We have a clock over our pool that counts down the minutes, hours and seconds until the Opening Ceremonies.”

 


 

Randy Ableman

Coach, men’s and women’s diving, University of Miami (Florida)

ROLE AT THE GAMES

Served on the U.S. coaching staff for the 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2012 games, and was head coach of the South African diving team in 2008. He’s produced 11 Olympians in his time at Miami.

MY FIRST OLYMPICS

Named to the U.S. Olympic diving team in 1980, Ableman was forced to miss the games in Moscow due to the American boycott.

OLYMPIC PHILOSOPHY

“I’m there for my athletes, to put them in the best position to do something great.”

STRATEGY FOR RIO

“Everyone puts a little more into the Olympics, so they can say, ‘I made an Olympic team, I’m an Olympian.’ But in my mind I just want to prepare them to be one of the best in our country and to represent us internationally. I don’t think we train any harder. But there is a little more stress involved.”

 


 

Marcio Sicoli

Assistant beach volleyball coach, Pepperdine University

ROLE AT THE GAMES

Sicoli was trainer/consultant to Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor at the 2012 Olympics in London and will be trainer/consultant to Jennings and April Ross in Rio de Janeiro this summer. With gold medals in 2004, 2008 and 2012, May-Treanor and Jennings are considered the best beach volleyball duo of all time.

MY FIRST OLYMPICS

Even a coach with a gold-medal record says just getting there is a thrill. “You’re there to win a gold medal, but you feel a different energy in that you’ve already made it.”

OLYMPIC PHILOSOPHY

“It’s not about me, or even the team, but something bigger. (The Olympics) changed my coaching philosophy from numbers and stats to the idea that sports are bigger than maybe everybody thinks.”

STRATEGY FOR RIO

The 2016 Olympics will bring Sicoli’s career full circle. He was born and raised in Rio. “I’m just stoked that I’ll have my friends and family close.”

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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