Coach Marra has been coaching since 1974. He tells us how advice from another decathlete got him into coaching, his go-to resource for inspiration and help, what his prerace ritual is, and more.
How long have you been coaching?
I began coaching in the fall of 1974...45 years ago!!
How did you decide to get into coaching?
I got into coaching because of a big problem I was having with the shot put event as a decathlete. I asked another decathlete to explain the shot put to me. Three minutes into the conversation he looked at me and said, “You don't understand a word I am saying, do you?”
He told me to get back in school and study anatomy, physiology, movement, understand how the human body works, and get a degree in physical education and it would all make sense...that's exactly what I did. It was at that moment I knew coaching was what I wanted to do.
What’s your favorite memory as a coach?
No one favorite moment...loved them all. I really enjoy seeing an athlete I have helped make a positive change and improve, regardless of the level of skill he or she is at.
What’s the best advice a coach ever gave you that you have imparted on your athletes?
I was leaving UCSB as an assistant coach to take a Head Coaching position at Springfield College in Massachusetts. The head coach at UCSB took me to lunch the day before I departed and said, “Each season after the year is over, sit down and write everything you know about each event you are coaching...it'll assist your understanding of each event better.”
I did this and continue to do this today! A coach must always be continually learning.
Do you have a go-to resource for inspiration? a book, quotes, another coach, a blog?
Whenever I get into a sticking point with an athlete having a problem learning the skill I am teaching, I get on the phone and call one of my trusted colleagues and ask for his advice. It has proven invaluable. None of us knows everything. Reach out to those in the profession that you trust for their guidance.
How do you keep athletes feeling fresh and energized, while they also train seriously throughout their season?
Two things to help keep the athletes fresh...make each practice FUN! Serious yes, but fun first and foremost.
Next, I use the slogan, “Less is more.” Do not overwork/overtrain your athletes. Plan your practices so that they are quality and not quantity. Rest is so important.
What’s your best advice for preventing injuries in athletes?
Ninety percent of the injuries that occur in track and field are due to improper technique. So to help prevent these injuries, be certain that as a coach you become an expert in the technique of how the event is to be done.
Secondly, do not over train your athletes (see above). If they are close to accomplishing the goal of any particular practice, leave it there, do not say, “Just one more try…”
The central nervous system times itself up after two days and the next time you come back to this skill, all will be in place.
Do you have any prerace rituals, like visualization, with your athletes?
I ask the athletes I am coaching to begin an evening visualization process maybe two weeks out before a major meet they have been pointing to...each evening, as they (lie) in bed before sleep, they visualize their event(s) in a quiet, relaxed state.
They see the perfect jump over and over again in their mind. This is actually training the central nervous system to do it correctly without any physical effort! Fantastic.
What about the industry most excites you?
The young coaches today seem eager to learn, as witnessed by their attending conferences like the USTFCCA Convention each winter. It excites me that these young coaches will continue to preach the truth to their athletes. What concerns me is that these coaches are being taught correctly...so the need for even more and elaborate coaches’ education is a necessity.
What’s your No. 1 tip for becoming a better coach?
1) Keep learning. Keep reading and thinking about the events you are teaching.
2) Listen to your athletes carefully. Hear what they are saying and adapt your training to fit what they feel their needs are…very important.