Recently retired University of Arkansas Track and Field Coach John McDonnell is a true icon of the sport - whose presence exudes class, knowledge and winning. West Stride staff and visitors were privileged to listen to and interact with Coach McDonnell has he conducted two informal clinics in August - one geared towards High School runners and coaches, and one geared to a more general, but running-serious, audience.
The statistics that stand behind Coach McDonnell are mind-boggling - a sampling:
-42 NCAA championships since 1984, including 11 cross country, 19 indoor track and 12 outdoor track.
- 21 conference triple crowns since 1982, including eight straight between
1987 and 1995.
- 25-consecutive conference titles in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track combined from 1987-1995.
- 84 conference championships overall since 1974 including 38 in the SWC and 46 in the SEC (in 451 events).
- 12-consecutive NCAA indoor track championships (1984-1995), the longest string of national titles by any school in any sport in collegiate history.
Coach McDonnell’s message to the runners? He outlined 4 key principles that he has refined over his illustrious career. And, as the records demonstrate, these principles have worked to achieve absolute greatness in this sport.
Coach reminded us all that he ALWAYS instilled in his athletes that education was the single most important facet of college. Just ask Daniel Lincoln, a celebrated National Champion and multi-All-America…who is currently in medical school.
The importance of young runners openly talking to their coaches about goals, injuries, concerns, etc. AND the reciprocal importance of coaches communicating clear expectations, plans, etc. back to the young runners - cannot be stressed enough. And, more specifically for coaches - if you have an “end” goal that you think an athlete can reach, start out with a goal beneath the final one, then once the first goal is hit, throw out another, etc. This builds enormous confidence in the young runner.
So much of running is between the ears - staying focused and mentally strong. Coach told a story of one of his great runners at the Penn Relays, who before hand told McDonell that he would win the race handily. Sure enough, the runner held a comanding lead the first 3/4 of the race, when Coach noticed him looking to the side of the track for an entire lap, at which point he began giving up some of his lead. The runner snapped out of it and was able to kick back into gear and win the race. Afterward, John asked the runner what in the &X%$#(* he was looking at. The runner replied that he and a teammate were having a conversation earlier about the number of lanes at the unique Penn track, so he was counting the lanes. There’s an example of a guy who needed to work on his concentration…once he mastered that focus he was able to go on to achieve greatness.
Mentally strong: critical. Physically relaxed - also very important. Coach McDonnell stressed keeping your hands and wrists relaxed during the race. And also, making sure that there is time between hard workouts for rest and relaxation. When asked a question by a student at the West Stride clinic, about how Arkansas could compete with some of the runners whose weekly training mileage far exceeded theirs, Coach’s answer was poignant: “We do the workouts faster.”
For more information on Coach McDonnell’s accomplishments, check out:
…or contact the University of Arkansas Media Relations Department.