Rio Olympics 2016: Seasoned college coaches share their games strategies
More than 800 incoming, current and former NCAA student-athletes will compete at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics in Brazil, which begins on Aug. 3 and opening ceremonies on Aug. 5.
NCAA Champion Magazine spoke with several Division I coaches with Olympic experiences to get an insight into strategies we could see the athletes use during the summer games.
Matt Scoggin, Texas men’s and women’s diving coach
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, Mississippi men’s and women’s track and field and cross country
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, Arizona State men’s and women’s swimming
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, Kansas State director of men’s and women’s cross country and track and field
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, Michigan men’s and women’s swimming and diving
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, Miami (Fla.) men’s and women’s diving
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:v“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, Pepperdine assistant beach volleyball coach
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.”