Monday, February 01, 2016

Catching up with Santa Cruz High School coach, John Rembao

Today we chat with Santa Cruz High School coach, John Rembao. John is one of the best track and field coaches in California who has had success coaching jumps, multi-events and mid and long distance athletes. John has coached at multiple Universities (see below) which you will see below and has directed many events such as the recently completed 2015 USATF Club XC Championships at Golden Gate Park. You can read more about John and his coaching accomplishments at this LINK from the Santa Cruz Track Club. You can also check out this newspaper article about his work with three Chinese high jumpers at this LINK. The following is a lengthy interview but well worth your time if you have an interest in coaching the high jump as well as improving your expertise as a coach in any Track and Field event.

1) What was your athletic experience? 
I played sports informally until I went to high school. Did well on the President's physical fitness test in middle school. I participated in organized team sports when I attended high school. I went out for cross country and wasn't planning on running track until Coach Brock asked me to run one dual meet at the beginning of track season. After my first race on the oval, I decided track was for me. Mostly because I realized the results would be a direct reflection of what I put into running. That was exciting to me.

Where did you go to high school? 
Santa Cruz High School

Highlights and proudest achievements? 
I ran 9:14.3 for the two-mile (county and school record) which placed me second at CCS, 4:21.5 (school record) for the mile, and 15:18 on Crystal Springs XC Course. The two-mile record still stands at Santa Cruz High.

Who were the coaches that had the biggest impact on you?
The list is long. Every one of these coaches has had a significant impact on me and my coaching.
High School-
Nick Delurgio was the head track coach and was an extremely organized individual. I appreciated the care and thought he put into creating a well-managed team. He created a team handbook that I referred to often.  In fact, it was one of the reasons I created a training manual that I provided to my distance runners and jumpers when I coached collegiately.
Greg Brock was my personal coach.  Greg ask me a lot of questions which I then tried to find the answer to, through experience and research.  This method of asking questions, of myself and others, served me well as a collegiate coach. I had a genuine curiosity in the sport from a young age, and a desire to find answers.
Vern Gambetta. He was a close friend of Greg's, and I heard conversations between the two of them that inspired and motivated me to pursue track with a passion. 
Collegiate-everyone of the coaches listed taught me many things, but I point out the biggest lesson I learned from each of them.
Steve Miller taught through example how an inspiring leader can get people to do things they didn't even believe they could do.
Lance Harter was my first coach-to-coach mentor and exemplified a pursuit of excellence that stays with me today.
Gary Wilson taught me how to have fun, even in the most intense environments.  I relied on this lesson at the University of Texas, daily.
Bob Meyers mentored me in the high jump. He shared information, provided insight and encouragement. To this day, I think he is one of the most talented high jump coaches this country has ever seen.
Deanne Vochatzer helped me to understand that it was okay to make mistakes as long as you learned from them. 
Brooks Johnson taught me that a good coach can coach anything. I didn't believe him at first, but I found that by applying the same curiosity to the jumps as I had to the middle and long distances, I had just as much, if not more success.
Randy Huntington was my first mentor in the long and triple jump. He shared articles, books, and showed me patience as I learned the horizontal jumps. 
Fred Harvey and I have had more conversations, sometimes arguments, than any other coach I have ever known. He aggressively challenges me daily, without ever making me feel threatened. His ability to make people think about who they are, and what they are doing, helped me become a more focused coach.
Scott Evans reminds me that providing honest and truthful feedback to the athlete's in our care is how we honor them and make them better.
Curtis Taylor inspires me in his unrelenting pursuit of knowledge and excellence.
Peter Tegen probably one of the best coaches this country has ever seen, he taught me to look deeper than what other were saying about training and to challenge the status quo.
Joe Vigil took me to lunch at the Olympic Games in 1992 and from that point forward he has always been available to provide insight and encouragement. 
Frank Gagliano provided me, what I consider being the final piece of the middle distance puzzle. This awakening allowed an athlete to win seven Big XII championships in the three years that I coached her.
Lyle Knudson provided me with the opportunity to coach at the Olympic Training Center for ten summers. This experience made me a better coach and mentor and challenged me to under the material I was presenting at a high level.
Dan Pfaff and I would talk after practice for hours when I worked at the University of Texas. These conversations motivated me to keep learning. He was an encyclopedia of knowledge and these after practice conversations inspired me to keep learning.
Bev Kearney is one of the most competitive people I have ever met, and she was a recruiting genius. She was always thinking about how to be better in all aspects of coaching, and she challenged me to be the very best as a coach.
Gary Winkler is one of the most brilliant people I have ever met. How many coaches do you know who have written a math book? Gary took the very complicated language of training and developed what I understand to be the first Level II sprints and hurdle curriculum. He produced the chart, "Speed Inventory - Categorization of Methods and Means," which was part of the Level II curriculum for sprints and hurdle. This chart helped me to understand the nuances of speed work.
George Williams is one of the most productive and humble individuals you'll ever meet. As a very successful Olympic coach, why would he ask for advice from anyone? But that was he taught me was that you should never be too proud to ask people for help when trying to understand any event, better.
Milan Donley influenced the way I approach working with my son and his athletic development. He is such a great father and husband; I'd like to think he made me a better one.
Sheldon Blockburger is an intense coach who is one of the funniest people I have ever met. Sheldon taught me to be able and laugh at myself.
Boo Schexnayder have had many interactions over the years. His scientific mind taught me that having a plan and following it is how we learn and grow. He was also an inspiration when it came to running and jumping mechanics. Any coach who wants to be the best should search out his writings.  He is brilliant.
Jeremy Fischer is another brilliant mind who knows how to coach and motivate athletes to the highest level.  It is no mystery why he has coaches athletes to the Olympic stand; he taught me that you can never be too patient. 

2) Where did you go to college and what led you into coaching?
I went to Cal Poly, SLO. 
The first coach I had at SLO was Steve Miller. He was an inspirational man and expected excellence from his athletes. After my first year, I took a year off of school for financial reasons, and when I returned a new coach was running the track and cross country programs. The new coach was the reason I started coaching. He was not inspirational or organized, and he would make up workouts at the moment of practice. He was the complete opposite of Coach Miller. So, after a year of trying to make it work, I just realized that it wasn't going to work out for me, so I gave up my scholarship. I loved running, so I decided instead of running I would try to coach.

3) Where was your first coaching job, what did you coach and what did you learn from that experience?
Well, I had just relinquished my scholarship, so I walked over to the women's track office to ask the coach if I could volunteer as an assistant coach. The coach was Lance Harter. He asked me some questions, and we talked for a little while until he finally said when the practice was and that he looked forward to seeing me there.  

Lance had a large group of runners, so my initial position was to manage workouts for the developing athletes in the group. Working with the developing athletes was one of the most significant coaching experiences in my career. Lance would provide the workout, and I would implement them. If I had questions, I would ask him.  I learned how to manage a large group of people, and he encouraged me to read a lot of training articles. Over time, I developed relationships with the professors in the exercise physiology department where our athletes tested for MaxVO2 and anaerobic threshold. I appreciate the fact that Lance was never a micro manager and he also provided me access to other successful coaches, some of which I provided in the list earlier.

After six years of assisting with Lance, I was asked by the men's track coach to work with the 800m and 1500m runners. 
The biggest lessons I learned from my first job were
1. Be a cheerleader for every athlete's improvement and celebrate it. 
2. Treat every athlete as an individual
3. Always do what is in the athlete's best interest. It would eventually be in my best interest when they succeeded.
4. Be a good role model for my athletes. Work hard so that they would work hard. Be passionate so they would be passionate.
On the administrative side, I learned how to put on cross country meets and track meets. And I mean I did everything! 

4) Where did you coach after Cal Poly SLO and what were some of your different roles at each University?
University of Arizona
I was responsible for all aspects of the men's and women's jumps at Arizona. I am pretty sure I got this job because my wife had made the Olympic team in the high jump, and Arizona had a storied history in the high jump that they wanted to extend. Having had experience at Cal Poly putting on meets, I also had some operational responsibilities the Pac-10 XC and Track and Field Championships, the Regional and National Cross Country Championships

University of Texas
I was responsible for all aspects of the women's cross country team, middle and long distance runners and on the field, the women's high jump. I was responsible for monitoring our weight room development. I had some operations responsibilities with the Texas Relays. I was also responsible for starting the Texas Invitational, which one year, had an Olympic caliber 100m field because of Dan Pfaff's training group. I was also responsible for developing a budget for women's track and field at the request from my head coach.

Southern Methodist University
I was the women's head cross country coach, Meet Director the WAC XC Championships, and responsible for all the jumping (men and women) and running (women) events on the track. I was responsible for recruiting all of my events.

Stanford University
Director of Operations and coached events as directed by the head coach. I was responsible for all aspects of travel, recruiting lists, official and unofficial visits, alumni outreach, and budget development and management. But, my biggest responsibility was meet operations, hosting the Big Meet, the Stanford Invitationals, both Cross Country and Track and Field, and the Pac-10 Championships in Cross Country and Track and Field, and Regional Cross Country Championships.

University of California, Berkeley
I was responsible for all aspects of the men's and women's jumps (long, triple, and high jump), meet management (Big Meet, Brutus Hamilton and Pac-10 Championships), and all aspects of travel, and budget development and management.

5) What led you into coaching the high jump?
While I was still and athlete, I met this girl (Sue McNeal) icing her shins in the ice whirlpool in the training room. She was the best high jumper on the team. Because her event coach took another job, she struggled her last couple of years at SLO. By the time she was going to graduate, we were dating. When she graduated, we talked about moving to another place where she could train. She proposed the idea of me coaching her. I wasn't sure about this plan, mostly because I wanted to marry her more that I wanted to coach her. Also, I was coaching distance runners, and what did I know anything about the high jump. I just didn't think it was a good idea. But she was persistent, and I reached out to Bob Meyers (mentioned earlier) at Arizona, and he agreed to mentor me. It wasn't smooth sailing, at first. But between Bob's mentoring and Sue's innate knowledge of the high jump, it eventually worked out. She jumped her personal best in 1991, jumping 6'5 1/2", a 3 1/2" improvement over her college best and made her first World Championship Team.  The next year she made the Olympic Team, and in 1993, she made her second World Championship Team. That is the short version of how I became a high jump coach.

6) Throughout your coaching career, who have been your coaching mentors that you feel had the biggest impact on you as a coach?
If I had to narrow down the list above it would be 
1. Greg Brock
2. Fred Harvey
3. Gary Winkler
4. Brooks Johnson
5. Sheldon Blockburger
6. Jeremy Fischer

7) From your experience in coaching the event, what are the essential elements of being a good high jumper?
From a physical perspective, a well trained high jumper needs to have stamina, strength, speed, suppleness, and skill. In terms skill, a jumper should be able to have a consistent run-up.  A quick penultimate response. A good lean back and away from the bar at take-off touchdown. The ability to synchronize the free leg and arms (there are many successful versions of arm use) at take-off.  And, patience and flexibility on top of the bar.

8) What does a typical week look like for a high jumper? 
We practice together three days a week. The athletes practice a few days on their own to lift and run. So a typical week is
Monday - Speed, jump, and power development
Tuesday - Strength and intensive tempo
Wednesday - Recovery
Thursday - Speed, plyometric training on the runway
Friday - Strength
Saturday - Jump, power development, speed endurance
Sunday - Recovery

How often are they jumping? 
We jump three days a week, but one day is a plyometric focused day, where they are learning horizontal jumps mechanics.

How many jumps in a typical session? 
The number of jumps varies with the experience and development of the athlete. It can range from 6 - 24 depending on the individual. Once the quality starts to fall off, we stop jumping and move to other aspects of our training.

What is a typical track workout? 
A typical Monday would start with 800m of skipping and jogging, and then they would perform a comprehensive warm-up that includes many skills I am trying to teach for all the jumps. The warm-up last about 40 minutes and has a general conditioning aspect to it.
We transition to fly work on the track (30, 40, or 50's). The number varies depending on the weather and time of year. We then do three sets of turn-runs, focusing up building tempo. Run-run-jumps, focusing on low foot carriage and quick feet. Circle runs, focusing on foot mechanics and running with an open stride. U-runs, focusing on approach rhythm and turn and take-off points. Scissors, focusing on approach rhythm and take-off and free leg mechanics. Then we do a variety of short or long approach jumps depending on the time of year. And then we'll finish with some power development that can range from back-overs into the pit, medicine ball throws or overhead back, or underhand forward shot throws.

How many days in the weight room? 
Three days a week in General Prep. Two to three days a week in Specific Prep. Two days a week in Competition Prep. One to two days a week in Competition phase.
What are the key lifts in the weight room?
Cleans - variations from thighs, shins, and floor
Snatches - variations from thighs, shins, and floor
Squat - front and back, full and amortization angles

9) What are some common errors that you see in many high school jumpers and what can they do to fix those errors?
The most common error I see in high school jumpers are
1. planting parallel to the bar. 
The first can be as simple as telling the athlete to plant toward the back corner of the pit in the direction they are running.  I know this is a simplistic instruction, but it is clear and makes the request executable. Sometimes lack of strength can be the reason plant this way. Small numbers of single leg squats can really make a difference in leg strength.
2. running to the bar with no lean
The approach can be too wide for the jumper. I see a lot of small high jumpers who have wide approaches.  Unless the jumper is fast to the bar, a wide approach is probably not going to work out very well because they will have no lean at take-off. The athlete is running too slow to the bar. Creating lean with no speed is difficult. The athlete is unsure of their path to the bar. If they have inconsistent approaches, the athlete may not be strong enough, or they haven't practiced their approach enough, or both. Sometimes, when initially developing strength, skill is impaired until the athlete adapts to their training
3. planting with a bent leg
I have found this issue falls into one of two categories. The athlete believes the way he/she will go up is by purposely bending the knee, or the take-off leg is just plain weak. Jumping is a result of amortization and the loading of the take-off leg, is a natural occurrence The leg is going to bend when an athlete jumps, assisting in this bend (amortization) usually results in the athlete moving toward the bar quicker during take-off, when they should be going up.
4. not understanding what to do with their arms leading up to, and during take-off.
High jumpers are successful with single arm leads, double arm blocks, and 1 1/2 arm blocks, and some even with little to no lifting of the arms. I would do the one that is most natural to the athlete, at least until they are jumping high enough to warrant some change. The arms can provide some helpful elements at take-off. One is to raise the center of mass, create force into the take-off leg, and provide lifting direction at take-off release. Working on arms takes lots of practice and patience. There is timing involved that is challenging to master.

10) You have had a lot of success as a coach. Can you name a few of the ones that stand out to you?
Sue Rembao - High Jump - World Championship Teams in 1991 and 1993, Olympic Team in 1992, Personal Record of 1.96m (6'5")
Erin Aldrich - High Jump - 4 NCAA National Championships, 7 All-America honors, the collegiate indoor record of 1.97m (6'5.5"), World University Games 2001, World Championship Teams 1997, 2001, 2005, 2007, Olympic Team in 2000.
Victor Plata - Triathlon - Olympic Team 2004
Elizabeth Diaz - Middle Distances -  in three years, seven (7) Big XII Championships in the middle distance events indoors and outdoors (800m, 1000m, 1500m, and Mile).

11) What is your recommendation for a young coach that wants to coach one or more of the technique events in Track and Field?
Have a curiosity about one technical event you like and immerse yourself in it. It will help you become a better coach in your primary event(s), and eventually other technical events as well. Most importantly, take opportunities to learn from the best! Bob Meyers mentored me and helped me to find the shortest path to success. Of course, I had a lot of motivation to be good at coaching the high jump, which drove me to find answers. Bob wasn't always available, but he would always point me in the right directions. Without his knowledge and wisdom, I would have struggled to understand the high jump and it would have taken me a lot longer to know the event as well as I do.

12) Anything else you would like to add.
Read a lot and share with people that have your passion. They will always want to talk to you about your chosen event. Keep looking for people to help you. We are all busy, but if you have three or four mentors, you can always get a little bit of time from one of them.

Thank you very much for your time John! AJC


Peter Brewer said...

John is the entire package - - great coach, great communicator, great technition.

Albert Caruana said...

John is a great guy and this is a top notch interview in terms of his climb through the coaching ranks as well as a lot of great information for high jump coaches and athletes.

I hope people that read the interview can help share it with their friends and colleagues.

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