Dave Wollman is the head coach at Southern Methodist University, one of the nation's premier throws schools.
L&S: Dave, how did you first become exposed to track and field, and throwing?
DW: I am a product of the U.S. athlete selection system. Blind luck and happenstance. I started throwing because I had a younger brother who challenged me one day in the summer prior to my senior year in high school. From that day forward, I have been what has been popularly phrased as 'hooked'. Add this bit of luck to the fact the only University that offered me a scholarship for football had an exceptionally talented throws coach by the name of Jerry England. Indiana Central then, University of Indianapolis now. Jerry became my defensive line coach and also my throwing coach. I credit my love and high fever for the throws to Jerry. You might recognize his most prominent student in the name of Randy Heisler. He also has a budding young star in Andy Richardson. He is an excellent teacher.
L&S: Tell us a little bit about your own throwing career.
DW: My throwing career was short and sweet. I started my senior year in high school and threw the discus. In college, I found the shot was more to my liking and was the Division II national champion my sophomore year. Although, I continued to improve, others improved more and I was runnerup for the next two years. I had a wonderful time in school and enjoyed my football-track experience immensely. After college, I became a little more educated about what was going on in the late seventies and I chose not to continue to compete. It was some very big drug years and I wanted no part of it. I don't know what is wrong with me but for some reason I believe that if you can not get it done with the gifts God gave you at birth, it probably was not meant to be. Many, many athletes disagreed.
L&S: Give us some background on your coaching history.
DW: My coaching career began in a small high school in Northern Indiana. Concord High School. Two years there, and on to Purdue. I worked for a great guy who is still the head coach there, Mike Poehlein. I worked there one year and a half, and thanks to the prodding of Mike, I pursued a position with Brooks Johnson at Stanford University. I was at Stanford for six years and once again as luck would have it, I watched and learned from some truly outstanding people. The bay area in the early eighties was a mecca for outstanding throwers. I had the opportunity to coach some great kids and had a measure of success. Pam Dukes, Erica Wheeler, Glen Schneider, Patty Purpur, Karen Nickerson, Brian Masterson, Shaun Pickering, Lisa Berhagen-Ramos, Brian Marshall. These and many others helped develop my coaching philosophy. I was very fortunate to have a boss that provided me with ample opportunities to coach great athletes and the resources needed to learn the events I have never learned before. And then the freedom to test my developing philosophy. Following this stint, I moved to take my current position of ten years as Head Men's and Women's coach at Southern Methodist University.
L&S: You mentioned developing your coaching philosophy. How would you summarize it?
DW: My philosophy is based on the principle that I am in an educational setting and therefore have a resposibility to educate. I also feel it is important in this four to five year period that I help the young student athlete prepare for life. Most college freshman come from a background in which they are dependant on their parents or guardians to make the important decisions for them. They are not necessarily ready emotionally or mature enough to make good decisions. Yet, in four years time they will be expected to be independant. If I, as their coach create an environment where I take the place of the parents, I do not believe I am doing the young person a service. Therefore, I take most of them through an educational process that moves them into complete independance by their final year. I act more as a consultant at this point and hope that I have given them enough education about the throws for them to start designing their own training programs. I continue to motivate and listen and care for each of them, but you won't find them looking for me after every throw in every competition. For me, when a graduating athlete prepares their own program, plots their own goals, and stands on the victory stand knowing that they achieved their high level because of many good decisions that they have made, a chill truly runs through me and I get tremendous joy out of their success. I also think that I have done a good job for my University.
L&S: Beyond throwing, is there any one thing that you emphasize in your program?
DW: The one thing that stands out in my mind is the independence that I have instilled in them. They do not have a crutch for a coach and do not use me as one. Although when they first come in as athletes, they want the coach to do all of the thinking for them. Instead, I really try to educate, not dominate, and each of my athletes know that when they are in the competion, it is up to them and when they are on the winners stand, they can look in the mirror and be proud of what they accomplished. I feel it might take a little longer for them to find the answers within themselves and sometimes we do not make the immediate improvements we might if I were to lead them with a leash, but the athletes that truly want to be great find their way and the independant spirit that develops inside makes a difference in life after throwing.
L&S: Can you tell us a little about how you've recruited foreign athletes? Do you seek them out, do they come to you? Can you give us a couple examples?
DW: Not really any different than the U.S. kids, some contacted me, some were recommended by current and former athletes and some I worked very hard to get. A quick note in addition to this, not only are these international students recruited the same way, but they are all great kids! I would not trade in any of the student athletes I have had the opportunity to work with, U.S. or international. I have a good mix of kids that truly care for each other and I enjoy watching them grow. I also enjoy getting the Christmas cards with the next generation smiling at the cameras.
L&S: What do you look for when recruting a Division I scholarship athlete?
DW: Recruiting is an important factor in determining success. I think the biggest and single most important factor is in finding young talent that fits the personality of the coach and University. Communication between athlete and coach is the cornerstone to development in my philosphy. Secondly, I must feel the athlete has the ability to compete at the highest level of NCAA competition. This means a finalist at the NCAA Championships sometime in their four year career. And finally, an athlete that chooses a University based on academics and athletics.
L&S: How does your weight training vary according to event, or does it? For example, I know of hammer throwers who don't bench, and discus throwers who de-emphasize the bench.
DW: It does not really vary according to the event as much as it is specific to the athlete. Each athlete comes in with varying degrees of experience in the weight room. I usually try to find the athletes strengths and make them better while concentrating less on the weaknesses except when the weakness can lead to injury. Ex: if an athlete is a natural power clean athlete, we will make this one of the major lifts throughout the year, if the same athlete has a weakness with front squats we will spend some time trying to develop a basic strength level without taking away from the major lifts. Factoring in overload and compensation for each major lift, I try to add experience in the other lifts without effecting this cycle. After a couple of years, enough experience and repetition has been gained and I can start to supplement or even replace one lift with another in the overall development scheme. I believe the emphasis on the strengths is necessary because of the importance of self confidence and ego building. The fact we all enjoy doing the things we are good at (ex. I would rather drive the golf ball than putt it and it is the driving that keeps me playing) helps to maintain and increase the confidence level the athlete first arrives with at school. That said, a couple of basics certainly cannot be overlooked. Biceps is not a major contributor to long discus throws and so arm curling cannot be used as a major lift. As you can tell there is nothing earth shattering or even the least bit new in my philosophy and I am very much a proponent of the 'KISS' (KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID) method of coaching.
L&S: Can you give us a typical year's training schedule for your team, both in > the weight room and on the field?
DW: As I said before I can't really generalize about team training as much as you would like, but I can say that I believe strongly in the power lifts for all ballistic athletes, flexibility and relaxation training I think is the basic often overlooked in a lot of athletes, and repetitive movement for technique development. I tend to break the throw down more in the fall and work on specific components of each event. Drills are a large part of the fall training. I am trying to develop good motor patterns in specific parts of the throw and then as the season nears putting them all together within the rythym of the throw.
L&S: Can you profile some of the national/international calibre athletes in your program, past and present?
Lisa Bernhagen 1.97 high jump, collegiate record holder, national champion
Brian Marshall 2.28 high jump, four time all american, pac 10 meet record holder, Olympian.
Kajsa Bergqvist 1.95 high jump, national champion, fifth in the 1997 World Championships.
Bianca McKell High jump all american
Courtney Ireland 19.47 SP runner up national champion, seven time all american, Commonwealth Silver medalist, Bronze medalist World Cup
Carol Cady SP National Champion, Olympian, seventh in Olympic Games
Pam Dukes SP National Champion, Olympian
Teri Steer SP National Champion
Patty Purpur SP five time all american
Marika Tuliniemi SP runner up National Champion
JoAnn Hacker SP five time all american
Roar Hoff SP three time all american
Jason Tunks DT National Champion, Olympian, Ninth in 1997 World Championships
Alex Tammert DT Three time all american, Olympian, 12th in 1997 World Championships
Ian Winchester DT All american, 17th in 1997 World Championships, New Zealand National Record Holder
Glenn Schneider DT All American, Stanford Record Holder
Lars Sundt DT Twice All american
Brian Masterson HT Twice all american
Shaun Pickering HT Five time all american
Brian Murer HT five time all american, runner up national champion and former American Collegiate record holder in the wt.throw
Xavier Tison HT runner up national champion
Windy Dean HT Twice all american
Erica Wheeler JT Runner up national champion, Stanford School Record Holder
Windy Dean JT Twice National Champion
Daniel Gustaffson JT All american
L&S: In light of your own competitive anti-drug stand, what encouragement do you offer your elite athletes, many of whom find themselves facing the same dilemna you once did?
DW: First of all, the athletes that choose S.M.U. know without a doubt they will not be taking any kind of illegal performance enhancement drug. They know this before they attend S.M.U. In most cases, this is an important part of choosing S.M.U. My encouragement comes in the form of creating a strong belief in themselves as individuals with character, with values and with enormous potential to improve as athletes. I am a firm believer in the strength of the human spirit. I do not think the surface has even been scratched in what athletes can accomplish and that all of the drug records will one day be surpassed by athletes with the combination of great character and exceptional talent.
L&S: What advice would you give to aspiring collegiate coaches who might just be starting out?
DW: Be prepared....to make less money than all of your peers for the rest of your life.....to work longer hours than many of the same people who make double your salary....sacrifice hours on weekends recruiting or traveling to competitions when someone you love is at home wishing you were there....know that no one outside of the track world will ever give your sport the respect it deserves.....AND... getting up every morning excited about being at the job and working with kids you care about....constantly getting a adrenaline rush when one of your athletes accomplishes something they felt impossible....spending a great deal of your day in the sunshine doing something you love....never growing old spiritually.... Additionally, read everything you can get your hands on and question all of it. Watch videos forward, backwards and sideways until your eyes pop out. Call coaches on the phone and pick their brains. Go to clinics, listen and ask questions. Never stop learning, never stop listening, never stop questioning. And Enjoy Life!