John Gondak On Using Rivalries to Build Success

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John Gondak is the head coach of the Penn State cross country and track and field teams. Gondak is in his fourth year coaching the Nittany Lions. He has coached over 20 All-Americans, almost 30 Big Ten championships, and 21 Penn State records. Below is a conversation recirculated from a FloTrack interview with Gondack in 2015.

The Importance Of Rivalries

"Where we're situated we have a variety of different rivalries -- from a conference standpoint, from a track and field standpoint, we obviously have some good rivalries with . . . Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, especially on the women's side, and Nebraska has become a team that has a really good track team . . . Illinois men last year. What we try to do is look at the teams out there that are going to be successful and are going to be the ones that would be your challenging team to win a Big Ten championship and use that as motivation and say, 'Here's what this team's doing; if we want to beat'em we've got to match or exceed their performances.'

"So it's very good motivational skills to be out there and to be able to look at other programs and talk to our team about being great competitors, and you know if you want to win a Big Ten championship you have to be a great competitor to go to go to the conference meet and be able to fight in the prelims and be able to make it to the final. We're also in a pretty unique rivalry in this area with the Georgetown(s), Syracuses, and Villanovas of the world. Especially down at Penn Relays, running the 4 by 800 and distance medleys and stuff. Georgetown last year came up a lot to our indoor track and we raced against them a lot; it was a lot of fun and you use that rivalry to help make your program better. I think in some aspects we helped Georgetown have the success they had last year and they helped us have the success we had. When you're willing to (compete) head to head against each other and push each other to be the best you can be, it really helps everybody involved."

Rivalry Vs. Non-Rivarly Races

Do you see a difference when athletes are on the line only racing Big Ten athletes and teams? Is it different than a Payton Jordan-type invitational in which the competition could be anyone? 

"Absolutely, I think one of the things we try and teach our athletes here at Penn State is when you're running it's not necessarily about you, especially at the conference meet. It's about the jersey that you're wearing; it's about the Penn State on your chest. So when you're lined up at the Big Ten meet there's really that aura of doing it for Penn State, not just necessarily about doing it for yourself. In a lot of the larger invitationals, you're there trying to get a qualifying time for yourself, or at like a USA championships that's time for yourself and it's a little bit of a different feel. At the end of the day, especially when we're at a conference meet, everybody's just trying to be the best they can be for Penn State.