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Joe Franklin is the head distance and middle distance coach at the University of New Mexico. This season is his ninth season coaching with the Lobos. In his time at UNM, he's coached over 30 All-Americans and had several teams earn podium finishes at the NCAA Division I cross country championships.
Approach To Training Athletes
How would you describe your approach to training athletes?
"Over the last 18 years, our training has been devised by our failures. It's changed a lot over the last18 years, however long I've been doing this. . . . [What we] have now is a system that I think works. Does that mean it can't change? No, but I feel like we can get people to a very elite level. Am I an exercise scientist? Nope, I'm not -- I was an English major. We do a lot by feel; we have patterns we like to repeat. It's a very simple sport in my eyes and we try not to make it complicated."
What do you mean when you consider your program successful?
"We've won some conference championships, we've made it to the NCAA Championships, we've got a lot of kids running really, really, really fast, and we've had a lot of kids have a lot of fun. We have kids that are out there that are coaching now and doing all kinds of different things, so I think they had good experiences here."
You said that you in some ways "coach by feel"? In the past you've almost referred to it as a lifestyle approach . . . what do you mean by that?
"Well, I think you can learn a lot by being around kids, you know. Like we said earlier, if you're coming to a workout and you've got our traditional 10-mile tempo or 6-mile tempo and it's bad weather out, we may have to adapt that or you may have been up late you can see it in your eyes. We had a woman who won an NCAA championship a few years ago, Victoria Mitchell, wonderful woman. I knew when she came to practice and her eyes were red, she was up all night studying, and we might as well not do anything for two days. We just got used to being able to read people and read how they feel and know what their lifestyle is and adapt that to our training."
Is it pretty common among student-athletes the symptoms "I didn't sleep" or "I studied too late"?
"A lot of them will tell you, so you have to be able to see it in them. We had another student a few years ago, that super bright young man NCAA national qualifier multiple times, and we to give him some scientific data in order to make him take some days off, taking his pulse in the morning. When I would see him and say, 'Hey you just don't look very good,' he would say, 'No I'm fine.' So we finally had to get the point where we had him take his pulse in the morning . . . if you're high then we gotta back off. So I had to literally show him data to take time off."
Is it the same among all people or is it harder to read some than others?
"It's harder to read some than others 'cause some kids don't talk, (and) some kids talk all the time. So it's very individual. When you have 50 distance runners you're not going to know all of them especially as well as you know some of them, but it's your job to know them enough to get through the workout."
If your going to advise a coach looking to take that approach, how do you read someone?
"I think you just get to know them. You get to know them, you get to know a lot of kids if they have a bad workout they become a little manic or you got to get them out of their hole, as they say. I think you've just got to get to know them and get to know what makes them tick. Get to know what they like, what they don't like -- it's a big family."
Is there any universal thing that's worked for getting to know kids?
We do a lot of coffee meetings whenever a kid wants to meet. That's why I've gained about 30 pounds in the last five years, from all the lattes I've had. I'll sit down and talk whenever I'll have a meeting with students whenever they call. My wife works nights sometimes -- she's a nurse -- and I'll meet students at 7:00 PM if we need to. That's just what we do because with us it's a lifestyle as well. This isn't just a job, and that's important. It's important to get away from the office. My phone rings all the time; there's always people in and out and you can't have undivided attention when you're in the office. It's important when you go out to turn off our phones, and sometimes I have a difficult time doing that, but you have too."