Review: Event Specialist Certification Course (USTFCCCA)

Posted by Latif Thomas

A couple of weeks ago I attended the first ever Event Specialist Certification Course run by the US Track & Field & Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA).  In essence, it is the evolution of the old USATF Level II School that has fallen off over the past couple of years.**

I can’t really say I had any particular expectations for the course. I didn’t really know what to expect. But my experience over the course of the 5 days I spent at the The Academy was most definitely not what I expected.

Here is what I found out:

Boo Schexnayder is the Godfather of US Track and Field Coaching Education. You’d be hard pressed to find someone ‘in the know’ who disagrees.

Not only is Boo one of the most intelligent human beings I have ever come across, he is also one of the hardest working, kindest and most humble.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that athletes will take on the personality of their coach. That said, I was not surprised that the coaches Boo brought in to teach the event group courses displayed similar qualities.

In the sprints/hurdles/relays group, where I was, we were taught some concepts that were difficult to understand and wrap our minds around. For example, Gary Winckler talked a great deal about the importance of using themes to structure your mesocycles and, therefore, make microcycle themes and structure considerably easier and more compatible.

I am not good at that. And by not good I mean, in the past, I just didn’t do it. Since I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about, I asked him how you’re supposed to know which themes to use for a particular mesocycle and related microcycles.

His response serves as a microcosm of my experience of the course as a whole.

He answered all of my questions calmly and patiently. If I didn’t understand or looked confused, he found different ways to explain the process until I understood. He didn’t try to use big words or try to get back on his presentation outline. He didn’t get frustrated or, at any point, make me feel incompetent for not understanding this (or any other) topic, regardless of how incompetent I may have felt.

I can only speak for the sprints group coaches because that is the course I took, but all the Instructors, Vince Anderson, Gary Winckler and Tommy Badon went out of their way to answer everyone’s questions. They went out of their way to help us understand the material. They never made anyone feel unqualified and made themselves available before and after class until all of our questions were answered. We had 50 coaches in our event group and the instructors made sure they each learned all of our names. That did not go unnoticed by the attendees.

Again, I can only speak for sprints because that’s where I spent 40 hours of class time. But people were buzzing about Boo’s presentations in the Jumps Course, along with Todd Lane. And I know Scott Christensen, Endurance Course leader and friend of Complete Track and Field, is of the same pedigree. It was not different in the throws group.

I learned so much at this certification that I don’t even know where to begin. But I did take lots of notes and will be discussing how I will apply these new concepts to my athletes over the course of the coming months.

As I drove home from the event with Brown University Jumps Coach Reuben Jones, we were trying to find the words to describe how we felt about our experience.

Humbled. Grateful. Overwhelmed. Privileged. Inspired. Excited. Blessed.

We knew we’d get good information.  But the Instructors went out of their way to help us become better coaches.  Our mentors at this event did a truly outstanding job, personally and professionally, and I am grateful for the opportunity and experience to learn from and get to know such quality coaches and human beings.

I take coaching education very seriously. Because, here at the high school level, as you well know, 80% of coaches don’t even think about coaching education. Those of us in that top 20% have to pave the way. And you will absolutely get top tier instruction attending at The Academy via the USTFCCCA.

OK, I just got real deep on you there.

Before I end this week’s article, I want to mention something else about the event that scrambled my brain.

The average age of the coaches attending this program was amazingly young for such a high level course. At 33, I felt like I was the median age of the group. One of the people in my group (we had to do a group project) was going into his senior year of college. Of all the coaches I spent the most time with outside of class, I was the oldest. (It really, really hurts to say that)

That tells me two things:

  1. Many ‘experienced’ coaches don’t think they need to go to these events or think they don’t have anything to learn at these types of events. And that is unfortunate. Especially after recently seeing a collegiate summer training program for sprinters that consisted of a 20 minute run, a fartlek run and, I shit you not, an 8×30 seconds workout that was labeled ‘speed work’. This workout did not contain any actual speed work. Hear that? It’s the sound of an angel crying.
  2. The future of our sport, from a coaching standpoint, is in good hands. Young coaches are hungry to learn and both eager and willing to share ideas. That is exciting.

Over the coming months, I’ll be bringing many of the best coaches in our sport here to to share their knowledge with all of us.

Keep learning my friends because if you’re not on your grind, the rest of us will catch and pass you, whether you’re at the high school or college level.

To your success,

Latif Thomas


** In the original version of the article, I said ‘it is the evolution of the old USATF Level II School that is no longer relevant.’ I misspoke. It is still relevant. I just don’t think it’s as good as what the USTFCCCA offers. Especially when you consider that most track coaches are high school coaches and aren’t going to go to Level II school and that there is more to offer than just Level II or it’s equivalent. Only the USTFCCCA offers multiple courses. Also, USATF Level I school is pointless. Also, USATF people freaked out about the original version. So I amended it. Let’s not get into a pissing contest over semantics.

Latif Thomas - Latif Thomas owns and operates Complete Track and Field and serves as the Co-Director of the Complete Track and Field Clinic at Harvard University, the largest track and field clinic in the United States. A popular speaker and presenter at some of the largest coaching clinics across the country, Latif has true passion for the sport and it definitely shows. Over the past 19 years, he has coached more combined League, Division, All-State, and New England Champions in sprints, hurdles, and jumps than he can count. Follow @latif_thomas on Twitter.

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