Click here for a photo gallery from the IMG Academy.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The primary nature of a coach in sports is to teach and educate their athletes, and often the most successful coaches are the ones who never cease to further their own education and experience within their athletic field.
Moravian College assistant track & field coach Steve Rahn, who specializes in the quick and powerful sprints, hurdles and high jump events, is one of those coaches on the never-ending path to becoming a better coach in one of the fastest-paced sports in the world. Rahn is on his way to becoming Level 3 certified in the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaching Association.
One step Rahn took in the six-month journey to becoming certified on the highest level of track & field coaching in the country was attending the IAAF/USATF Sprints and Hurdles Academy in Bradenton, Florida on Dec. 8-14 of 2013. The academy was a Level 5 IAAF event, the highest for the international governing body of the sport.
Only 40 people were selected to the elite program held at the beautiful IMG Academy facilities in the Sunshine State. Also in attendance were international Olympians, their coaches and a seemingly endless pool of knowledge, experience and personality.
"Learning from the best instructors in the world will benefit not only me as a coach, but the athletes I work with on a day-to-day basis," Rahn said. "Anything from an athlete's start to a race, to max-velocity biomechanics was covered. There were a whole lot of different views from around the world and it was incredible to collaborate with everyone."
Coaches came from all corners of the world, including Shanghai, Denmark, Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas. The academy's instructors were the essential A-List from the Who's Who of track & field coaching.
Loren Seagrave was the keynote speaker to launch the academy into a week-long series of lectures, hands-on training and presentations. Seagrave, a former coach at Louisiana State University, is regarded as the modern pioneer of track & field coaching education. He currently serves as the private coach and trainer to a number of Olympians.
Rahn knew right from the very first day at the IMG Academy that he was surrounded by track & field royalty, and he couldn't wait to take it all in, and subsequently bring it back to the Greyhounds.
"When you first start off coaching, you know very little," Rahn admitted. "It's a learning process for us, just as it is for the athletes. It takes a bit to get your 'coach's eye.' Kids are flying by in the speed and power events, and you have to pick things up. Once I started going to education courses, I learned there were things I didn't know and there was so much more out there that I can learn. A coach's job is to never rest on their laurels and to constantly educate themselves so you can better educate your athletes."
Rahn became Level 2 certified in 2010 after passing a written test and giving a presentation on preparing a workout schedule. The Level 3 process is significantly more lengthy and detailed, including a work study on leadership, creating a poster that represents one of their athlete's strengths, weaknesses and outside factors, and a presentation on one athlete giving all measurables, intangibles, obstacles and every step they'll be taking for six months with that athlete. The six-month journey began in January and will conclude in May at the end of Moravian's outdoor season.
Helping Rahn along the way was a litany of the world's top coaches at the Sprints and Hurdles Academy. John Smith gave presentations on maximum velocity in coaching sprints and stressed the importance of the start in another classroom session. In fact, the concept of a perfect start was the focus of many of the world-class instructors.
Dr. Ralph Mann, a biomechanist and track & field coach, specialized in the optimal body positions for speed and power events. Rahn was witness to Mann's unique software and high-speed camera duo that captured the mechanics of an athlete's start, which is usually invisible to the naked eye.
Mann conducted a study pitting two methods of starting a race against each other: the Jamaican Toe Drag and the Jump Start. His camera and software program showed the toe drag is 20 percent more effective. After 15 minutes of training with an elite sprinter, Mann had shaved time off the athlete's start time to the point where it was two-hundredths of a second away from the best starting time in the world.
"It's the smallest little thing that can make the biggest difference," Rahn said. "The start is one example of that. You should spend 75 percent of your year working on the start, because if you have a bad start, you are almost guaranteed to have a bad race."
Rahn admitted he had trouble coming to grips on returning North after the academy. However, the Moravian assistant was enthused to bring the newfound techniques, knowledge and ideas back to Bethlehem.
"I would really like to thank [head coach] Jesse Baumann and the Moravian College athletic department for helping me on this journey," Rahn said. "They have been very supportive. I love this program. It has a lot of history and a lot of potential. There are some great recruits we have coming in with raw talent, not to mention our current outstanding student-athletes."
The Greyhounds' men and women indoor teams are in the midst of their winter season, and are piling on to a growing list of ECAC qualifiers. The outdoor season will begin in late March as the men and women teams both attempt to win their seventh consecutive Landmark Conference titles.
Those kinds of results require hard-nosed and dedicated student-athletes. It only helps when those student-athletes are coached by individuals who are never satisfied and never stop improving themselves to better lead the program.