John Larralde Interview

A great way to kickoff 2008 is an interview with an old friend and colleague. I have known John for close to forty years. I have had the privilege and honor to coach with John. He is a great coach and a teacher. John has focused his work with the developing athlete while at Carpenteria High School and Santa Barbara City College and done a great job. He is now in his second year as assistant coach at Westmont College in Santa Barbara.You will see from his answers the type of coach John is.For the focus is always on the athlete.

What are the most essential requirements for a successful conditioning program? First, knowing the athlete. Their background, experience, ability level, as well as their goals and aspirations. With that in mind have a purpose for everything you do. From start to finish in a session, everything should link together with relation to the next exercise or the next training session, and ultimately toward a conclusion of training whether that is a single season or years of competition.

Adapt the program to suit the range of athletic abilities within the group. Identify their strengths and weaknesses and then adjust your plan to meet the perceived needs. Keep movement requirements of the sport foremost in planning progressions of the training program.

Understand the athletes commitment to the program and plan the regime accordingly. Both coach and athlete must see the plan as a long term map and exercise patience and consistency to achieve the rewards of training.

What are the most common mistakes in conditioning? Doing too much. The athlete should always finish a session feeling that they could do a little more. Working to failure results in failure.

Failing to understand the role of recovery. Remember that all training gains are essentially made during recovery.

Trying to progress too rapidly. Be patient is teaching/learning sport skills.

Shotgun approach. Do what you do well. Don’t try to do so many different things that sport specificity is lost.

Not understanding the relationship between intensity and volume. You can do high level work or high volume work, but not both in a single session.

Training to train and forgetting to prepare for competition.

What is "functional training" from your point of view? Common sense application of exercise and movement to adapt the body to specific athletic events.

What do you do to make training more functional? Try to plan and incorporate training exercises to the specific demands of the competitive events, always working from the ground up.

How important is specificity? It is very important. In conditioning I like a wide range of general athletic movements but they all must relate to specific event actions. It is important to avoid training to train. We must separate the wheat from the chaff.

What aspect of conditioning athletes is most difficult and how have you tried to address it? Most young athletes want quick results. Educating them that a proper training program is long term and progressive is the most difficult aspect of training and also the solution.

With the glut of “information” available from so many uninformed sources, many athletes are looking for the “magic” workout to make an instant breakthrough. They must learn that hard and intelligent work, applied over time is the magic answer.

With the plethora of information available how can you determine what is best? This is a great positive aspect of the internet. I search out periodicals and research papers on the web as well as subscribing to various magazines. The key is to apply rational evaluation to this wealth of information. Some experimentation with ideas is necessary. I have never been too proud to fail to try to adapt experiences and ideas from other coaches.

Where do you stand on nature versus nurture? How much difference can training make? Training can make a huge difference when it is directed and focused. It can be detrimental if it is scattered or improperly implemented. A coach has no influence over DNA however. As incredible as the human organism is, I find it amazing that it is still produced by unskilled labor.

What is the sure sign that a self proclaimed conditioning guru is not a good source of advice? When the advice proffered is specific to a situation that has not been seen or carefully documented. Most are great self-promoters, but that can’t be the only criteria, because that would include most professional and many major college coaches.

What do you do differently with the female athlete in terms of conditioning? Very little difference in training loads. My experience is that many of the females I have coached were of far less training age the males and that certainly changes the work load, but this a function of training age, not gender.

Many of the small females I have worked with had correspondingly high strength to weight ratios and could deal with advanced plyometric work earlier in their progression.

What has been the biggest innovation in training that you have seen during the course of your career and where is the biggest room for innovation in training athletes? Film technology: Although this is not new, the ability to immediately see what was done in training or competition is a huge bonus. It is available now to everyone. To be able to transfer images via computers and analyze movement has changed coaching. A picture is worth how many words? Until the athletes can see what they are doing, all those words are hot air.

The area for new innovation is the mental aspect of training. This is the untapped portion of the human element with tremendous potential for growth.

What's the biggest issue in training athletes today? Overcoming the plethora of misinformation available to athletes, sending them in search of a replacement for long term hard effort.

Specialization at a very early age. I have seen too many 14 and 15 year olds that have been “used up”. Why must they not only be only football or only baseball (as an example) players at 10 but also be branded forever as guards or second basemen? Get rid of specialized youth programs and let them play; let them be kids.

Who has been a role model in your career and why? Vern Gambetta, who got me started in coaching and taught me to always look for more efficient ways to achieve superior results. I will make no apologies for the recommendation on this blog.

Sam Adams, who continues to show me how to handle life with dignity and grace.

Lou Panizzon, a fine teacher and coach that gave me the opportunity to expand my coaching and who showed that honesty and integrity came before winning.

What are the biggest professional challenges have you had to face? I’m a professional? My biggest frustrations have been trying to convince administrators and other coaches that athletics in education is not about money, wins, championships or points. It is all about student/athletes… it is about people.

What do you enjoy most about what you do? Dislike? For 33 years I have said “this is my last season, time to get a real job.”, and now I am excited about finishing my 34th. I like what I do, I like working with young people and sharing their joys and sorrows and seeing them grow as individuals. I have had the chance to meet wonderful people and make lifetime friends. What’s not to like?

Did there come a time in your career where you were faced with a "fork in the road?" If so, do you ever revisit the decision you made or didn't make? Yes, there have been numerous forks… too many to examine. I can see no point in reviewing a decision that I cannot remake.

What inspired you to get into the field you are in? I never intended to pursue coaching, it just happened. Lucky me.

Is failure ever valuable? Yes. How can one understand achievement or appreciate success without experiencing failure? We must all learn to deal with failures in order to be able to deal with success. Every competition should be a learning experience, never walk away from competition without taking a lesson from it, be it a successful outcome or not.

Which changes now taking place in your field that should be encouraged, and which resisted? There is a seemingly growing attitude in our society that winning at all costs is not only acceptable but expected. More emphasis should be placed on teaching ethics through sport. There are programs being developed both in academia and private sectors that address this change of values and should be encouraged and emulated elsewhere.


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