Man of the Moment: Wallin leads team to success with hands-on approach
Hunter O. Lyle – Sports Editor
From the multiple consecutive conference championships, to the plethora of athletes sent to NCAA competition, Southern’s track and field program has been synonymous across the league for greatness. This year, the team collected yet another accolade as head coach John Wallin was named the NE10 Coach of the Year.
After a season that saw a NE10 conference title and seven athletes reach the NCAA’s, Wallin has racked in his 17th coach of the year award. Over the years, he has earned one for cross country and eight for both indoor and outdoor track and field.
Despite the amount of personal achievement and acknowledgement over the years, Wallin said he is only concentrated on winning other awards.
“It’s always good to win those awards but I’m a firm believer in looking past awards and trying to get focused on the task at hand,” said Wallin. “Counting awards is a quick way to push yourself in a non-successful area. I just think that people look at awards too much instead of staying focused on what got you the award.”
Having an 80-man roster could be daunting to many coaches, especially when many of the athletes are focused in separate concentrations, like with track and field. However, Wallin said he gets over this by taking an intimate and individual approach with every athlete.
“Every year, we’re like, ‘yeah, we want to win the conference meet, we want to win New Englands. We want to score at the National Championship,’ stuff like that, but to that we have to focus in on each individual and what they’re capable of doing and trying to get them to perform at the highest level possible for each kid,” said Wallin. “All of our planning and goals, everything is based on what we can do with each individual kid.”
Part of this approach is eliminating large team meetings. Wallin said that while the team does have large meetings to discuss the broad goals and expectations, he would rather sit down with each athlete instead. Dan Labbadia, a junior who competes in the javelin throw, said this method helped him with more than just athletics.
“Those one-on-one meetings are actually fantastic between him and I,” said Labbadia. “He takes a very holistic approach to things.”
During Labbadia’s sophomore year, he underwent Tommy John’s surgery on his arm which ended his season. Coming back this year, Labbadia said the personal meetings with Wallin reassured him of his own skill and drive.
“The [recovery] process is not easy for me,” said Labbadia. “There were a lot of ups and downs that I was dealing with and Coach Wallin really helped me be in tune with my emotions. I feel like if I didn’t have those deep conversations with him , where I was completely open with him about where I was feeling and how I was feeling, then I kind of would have been a mental case.”
As of this year, Southern’s track and field program has won four consecutive NE10 banners. For Justin Kelly, a senior who competes in relay running, he said the success over the years is based around the culture and environment Wallin sets.
“Before we work out [Wallin] is in the gym. If I come into the weight room early, to prep myself, I see him doing stretches, and benching and squatting,” said Kelly. “He’s a really competitive guy, so when it comes down to conference time or New England time, we’re always ready to go.”
Through his role with the program, Wallin said to be a good coach, you need to be focused on more things than just winning. He said, moreover than winning, he is interested in developing each athlete into a hard-working, accountable and passionate person for the world.
“I think you really need to have the student athlete’s best interests as your number one goal. We’re really just trying to create a better person for society when they leave college,” said Wallin. “You want your student athletes to be good human beings when they leave. You want them to understand the value of hard work. You want them to have integrity, a good sense of accountability.