There is a science and an art to coaching.
For track and field and cross country assistant coach Tyler Yamaguchi, the science is in designing performance-maximizing workouts that maintain a balance between intensity and rest.
“But then there’s the art,” Yamaguchi said. “Part of my job is getting people to believe in themselves, believe in their abilities, believe that the hard work they’ve put in in practice is going to pay off in the race. And this doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to win the race — it means that they can dig deep and improve themselves.”
Yamaguchi can attribute his status as a well-respected sprints coach to his mastery of the coaching art since joining the Tigers in 2008.
He played basketball, baseball and soccer growing up, but switched to track and field while attending Punahou High School in Honolulu.
“I decided to try track for a change because I thought I was the fastest person in the world,” Yamaguchi said.
Although his athletic career ended when he later attended the University of Hawaii, his coaching career soon began when a former high school teacher asked him to assist with the middle school track and field program at his alma mater.
Yamaguchi worked his way up to coaching the high school students from 2004–07, including the 2007 state champion of the 200-meter, 400-meter and 4×400 meter relay.
A year later, Derek Turbin ‘06 — a previous assistant coach for the Occidental track and field program and a fellow alumnus of Punahou High School — recruited Yamaguchi to coach Tiger sprints.
Yamaguchi did not intend to make coaching his profession; he planned on applying to medical school when he graduated from college. Becoming a doctor is still a tentative goal of the distant future.
“I’m definitely having a lot more fun than I thought I would,” Yamaguchi said. “Coaching has been a much more rewarding occupation than I ever thought it could be. Every time I’ve taken on a new challenge, it’s been more and more rewarding as a person to me.”
According to Yamaguchi, his scientific background helped him as a coach in terms of understanding energy systems, anatomy and physiology.
“He really knows what he’s talking about,” sprinter Kevin Cox (senior) said. “It’s the most technically thoughtful I’ve ever been of my own actions, even while I’m practicing. He makes you really aware of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”
Each runner has their individual workout designed by Yamaguchi, who bases them on scientific research to make sure that they sufficiently prepare athletes for competition.
For Jonathan Padron (senior), Yamaguchi’s coaching method enabled him to have self-confidence while racing in a SCIAC meet his sophomore year after returning from an injury.
“Basically knowing that he’s there and that he’s believing in me helps me believe in myself to go out and race,” Padron said.
Yamaguchi is also involved with recruiting sprinters to attend Occidental, a potentially difficult task in a Division-III athletics department that is prohibited from influencing admission decisions or offering scholarships.
And yet, the high-caliber student-athletes that are admitted are also the athletes that Yamaguchi prefers working with.
“I like the fact that Oxy is such a good academic institution,” Yamaguchi said. “I think it attracts people who become students of the sport. I like explaining things to the athletes and them totally understanding what I’m talking about. I believe it makes them work harder at what they’re doing.”
According to his athletes, Yamaguchi’s passion fuels his dedication to each individual student.
“He’s emotionally invested in us,” Cox said. “[Yamaguchi] doesn’t discriminate against people on the team about how good they are, so it’s easy for everybody to feel wanted on the team when he’s around because he knows that every person matters.”
Head coach Rob Bartlett, the colleague who has worked most closely with Yamaguchi since the beginning of his collegiate coaching career, spoke highly about his sprints coach.
“I think he’s quite easily become the best sprints coach that I know and an excellent coach in general,” Bartlett said. “I think Oxy’s really lucky to have him.”