Smith’s methods prove technique, hard work breeds champions

Smith’s methods prove technique, hard work breeds champions

By Terrance Peacock


For years, the track and field world has questioned coach John Smith’s recruiting techniques and how he trains and strengthens his athletes.

But with more than 50 conference champions, more than 30 All-Americans and five NCAA champions in his nine-year stint with the Salukis, there is one thing nobody can question: He knows how to produce phenomenal throwers.


Smith, the Saluki track and field throws coach, has trained All-Americans, NCAA champions, U.S. champions and even Olympians. However, he said he prides himself most in his contributions to SIU.

“I enjoy being a giant killer,” Smith said. “Here at SIU, I’m able to give kids scholarship money (who) I can gamble on.”

Smith said his recruiting philosophy is simple.

“I look at their background,” he said. “The requirements of throwing far hasn’t changed for 150 years. What has changed is the work ethic of the athletes.”

Smith specializes in recruiting athletes who were raised by working-class families. He said he believes athletes raised on hard work carry that attitude through their athletic career.

“When I look at athletes I say to myself, ‘Is this person tough enough to do the work?’” he said. “Guys that come from fathers who were working-class heroes, girls that come from the country that learn to work from a young age, those make the best throwers.”

Smith coached throwers at Ohio State before he came to SIU. He produced 20 Big Ten titles, 19 All-Americans and 2 NCAA champions in his five-year career with the Buckeyes. He has more than doubled those marks with what people might consider lesser talent during his Saluki career.


However, Smith said the school doesn’t matter; the athletes do.

“The ball doesn’t know what’s on your chest,” Smith said. “If it’s Ohio State, or SIU, or anywhere else, it doesn’t know. All it knows is what you do to the ball, and that all comes down to training.”

No matter what school he coaches, Smith’s training technique is unlike any other. The technique calls for the team to lift hard one day a week and recover as opposed to other teams’ tendencies to lift three to four times a week.

The time the team loses lifting, they gain throwing, Smith said.

“The maximum recovery allows them to throw harder,” he said. “We throw more in a week than what other universities do in a month.”

Senior thrower J.C. Lambert said other universities think Smith is overworking his athletes, but that is far from the truth.

“They don’t like that we are stronger and throw heavier implements,” he said. “They think that messes up technique, and it doesn’t. It’s plain and simple. People will ask what we throw, and they won’t believe us because they can’t believe we throw as much as we do.”

Smith has trained athletes for more than 30 years, but he began his coaching career as a Saluki track and field teammember in the early ’80s. He said the track and field team was limited to a head coach and one graduate assistant because of massive budget cuts.

He said he was the team’s best thrower at the time, so he was designated to be coach. He taught his teammates on trial and error, he said, and he suffered his share of mistakes early in his coaching career.

“I look back on what I did back then and I’m like, ‘Oh my god. I was so stupid,’” he said.

He eventually got the hang of coaching and, before long, began coaching four-time Olympian and SIU track and field head coach Connie Price-Smith, one of the most celebrated women’s track and field athletes in SIU history.

“I did a lot in my career, and he was a very important role in that,” Price-Smith said. “He’s the one who got me started, and he’s the one who saw me through my 16 years of competing. Without his knowledge, I probably wouldn’t have accomplished as much as I did.”

Smith’s résumé speaks for itself, and senior thrower Kim Fortney said that was all she needed to visit SIU and eventually sign up for the team.

“I came down for an unofficial visit, and he said he has had all these great people come through his program, and it’s evident,” Fortney said. “You see it on the walls, you see how many All-Americans he’s had, and it’s obvious how great he has made this program.”

For Fortney she said the program’s success is enough motivation to strive to be the best thrower she can be.

“I think when you come to the program and you see the success in the past and how many names are on the wall, it’s like internal motivation,” she said. “You are here because of one reason, you were meant to be here, and you need to throw far.”

Gwen Berry, an SIU graduate and now post-collegiate thrower, said Smith is unlike any coach she has ever seen because of his love for the sport.

“Other coaches have their job-related life, and then they can go home and it’s separate,” she said. “Coach Smith would go home and probably write up workouts for us or watch videos and think about what he can do to make his athletes better every day.”