Previewing the championship season with Danny Mackey
The USATF Outdoor Championships begins on June 23 in Eugene, Oregon, hosting the country's top elite track and field athletes as they compete for the title of National Champion in their respective events. What’s more, the top three athletes in each event qualify for the World Athletics Championships, also held in Eugene, Oregon. In other words, this is a big deal.
The Brooks athletes are at the top of their game to qualify for the USATF Outdoor Championships, with their eye on a prized spot on the Worlds team. The team is led by head coach Danny Mackey, who has coached the group for ten years through USATF Championships, World Championships and Olympics. We caught up with Mackey to talk about the outdoor season thus far, their excitement over Brooks’ new spike technology, and what fans can expect from the Outdoor Championships.
Brooks: How have the athletes grown in the past year?
Danny Mackey: That’s a hard one to answer. The company won their first Olympic medal (Josh Kerr earned a bronze medal in the 1500m at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics); Josh has really progressed in his three years here. The athletes and the team were a huge part of it, the company and the brand were a huge part of it — it takes a village.
This is our tenth season, we’re so different than year one in terms of maturity and growth. There’s a growth factor that happens when you can achieve that: the maturity it takes to get to that success and then to confidently try to repeat it. We almost did it at Indoors [World Championships], Isaiah would have medaled if he hadn’t been injured.
Brooks: How has your approach to coaching changed, if at all, with the growth of the group?
Mackey: I’m the same person I was 10 years ago. I’ve always been very mathematical about performance — do x,y, and z in your workout and then this will be the outcome — and I was always very team focused. Having a team around what these athletes are trying to do is going to increase the likelihood of a positive outcome. Those things have always been critical to my coaching.
What’s changed is I’ve learned a lot about psychology, performance psychology, and how they are closely aligned in terms of how the brain functions, where anxiety and panic come from, and how it ties into high performance. I think I’m a lot more appreciative of it than I was before.
I’ve also reverted to things I would have done as a coach for high school in terms of team bonding. We do some corny things that, even though their pros and adults, the team seems to like. Those are probably the two biggest changes.
Brooks: The athletes started using the new Brooks spikes this indoor season. What do they think of the new technology?
Mackey: They are happy that they are wearing the brand that they want to represent and there's excitement around it too because they’ve seen the evolution of the product. Brooks has worked super closely with us, they’ve listened to the athletes, and they’ve made the changes. It’s an insane amount of work to do in less than a year.
Objectively, the spikes are the best on the market right now. They’re really good. They’re lighter than anything else out there, the positioning of the carbon plate is in the best spot, the new foam they came out with is super responsive.
Brooks: How do you prepare yourself and the athletes to compete in large races like USATF Championships?
Mackey: For myself, I start being really aware of down time. It sounds so corny, but I eat a specific way, I don’t have time to socialize because the work is so hard, I do martial arts and jiu jitsu, so I make sure I get that in a couple times a week and I run every day. I try to go into these things thinking, “How would I want to be physically and mentally if I was competing?”
For the athletes, you really try to be repetitive. There should be a line from practice; easy days, to hard days; to opening season races, leading into the championships where you can see progression — things that are repeatable. To some degree, they should have experienced some version of the championships from a sleep, warmup, and race standpoint.
Brooks: What are you doing to keep the group inspired and in sync?
Mackey: One of the things is to make sure that their identity isn’t wrapped up in the sport. They need to let go just a touch. Athletes want to put their head down and squeeze more, but that usually produces a worse outcome. I talk to them so that they understand how to trust themselves, trust their training, and that results will come. And if they don’t, then there is probably some catastrophic reason why, and then we just start working on the 2023 season. At the end of the day, it’s just their job. Perspective shifting helps to alleviate that pressure a little bit.
Brooks: What are you most looking forward to at USATF Championships? Are you hoping for any particular outcomes?
Mackey: I think this will be an interesting season for the team because we’ve never had such a spread in ability. We have some people trying to win the title and we have developmental athletes who are just trying to make USA’s. I think it’s really cool that Worlds are in the US, and hopefully we’ll have a couple athletes there, I’m excited about that.
Follow the Beasts journey
Catch the Beasts on the track at Hayward Field from June 23- 26 at the USA Outdoor Championships.
Cheer on your favorite athletes and follow their championship journeys on the Brooks Beasts Instagram.
Learn more about the Beasts.