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Men’s Cross Country

Getting to know your U SPORTS coaches: John Machuga, UBC Okaganan Heat


Throughout the 2017-18 season, U SPORTS sits down with one key athlete, coach, and staff member of each U SPORTS athletic program in our new interview series “Getting to know…”

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Name: John Machuga
School: UBC Okanagan
Sport: Cross country
Position: Head coach
Seniority: First year
Previous school/position: W.L. Seaton Secondary
Hometown: Kelowna, B.C.

  1. How did you first get involved in coaching? What was your path to your position as head coach of UBC Okaganan?

I got involved in coaching by accident. While I was in high school, the club I was involved in had a coach who was getting ever-more busy with his work. Initially he would give me a single practice to lead the group in. That became a week’s worth of practices, then a month.  Finally midway through my Grade 11 year he stopped showing up. So I had to start making up the workouts on my own.

I continued to write and deliver the program for my club for a couple of more years.  For the following 18 years, I coached at three different high schools, ran a multi-school program to help an additional nine high schools build up their track and cross country programs and coached in two different B.C. athletics clubs.

  1. Who are the people that have influenced you most as a coach?

My first endurance coach, Don Bertoia, had the greatest impact on me.  He believed in injury-free training and I still hold that as my core tenet as a coach. I also was fortunate as an athlete to be coached by Mike Van Tighem, Mark Bomba, and Richard Lee.  Despite being with each of them for only a short period of time, their calm approach impressed me. Lastly, as a coach I had Ian Cameron mentor me which helped me convert what I had learned as an athlete into coaching.

  1. How would you describe your coaching style?

My style as a coach is to try and meet the athletes where they are at and walk with them towards their individual and team goals. This comes from my time as a manager, where I would go to work and tell myself to only try and control what I could actually control. As a coach, I figure that I am the variable that I can change the quickest in the coach-athlete relationship.  The athlete will follow my lead of their own volition.

  1. Which coach do you admire the most, and why?

I look up to Mark Bomba and admire his patient approach to developing athletes.

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  1. What is the most “out-of-the-box” thing you’ve done as a coach?

I had one group of athletes that were not taking the training very seriously. So I showed up one practice in a suit, tie and hat. I am not a person to wear a suit and tie and have only done so about four other times in my life. 

I wanted to shake things up with the group in a comical manner to let them know that I wanted them to take things more seriously. It worked with no words or explanation needed. They had a good laugh, then they got down to business for the remainder of the season.

  1. What is your greatest coaching moment or achievement?

I had the opportunity to coach an athlete from Grade 8 to Grade 12.  When he started, he ran the 400m in two minutes and 19 seconds. He was a very determined athlete.  Through consistency and lots of hard work, he steadily improved. There were no major breakthroughs, just steady incremental improvements.

In his last season on the track, he ran 2:06 in the 800m and was only a tenth of a second away from being zone champion.  He is the only athlete that I have ever coached who could have lapped himself over 800m when compared to his starting point.  I love seeing athletes that challenge my perspective of what is possible.

  1. What’s the best advice you can give to an athlete and/or athlete’s parents?

Enjoy the process as far as it takes you.

  1. How have you changed as a coach over time? What principles/values, etc. have remained the same? 

Statistics and data mean a lot less to me as the years go by. I focus more on the process and lifting up the athletes in their overall lives. I still have health as my top priority in regards to the athletes I coach.

  1. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not in coaching mode? 

I really enjoy going for long hikes in the Okanagan mountains.  Usually calculating random numbers in my head because they look pretty.

  1. What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you as a coach?

This actually was from the days when I was still trying to be both a coach and an athlete.  I was not paying much attention to my own warm up but was instead focusing on helping the athletes that I had at the race.  I was caught by surprise when my heat was called to the start line.  So I pulled my warm up pants off and realized that I was just in my underwear.  I had to jog over the starter and ask if he could delay the race for two minutes while I put my shorts on.