July 6, 2011
Each weekday in the month of July, MGoBlue.com will feature an interview with a U-M head coach. Third up is U-M head men's track and field coach Fred LaPlante, who speaks about summer training, learning to garden and shining Johnny Bench's shoes.
What makes the summer in track and field so unique?
As far as the sport on an international level, now is when the sport is starting. There's a lot of buzz at the highest levels, going on now through September. As it relates to our athletes, we have different disciplines. Everyone is on their own for the most part, doing a variety of things. We give them a general idea of what we want them to do. When the season ends, we need a bit of a physical and mental break, so there's a small window of relaxation.
Why are the summer months so important to the development of your team?
You can accomplish so much with a bigger training base. Volume goes up, quality goes up, and risk of injury goes down. In a lot of sports, and certainly in track and field, there is a fine line between training too hard and not training hard enough. Having a good summer sets you up for a better training cycle during the year.
What do you see as the team's biggest strength heading into next season?
We're a fairly broad-based team. We'll be young again, certainly. Our point-scorers have more experience, which is encouraging. Last season, we had four freshmen who were top 10 in the nation as rookies, and hopefully they'll take the next step. Our team overall is pretty good, but at the championships level, those sixth-place finishes need to turn into first, second and third place finishes, and we are setting ourselves up for that this season.
What was your first summer job?
My first summer job was working for the Toledo Mud Hens. I was 14 years old. When you work in minor league baseball, you do a lot of things. I was an usher, grounds crew, and was a clubhouse boy for one day. I once got to shine Johnny Bench's shoes. I think he was in the minor leagues for three weeks, and he was passing through town.
Do you or did you have any special travel plans this summer?
Today's cycle of things, it's hard to find time to get away. I think it's necessary. When track coaches get together at NCAAs and Big Tens, there's a little fraternity of guys who sit around between events, and we get to talking. We don't want the other guy to get a leg up on us, so I didn't hear any of the other coaches talking about vacation plans to Europe or anything. I don't have anything specific, but I'm trying to find a week where I can get away.
Tell us one unique thing you've done since the season ended?
I have a gardening project going on in my backyard. I have a high school friend who is a very good gardener, so that's been very therapeutic. I'm sort of his apprentice. Moving a lot of dirt around and learning about plants that I didn't know existed.