Rebuilding Track and Field Program Series: Daniel

MileSplit SC is starting a series talking with coaches that are new to a South Carolina high school, rebuilding or revamping a program. The first one is with Daniel's Jacob Wichelns. He talks about goals, his journey, mentors, revamping the program and the future.

What made you decide to get into coaching track and field?
Track and field had a lasting impact on me as an athlete. The lessons and themes that the sport and my coaches instilled in me carry with me to this day. The sport and my coaches pushed me persevere, grow, and set goals. And that is something I enjoy paying forward through the sport to athletes within our program. 

How long have you been coaching?
Seven years within the program, three as head coach.

How do you look at the 2024-2026 SCHSL classification alignments?
At this point I am focused on the 2024 spring season right in front of us. Obviously there are changes for our classification, region, and sport on the horizon. I am looking forward to getting to meet new coaches and compete against a different group of teams. Maybe I'm optimistic, but I think new challenges create new experiences and new experiences leads to growth. This is true for our team, as well as SC Track and Field. 

Since being named head coach, what experience did you have prior?
I worked up through our program beginning as hurdles coach, moving on to sprints/relays/hurdles, and eventually taking over as head coach. 

Did you do research before first practice? Please explain.
I did. When I was an assistant coach, I was coaching events I have an intensive background in between the sprints, relays and hurdles. But I took over as head coach, I took on a new challenge-making sure the throws, jumps, sprints and distance groups were all taken care of with quality coaching. Each season we've had different staffing situations and needs, meaning my role as a head coach was to put everyone on staff where they fit best and turn myself into a Swiss army knife able to coach any event depending on the year. All in all, I have now individually coached 14 out of our 18 events over the years. This has involved intensive research of form, drills, current practices, periodization schedules and the list goes on. 

What was your first conversation with your athletes?
My first conversation with my athletes was to let them know who I am, my vision for the program and what our path forward would look like together. I make a point to let them know that I love and care about them. 

See the 2023 S.C. track and field rankings

Do you have other coaches you see as mentors to you? Please explain this relationship and any conversations you'll never forget.
I have a few coaches who come to mind. I won a team state championship with my high school coach, Jeff Fruster. Now I work with him as an assistant football coach. We also both serve as Assistant ADs together. When I was an assistant coach I worked under Cosandar Griffin, who also coached a state championship team here. I am thankful for the things I learned with her. But even more important, she is a trusted confidant and a loyal supporter of me and the changes that I have made to the program. I see Ron Sullivan, longtime SC Track Coach as a mentor, as well. Coach Sullivan spent time at Daniel, as well as many other area schools throughout the years. Coach Sullivan inspires me and always gives me the right dose of common sense when I need it. 

What goals do you have this year?
Our goals are to win the county, region and state championships. 

What sports were you involved with as an athlete?
Football and track and field.

What motivation do you have for the season?
Our team is highly motivated this year. When I took this team over, we were generally a young team. Those young athletes have developed into experienced, tenured athletes. Each year we've had a higher region and state finish, and I know they're motivated to continue that trend. We have so many athletes in our program who have competed at the state championship meet and understand what it takes to compete at the highest level our sport has to offer. This experience mixed with the desire to outperform our team finishes last year is a strong combination for motivation. 

"We have so many athletes in our program who have competed at the state championship meet and understand what it takes to compete at the highest level our sport has to offer. This experience mixed with the desire to outperform our team finishes last year is a strong combination for motivation." - Jacob Wichelns

What are your goals?
My goal is two fold. Generally for the team, I want to do everything I can to put our team in position to win the county, region, and state championships. There are many decisions behind the scenes that impact this. But specifically for our athletes, I want to push each athlete towards their physical potential, but also to grow them as individual people to accomplish their goals beyond track. Instilling goal setting, work ethic, consistency and drive are all valuable life skills that I personally desire for our athletes. 

How do you set goals for yourself, the team and individuals?
We have a leadership council. Our team votes on a few representatives from each group between the throws, jumps, sprints, and distance. The Leadership Council and I meet weekly throughout the season. This group is instrumental in creating our goals, and helping us make sure we are on track to achieve them. 

Watch more Daniel track and field races

How do you look at the opportunity to coach each day?
I look at the opportunity to coach each day as a chance for growth. Growth for our athletes, growth for our team, and growth for our coaches. Track and field is a great sport and coaching everyday is a blessing. I don't believe in staying the same, we either get better or worse, so making the most of each day we have in the season is invaluable. 

What do you think it takes to make a coach today? On and off the track.
On the track- in depth technical expertise, ability to teach, building relationships with athletes, and adaptability to the changes in the sport. 
Off the track- Extreme organizational skills, strong communication, commitment to continuous improvement, integrity and a focus on doing what's right for the athletes. 

Going into rebuilding a program, when and how did you know you needed to rebuild?
I'm not sure if you can define what we've been doing at Daniel as a "rebuild" necessarily. The coaches before me left a strong tradition of winning. The standard for our program is high. What we've been doing I'd more accurately describe as a revamp. 

Something I believe strongly in is the idea of continuous improvement. Continuous improvement is at war with complacency. The rule of continuous improvement requires leaders to always ask questions like "What can we do better?" "What is and isn't working?" "Is there ways we can be more effective?" and never use logic like "We do this because we always have." Following the law of continuous improvement, everything within the program needs to have purpose, intentionality, and reason. And while many things work well over time, others can be adapted to fit the current landscape. 

Continuous improvement ensures that training methods stay current. By regularly evaluating and refining coaching and logistical strategies, our program can better meet the diverse and changing needs of its athletes, and the SC tracks and field landscape.

Examples of the revamp and continuous improvement in our program include: leadership council, standards for training groups, practice lane assignments and weight room integration all season.