June 27, 2012
SANTA CLARITA, Calif.—Continuing TMC’s Athletic Department’s series designed to better acquaint The Master’s College community with our coaching staff, we have asked seventh-year head coach Zach Schroeder of both the Men's and Women's Track and Cross Country teams several questions about his experiences while coaching at the college.
TMC: How did you become a coach at The Master’s College?
ZS: After completing my undergraduate studies and finishing my collegiate athletic career, I wasn’t ready to hang up the shoes yet. I was still training at a pretty elite level, hoping to qualify for the Olympic Trials in the marathon. Ryan and Tim Smith were two guys I grew up with in the Antelope Valley who were attending TMC at the time; both on the cross country team. They called me up one day and asked if I would come help out with the running program, run workouts with them, etc. I began doing so, and was hired on as an assistant coach. I began structuring the training for the men’s team that year, and the following year was asked to take over the entire program as head coach. That was seven years ago.
TMC: With the 2012 season behind us, how are you looking to build off your success in the 2013 season?
ZS: Both our men’s and women’s cross country teams will enter the fall season ranked 1st in the GSAC, having finished the highest in the GSAC at the NAIA Cross Country National Championships of teams returning to the NAIA this season. Our women hope to claim the college its first GSAC Championship title in any women’s sport this fall and then go see how high they can finish at the national meet come November. Our men are looking to win their 3rd conference title in a row and, Lord willing, finish on the podium at nationals.
TMC: What was your first exposure to track & cross country?
ZS: I grew up in the Antelope Valley and in junior high my best friend was this kid named Chris Covert. Chris’ dad was the legendary Mark Covert, a name most people familiar with the sport would know. Covert competed during the glory years of American distance running. He ran with guys like Steve Prefontaine. Covert was one of the first athletes to wear the Nike waffle racer and is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest streak of uninterrupted training. He hasn’t missed a day running in over 40 years now. Needless to say, Covert was a huge influence in my life from a very young age; a deep love for the sport is something I’ve possessed for as long as I can remember.
TMC: How long have you been coaching at TMC? Where and how long did you coach before coming to TMC?
ZS: Coaching at TMC was my first coaching gig. I was really more of an athlete than a coach when I first started. As our team began having small measures of success under my training I was challenged to either give up my own running or give up coaching, but not continue to do both. Steve Scott, arguably, America’s greatest miler and a good personal friend of mine, told me, “Zach, you have to choose. Be a coach or be an athlete, but don’t try to do both, because at some point you’ll compromise excellence in both.” I chose coaching.
TMC: Describe your most memorable experience at The Master’s College?
ZS: I have many, but if I had to choose my top moments, they’d be the following, in chronological order:
In spring of 2010, Jeff Jackson won the NAIA National Championships in the marathon. This was special. Jeff had been my guinea pig the past five years. He was the college’s first NAIA All-American in men’s cross country. He had done a ton of work and to see all that work come to fruition in earning the college a national title was something I will never forget.
In the fall of 2010, our men’s cross country team won the first GSAC Championship in school history. They won again last year, which was also special – so far they’re the only team from TMC to win back-to-back conference championships. Winning that first one was pretty sweet. It was something our men had been talking about since I first came to TMC; in fact, this was part of the reason I came in the first place, to help the guys accomplish that specific goal.
The other memory that stands out happened this past spring when one of my athletes, John Gilbertson, ran under 14:00 for 5k on the track. When I first came to the program, I was just trying to get guys to run under 15:00. If you had asked me back then if I thought I would have the privilege of coaching sub-14:00 guys, I would have said no. We are constantly saying “God delights to show Himself strong through the weak” – this has certainly been demonstrated through our program again and again.
TMC: What has been the biggest challenge coaching over the years?
ZS: The biggest challenge I faced as a coach was before the college turned my position in to full-time from part-time. I wasn’t satisfied with mediocrity; however, working a full-time job as a teacher and trying to make the running program go was incredibly difficult. It was a tremendous challenge to do things with excellence when I didn’t have enough of myself to give. God was very gracious and my wife and I are truly blessed, to be able to coach full-time for a living. With all our time and energy focused on the program since coming on full-time in 2009, we’ve seen huge steps forward, not just athletically, but spiritually, in the lives of our athletes.
TMC: What do you love most about The Master’s College?
ZS: I love the unwavering commitment to Christ and the truth of God’s Word, and the pursuit of excellence in all aspects of the college as an offering of worship to our great God and Savior.
TMC: What character qualities do you look for in an ideal athlete?
ZS: The quality I most look for in an athlete is something our team calls “All-in”. “All-in” is a poker term describing the point in the game where you put all your chips on the table, holding nothing back for fear of failure; going all-in gives you the chance to walk away with the greatest possible gain. So often, athletes and Christians hold back from giving their all because they’re afraid of what they might lose. The “All-in” person doesn’t live in fear of failure, but rather gives the most they can possibly give, leaving the outcome with the Lord. I’m blessed to say that this is a quality all my current athletes possess and is what I believe sets us apart as a team.
TMC: In what ways do you view coaching as a ministry?
ZS: In every way! Coaching is just a specific form of discipleship. I have the privilege of coaching alongside my wife Amie. Although I am the head coach of both teams, Amie really works a lot with our women, discipling and mentoring them as only a woman could. She always says, “I speak girl.” Obviously, God has equipped her to speak into their lives in a very unique way. Our athletes are our “kids” and our team is very much a family. It’s a joy to be able to truly live life with them and hopefully model what it looks like to enjoy a life fully surrendered to our Lord.
TMC: How would you describe a perfect season?
ZS: A perfect season would be one where every athlete on the team could look back and say they worshiped the Lord with the talents He gave them. I often tell the team, “Your talents are a gift from God to you; what you do with your talents is your gift to God.” My prayer is that every step my athletes take will be taken in complete dependence on the Savior and that as they depend on Him during everything they do day in and day out, that Christ will be glorified in both the great and the small.
TMC: What cultivated your passion for cross country and track?
ZS: I believe my passion for the sport is a gift from the Lord; it’s what He’s given me to do for this time in my life and it’s truly a privilege to offer up to Him the very best I can, to make excellence of this program for His name sake.
Zach and his wife Amie currently reside in Santa Clarita, CA.
The Master’s College Athletic Department has been blessed with a wonderful coaching staff whose commitment to the Lord is seen both on and off the field of competition. Join us next week as we interview Jim Rickard, head coach of the the Men's soccer team .