Coach Jeff Pigg is no stranger when it comes to the world of running. During his time as a collegiate athlete at the University of Florida, he earned 2 All-American Honors, 2 All-SEC Honors, won the SEC indoor mile twice, had 10 top-10 finishes in cross country races, and was a member of the winning SEC Championship team in 1987. Upon college graduation, Jeff carried his passion for running over to coaching, beginning his collegiate coaching career at the University of Missouri for 10 years, followed by the University of Florida, University of Georgia, and finally the University of North Florida where he is currently the Director of Cross Country/Track & Field. UNF has seen quite the success under Coach Pigg’s leadership, producing the 2017 ASUN Women’s Cross Country Champions, 2016 ASUN Men’s Cross Country Champions, 18 NCAA Preliminary Qualifiers, the program’s first NCAA D1 All-American, and back-to-back ASUN Men’s Cross Country Champions in 2020-2021. We got the chance to speak with Coach Pigg on what has contributed to his success as a coach and how the Boost Treadmill has made an impact on UNF’s Cross Country and Track team.
Boost: You started out coaching high school track right after you graduated college. What made you decide you wanted to be a coach?
Coach Pigg: “Basically, I didn’t want to quit running; so it bled over into helping coaches and being in the environment. I just love the sport, and to this day I don’t really feel like I’ve worked a day in my life as a coach. It’s got tough days, tough moments, tough decisions, and certainly highs and lows, but being in the college environment just keeps you feeling young and I just really enjoy being around the kids. Seeing them grow and develop and become awesome – that’s some of the funnest stuff.”
Boost: What values/practices/philosophies do you bring over from your own running career into coaching?
Coach Pigg: “I think one of the biggest things is that at the end of the day, everybody is different in terms of their needs/strengths/weaknesses so you have to find what’s right for each person. Also, hard work isn’t just about running, it’s also about lifestyle. It’s a full-time, all-in commitment, but at the same time, you have to be able to relax and have balance. I don’t think you can run hard every day or even run hard very many times in a season. You become burned out, both physically and mentally. I don’t want my kids to come to practice nervous like it’s going to be a race; I want everyone to have a positive experience. You don’t have to be run to death to get great. I just want kids to keep getting better. It’s certainly not about me; it’s about them and their experience and their journey.”
Boost: What do you enjoy most about coaching at UNF, or just coaching in general?
Coach Pigg: “The best thing about coaching is seeing the interaction between kids on the team. Creating an environment where they can come and hopefully it’s the best part of their day; not just because of running, but because they love their teammates and the staff. I want to be able to put that in their lives at an interesting time when they’re moving out of the house, or they’ve got other academic or financial stresses in their life. I really enjoy those relationships and the opportunity to have an impact in their lives.”
Boost: You’ve had a really successful coaching career at UNF – how do you help athletes prevent/avoid injury? Do you have an injury protocol?
Coach Pigg: “Three times a week, we finish the last 10 minutes of our run barefoot, and I think that releases a lot of tension from the knees down. We also incorporate a lot of preventative measures in our warm-up routine and in the weight room. Another thing is the variety of surfaces we run on – golf courses, beach, grass, trails, the Boost. I also track their mileage on a chart in my office and communicate with them to track the level of stress they’re under. Then I know when to back off whether it be volume, workouts, or a day off. I think you learn over time that if you communicate with the kids and keep that going, it really helps keep them healthy.”
Boost: How has the Boost technology impacted your team/athletes at UNF?
Coach Pigg: “I think there are two things it has done – first of all it has given us reprieve from the Florida heat, and there’s a lot of value in that. But the biggest thing is, it’s just a recovery day for the kids – less pound in the ground. And I think there’s a psychological element too.
For our men’s group, we’ve got some guys that double back in the afternoon, some that use it for their longer runs in the morning and some who just implement it when they feel a little beat up. With our women’s team, we do have a little more structure. We’ve got a few girls that have some concerns about lower leg stress injuries so they’re on the Boost a couple of times a week.
But for our whole team, we have a “Boost Day” on Wednesday where we have it running all day long for everyone to do their medium-long runs. Over the last two years, we have not seen kids in boots for stress-related injuries. I’d like to think that A) the investment in the Boost Treadmill was in the health of our kids and B) we’ve developed a culture where we take the little things seriously like running on grass, hurdle walkthroughs, rolling out – anything we can do to keep them healthy. But at the end of the day, the Boost taking away that impact from stress on the ground – lightening that load on them – is something that’s really been helpful for us.”
Boost: What is your favorite and/or most proud coaching moment?
Coach Pigg: “I’ve got a couple. First, the 2017 Women’s UNF team winning the conference by a point. On that team, we had one girl whose PB was 19:20 and she ran 18:30. We had another girl who ran about 21:00 in high school, and she’d had Achilles problems all year. I took her to the conference and she ended up getting 8th. That was an exciting moment because we didn’t expect it and there was a lot that went into it, and overall it was just a great group.
I think on the men’s side, I would look at our conference win this season as one of my favorite moments. I just think the journey of this interesting mix of guys is incredible – we put in a lot of time and miles getting to this point. It’s a really special group of guys because it’s important to them and when the moment came to get the job done, they got it done. I’m happy for them and that’s the main thing.”
Boost: Any additional comments you’d like to add?
Coach Pigg: “First, it’s not about me and I’m not trying to build my resume; it’s not about the bonuses or the paycheck. And second, every kid you coach is somebody’s kid. When I became a dad, I started having a better understanding of that. I don’t ever forget that – it doesn’t mean I always make it easy but it’s a good thing to remember.”