Alan Webb has visualized many a finish line in his stellar running career. An Olympian and American-record holder in the mile and high school mile, he’s well-versed in the mechanics of setting a goal and then working to attain it.
This summer, Webb brought that experience to Little Rock, joining the staff of the UA Little Rock Trojans as distance coach. There, he guides young athletes to their own personal bests on the track and off.
“My number one quality as a coach is patience,” he said. “I also have a genuine belief that winning qualities can be trained, you just have to start at a different starting point for each athlete. I try my best to find out where each person’s starting point is, to meet them wherever they are and to progress from wherever they are.”
Webb’s coaching mentality is standard stuff, until you discover that he’s not just talking about racing. The father of three and parishioner of Christ the King Church in Little Rock keeps the larger race of faith at the forefront of everything he does.
“Faith is the most important thing to me and for my family,” he said. “I would even say in a little bit more of an indirect way it’s the most important thing for me at work and in my job as a coach.”
“I’m a follower of Christ, and I’m going towards him. I believe that in order to be a good leader for others, you have to know where you’re going. And that’s where I’m going.”
Webb’s lofty ideals about faith and the role it plays in his life has led him to the very pinnacle of his sport, starting in high school when he broke Jim Ryun’s 36-year-old American high school record in the mile at the 2001 Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., by almost two seconds. He also was the first American high schooler in history to break four minutes in the indoor mile and set the American high school record in the indoor 1,500 meters in the same race.
He spent two years running for the University of Michigan during which time he won a Big Ten cross country title and in the outdoor 1,500 meters. A two-time All-American, he turned pro after the 2002 collegiate season, signing with Nike.
Over the next 12 years, he remained a force to be reckoned with, qualifying for the 2004 Olympics at 1,500 meters, a distance at which he was a multiple U.S. Champion, posting a lifetime best of 3:30.54 in 2007. That same year, he broke the American record in the mile that had stood for 25 years, clocking a blistering 3:46.91.
UA Little Rock is Webb’s biggest coaching job to date with previous positions coming at the high school level and last season as an assistant with Portland State. There, he helped lead the Vikings to their best cross-country season in program history.
“I believe in positive coaching. I’m an encourager,” he said of his coaching style. “I try to make sure that with everything that they’re doing, they know they’re accomplishing something, even if it’s very small. Just the fact that they show up and do the work is something in and of itself and I want that to be rewarded and want them to know what that’s doing to help them.”
Webb and his wife Julia spend their free time keeping up with their three daughters, Paula, age 4; Gabriella, who will soon turn 1 and Joanie, age 7 who’s a second-grader at Christ the King School. Webb praised Christ the King Parish for providing a positive, faith-filled environment for his family, something he carries over to his athletes.
“My goal is to have everything I do reflect my journey toward Christ and hopefully, in some tiny way, that can affect someone else and steer them in that direction,” he said. “I work at a public institution so I understand that role, but at the same time I will not abandon my direction. I believe good leaders know where they are going, and great leaders go towards God.”
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