Springfield native Lance Brooks began his sports career playing basketball at the YMCA in fourth grade. After competing in several track and field events and excelling in the discus throw at New Berlin High School, Brooks found himself breaking the high school discus throw record, and winning just about every meet he entered. Brooks became the state discus champion his senior year of high school and later on went to compete in basketball and track and field at Millikin University. The NCAA Division III All-American traveled to Boulder, Colorado to train and coach throwers at the high school level. After qualifying for the 2008 Olympic Trials but not making the team, Brooks finished thirteenth at the 2011 World Championships. For the year, he was ranked number thirty-eight in the world at the discus.
Brooks is currently residing at the Olympic Village in London, waiting for his opportunity to compete for the gold in the discus throw at the 2012 Olympic Games. We caught up with him to find out more about his journey to London and his personal life.
How did you first get involved in track and field?
There wasn’t a track team at my school in eighth grade, so my parents went to the school board and asked them to put in a program at our school. They said they would pay for everything for a one-man track team. That started the tradition of track at my grade school. After that, it was an easy road. That’s pretty much all I did in eighth grade. In high school, I joined the track and field team. I’d always been athletic, so I did every event we needed points in during high school. My athleticism helped me get away with it. I relied on my natural athleticism a lot. I was good at everything that I did, but I wasn’t working at it. I realized that my natural talent would only get me so far. I never would have made the Olympic team if I hadn’t pursued my skills in the discus.
Did you always anticipate making the Olympic team?
I knew I had a good shot – I knew it wasn’t certain I wouldn’t be going. I still had to get that “A” standard at the trials. When it flashed up on the screen, I knew I was going for sure. It’s a very high honor. Actually, it’s the highest honor you can have in any sporting activity in the world. It’s definitely special, no matter what kind of athlete you are. It’s one of the most prestigious things in the world… but it’s not easy. You have to make sacrifices and choices that are really difficult. I packed up and left my family behind with only a two-day notice. I’m really close to my family. Athletes who hope to make it to the Olympics have to know what they want. If they don’t know and they’re unsure about what you want, they’re going to fall behind.
As a high school throwing coach, how do your athletes react to having an Olympian for a coach?
They listened to me. They understood what I was trying to do. It made it easier for me as a coach, even though they didn’t really understand how good the probability of me making the team was. They mostly enjoyed the fact that I was a thrower. As a coach, I’m really easy and laid back. I can talk to anybody, whether they’re having a problem at some or with another coach or athlete. I’m approachable and really easy to work with. The whole concept of being an athlete and being on the United States and World Championship teams gives me more leverage than someone who just went to school to be a coach. I’m not a great coach by any means, but they look up to me.
What’s the most rewarding part about being a coach?
Seeing the athletes do well is great. When an athlete does well, it’s a good feeling, especially when they’re interested in what you’re trying to teach them.
What have you learned from your athletes?
You can’t coach everyone the same way, which is where I think a lot of coaches fall behind, regardless of the sport. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and you have to pinpoint that weakness and make them better. Not many coaches understand that.