LAKE HUNTINGTON –– You learn and then you teach. And as you teach, you learn even more. That ongoing cycle of widening one’s horizons and imparting insights to help others has …
LAKE HUNTINGTON –– You learn and then you teach. And as you teach, you learn even more. That ongoing cycle of widening one’s horizons and imparting insights to help others has defined the running and coaching career of Sullivan West’s girls track coach Skylar Musa, this spring’s selection as the Sullivan County Democrat Outstanding Female Coach of Spring 2022. Only in her second year with the Bulldogs, Musa is by no means a coaching novice. Prior to her arrival at Sullivan West, she spent four years coaching track at TC Williams High School in Arlington, Virginia of “Remember the Titans” fame.
Her unique coaching ethic and realistic training approach was instrumental in the SW girls team garnering the Section IX Class D Track and Field Championship, bringing that honor back to Lake Huntington where it had resided for five of the past six years. Musa is well versed in the psychology and physiology of the sport. Her concerns include an awareness of health issues including the prevalence of eating disorders that can affect both males and females. Having lived through such trials of her own, her conversations with team members are frank and real.
Her vision for the team amounts to a culture change that is already taking place. “I want kids who are committed and want to get better. It’s hard work but I also want it to be fun. I want to build a culture centered around ‘this is how we warm up, this is how we act at meets, this is how we treat our competition.’ I am happy to work with any student athlete, regardless of ability if they are committed. I give the most attention to athletes who show that commitment, not necessarily those who are naturally gifted. These character-building days are the bread and butter to a successful program,” she avers. “It can’t be the goal just to win. All our lives we will win and lose, oftentimes experiencing more of the latter.”
Musa’s understanding of what it takes to be successful in the most meaningful ways, has been strongly influenced by her own experiences in high school, college, running on her own including Marathons as well as her prior coaching. In high school she was blessed by the inimitable leadership of Coaches Joe and Missy Iatauro at Tri-Valley. Now as a coach, she can finally see how much they gave and what kids got from that experience. “It takes a great emotional commitment,” she adds.
Going on to Clemson University where she majored in marketing and finance, sports were not her focus until she was invited to walk on to Cross-Country in her senior year. Thus, her passion for distance running came later and has blossomed fully in her adulthood. In high school track she did a great variety of events. Her best was the 400 hurdles. At TC Williams High School, she and her soon to be spouse Tyler Eckhoff, who currently coaches the Tri-Valley girls, were overseeing about 80 athletes. The coaching staff there had several specialists who oversaw specific events. Observing and communicating with them afforded her a wealth of knowledge that she has added to constantly.
She has taken numerous classes on the many of the diverse aspects of coaching track. Musa is a distance runner who logs between 85-90 miles a week. Her intense rapport with running is not just physical. “I do my best thinking when I run,” she said.
She knows firsthand what it takes, and aspires to hit the Olympic standard for marathoners of 2:37. Her last marathon was in January in Houston, TX.
Having learned so much about the sport, she can advise on all the events and has an uncanny sense of which events kids are most likely to be successful at. Case-in-point, this spring was Violla Shami, who Musa believed could be a great triple jumper even though Shami had never done it and didn’t like it at first. By the end of the season, Shami had won gold at Sectionals in the TJ.
At the NYSPHSAA/Federation Championships she advised Chris Campanelli prior to and during his remarkable third place Federation medal performance. Last year she worked with the throwers at SW. She claims it to be a fallacy that a coach who played a sport knows more than others.
Many great coaches never played the sport they coached. They just know how to teach and guide. Musa, a 2010 graduate of Tri-Valley tested up for soccer, basketball and running track in 7th grade. She never played modified. Thus she had to work extremely hard to compete with older girls. In soccer she hardly ever came off the field, running for 80+ plus minutes.
“I should have known I could be good at distance running,” she muses.
Unlike many coaches, winning is not Musa’s primary objective. “My goal of track is to get more kids involved. I would be okay with losing to a better team. I would rather take the least athletic kids in Sullivan County if that individual wanted to work hard and improve. I want kids to be at practice, be good teammates, be polite and be good human beings. The best team is going to score the most points, so it does take numbers,” she adds.
Musa is all in as a coach. “I send a Sunday e-mail with updates and workout plans for the week to all the athletes and parents. With each workout I give individual paces depending on the intensity and goal of the workout. Distance runners get their weekly 200/400/800+ splits and every runner gets a watch so they can check and make sure they are on pace. The sprinter get paces base on percentages of race times. The idea of running as hard as possible or all out at every practice and workout is outdated and incorrect. Recovery is a vital part of training.”
Ideally, Musa hopes kids reach their personal records (PR’s) around sectionals. She and boys track coach Steve Rogers are totally on the same page and see eye-to-eye on their goals and methodology. That consistency across the program is invaluable. Musa’s goal to entice more kids to come out for track and field began to yield results this spring after her coaching JV girls basketball to an undefeated season.
“If you build it, they will come,” that quote from Field of Dreams applies. Musa is building not only a program that will endure and thrive at Sullivan West, but even more importantly, she is building character and strength in her young charges that will serve them their entire lives. With her cross-country coaching in the fall, JV basketball in winter and especially track in the spring, she is an asset to the kids and the school. Musa is indeed the Most Outstanding Female Coach of Spring 2022.
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