‘Winning mindset’: How UH men’s track and field sustains success
For the better part of the last decade, the UH men’s track and field team has been no stranger to success. After winning their seven consecutive American Athletic Conference indoor title some may wonder how the Cougars have maintained consistency.
A few key factors are responsible for the team’s streak of conference dominance, according to Shaun Maswanganyi, the AAC Most Valuable Performer and Freshman of the Year.
He believes these same factors that sustain success are also responsible for his own individual success.
Like any successful program, it starts with mentality and culture. Maswanganyi believes UH has built a winning mentality and everyone on the team shares one thing in common.
“We’ve always had a killer instinct; you look at our coaching staff and you see they were killers back in their time,” Maswanganyi said. “The winning mindset we have, they try to instill that upon us.”
Generational Cougars such as head coach Leroy Burrell and assistant Carl Lewis made their names known long before the recent stint of conference titles and the accolades they’ve received as a coaching staff, and they make sure to make that point to their team.
Maswanganyi said the first thing Burrell and company did when he and others arrived at UH a year ago was make the point that this team is built on people who have been through the pain and the grind that comes with the program.
“The first thing they did when we came here was make us realize this program is not built on some people who just came and went, it’s people who’ve been a part of the Cougar culture and people who are actively trying to give back to this community,” Maswanganyi said. “This program has a lot of legacy in it. The gold medals don’t define the program, the people what were created from the program do.”
Maswanganyi believes that having people who were so close to the program during their competing days makes a tremendous difference.
“Nothing is better than someone coaching you who you know has been through that,” Maswanganyi said. “It gives you some sense of satisfaction because you know they’ve handled their own, they know what they’re talking about and they’ve been in the position you want to be in. That’s the best kind of mentor you can have.”
Following the seventh consecutive conference title, Burrell and his staff were named the Indoor Coaching Staff of the Year.
Amid the generational leadership the team receives from the seasoned coaching staff they compete for, there are experienced competitors in the program currently that step up as well.
The first name that comes to mind for Maswanganyi is senior sprinter Jordan Booker, but Maswanganyi said he also takes on a leadership role in a different way.
“I feel like a lot of our leadership comes from our juniors and seniors like Jordan Booker, he really takes on a leadership position,” Maswanganyi said. “For me this season though, I’ve been more of a silent leader, I lead by performance while he’s more of a vocal leader. I trust him to handle that aspect of things and I trust myself to handle the performance part of the motivation for the team.”
Maswanganyi also mentions another veteran competitor on the team, senior sprinter Christian Hamberlin as a big leader, mentioning how both Hamberlin and Booker were the ones to really help him come along in the program.
“They motivated me coming in my freshman year to make sure I’m always giving my all in practice,” Maswanganyi said.“They showed me how to handle my business not only on the track, but off the track with things like nutrition and getting used to college life.”
The culture built within the UH track and field program is a winning culture, according to Maswanganyi, and he believes the culture is what encourages bonding and building chemistry with your teammates to win.
“It’s a winning culture, it’s a winning mindset. We’re becoming a family, especially in my sprint group,” he said. “Building and increasing the chemistry is going to reflect on the track eventually because nothing’s better than trusting your teammates to do something.”
Maswanganyi believes that despite track and field being a primarily individual sport when it comes to performance, he said there is a domino effect when you see your teammate succeeding.
“It brings a sense of relief when you know someone can hold their own and you trust and know how they are. Everything flows a lot smoother,” he said. “There’s a lot of factors in track and it may be individual, but one person’s performance definitely has a domino effect on everyone else’s.”
For Maswanganyi and the Cougars track and field team, winning conference is just the beginning. Maswanganyi believes this team has what it takes to go as far as they’re willing to take it and he isn’t shy about looking forward into future competitions.
“I feel like we have a shot at placing at nationals as a team if everyone handles their own,” he said. “We just need to keep the winning mindset.”
He feels the confidence they got placing first in the indoor competition will carry them through the rest of the big meets.
“We definitely have the conference on the ropes and we’re going to carry that into regionals like we did last year,” Maswanganyi said. “We’ll carry that confidence from regionals and take it straight to nationals.”
In terms of his own success, Maswanganyi feels no pressure to continue following up the impressive performances he has put on in the past, he just wants to continue to get better.
“I don’t really feel any pressure,” he said. “I always want to be better than the person I was last year and the day before and I know there’s expectations for sure, but I plan to surpass those.”
He said despite looking forward as a team, he plans to take his individual performances one match at a time after dealing with a minor injury earlier in the track season.
“I’m taking it one meet at a time, trying to get my rhythm back,” Maswanganyi said. “We’ve got a lot of big competitions coming up. I’m aiming to do pretty well just coming off the Olympics. I’m coming with more confidence.”