Iowa track's Smith keeping things upbeat

BY TORK MASON | APRIL 26, 2012 6:30 AM

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Iowa assistant track coach Christi Smith can often be heard yelling from across the field at Cretzmeyer Track.

It's a good bet she's happy about something.

Smith has brought a high energy level to the Iowa track and field program and has built her coaching philosophy around positive reinforcement.

" 'Enthusiastic' is the best word to describe Coach Smith," senior high jumper Jeff Herron said. "She's loud, she's happy, she's excited — and she puts that into the athletes she coaches."

Smith said coaches can't focus only on what an athlete is doing wrong. Correcting mistakes is obviously the most important function of a coach, she said, but encouragement is a key for the athletes' confidence.

Her mother inspired that emphasis on building confidence, she said.

"I was always externally driven by my family," she said. "I had my mother, who got polio at the age of 3 and learned to walk at 18. That's the type of environment I grew up in. We were driven to be something better and to always have confidence."

Herron — who recently set the school record in the high jump under Smith's tutelage — said his coach is the type of person who brings up the intensity in practice and never appears burnt-out herself.

"You can't come out here with a monotone kind of feel about it," he said. "You have to match [her] intensity, because when you match that intensity, the best is going to come out of you. And there's never a day when she's not live enough for you."

Head coach Layne Anderson said Smith's background in numerous events was something he was specifically looking for when he hired her in 2008, because multi-event coaches often have the most expertise. He said he wanted to look in some of the smaller conferences for an "up-and-coming" coach, and Smith's name and record as an assistant at Kent State came up numerous times.

Her own athletics accomplishments didn't hurt, either.

Smith won the 2000 NCAA championship in the heptathlon after finishing as the runner-up in the event at the 1999 championships, which earned her a pair of All-American honors while at Akron. She also won 11 Mid-America Conference titles in a variety of events.

Anderson said Smith's enthusiasm was also a plus; he's a self-described "high-energy guy" and said her passion for the sport was palpable in his first conversation with her.

Smith said she has always had that zeal for the sport and desire to coach.

"I was coaching at a very early age, even during [USA Track and Field] at the age of 11," she said. "We were down in Georgia, and I was out there in 100-degree temperature helping the girl next to me. My coach pulled me aside and said, 'What are you doing? Get some shade,' and I was like, 'She needed help.' I've always had a helping heart, and track and field is my true calling."

She said her desire to help those around her often spilled over to her opponents. She encouraged her competition and helped the opponents to jump higher so she could go out and beat them at their best.

Encouragement is just something she has always been around, she said.

"To be quite honest, I don't know any other way," she said. "I think that through encouragement and positive motivation, anything is possible."

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