For the past 34 years, 33 as its head coach, Richie Mercado has established himself as a paragon of coaching, not only in Texas, but also on the national and international scenes. At the helm of the St. John's Mavericks in Houston, Mercado has guided his track & field teams to multiple SPC State Championships, helped numerous athletes obtain college scholarships and mentored numerous coaches through his efforts with USATF Levels certification, As a reward for his excellence and dedication, Coach Mercado has been appointed as an assistant coach for the women's jumps/multis in the upcoming U20 World Championships.
Picture from Houston Chronicle
Q. When did you find out you were selected, and what was your reaction?
A. A few months ago by email - you are notified and have to accept. I had to check with my wife and make sure it was not over our anniversary - we get back two days before that!
Q. With athletes participating from around the US, how have you handled the logistics to meet the athletes and get to know them?
A. Team managers do that - I was unable to get to Jr. Nationals - an athlete who could have competed had a sore foot. We have an app, and I reached out to all of my athletes, their coaches, and the coaches who will be in Tampere with them - my job is to assist the athlete, and if a coach is there, to facilitate that coach helping the athlete to perform well. I actually know one of the vaulters from past two summer teams and one of the high jumpers from last summer. Also, I have had an athlete compete with the top hep and am acquainted with her and her dad, and I have known her coach for almost 20 years!
Q. How much time will you have in Finland to practice prior to each athlete's competition?
A. We get there the 7th and may have a short practice that day, then 8th and 9th. Competition begins the 10th, but those who compete later will continue to practice. Good practice facility between where we stay and the competition track. Biggest issue is adjustment to 7-9 hours time change. We have already addressed tactics for the plane ride, compression socks, fluids, and how to best adjust in the short couple days many have.
Q. What will you / the team do with free time?
A. Relax, watch others compete. I have a little free time a couple days and one totally free day except for a practice, so I will walk everywhere, parks and forests in the middle of town, great coffee shops, and I love to find the best local pastry shops!
Q. What are your overall expectations for this trip? Is there anything you're most excited about?
A. Expect these athletes to do well - the world is pretty tough at U20s, so we want them to compete and perform well. Mostly mental prep and positive attitudes, managing their stress, etc. My goal is to facilitate and not grow a brain and try to change something an athlete does before their biggest competition - I ask the athletes and coaches to give me brief things to watch, help with, cues, etc so I can help be eyes and assist them as their coach would. Several will have personal coaches there, so I will just help them. I am also the "pole" guy - I am the first one flying in the departure point to get vaulters and their poles set for the international flight, and reverse on the way home. I have already spent a good deal of time on the phone today with a vaulter and her mom figuring out how to solve a pole case issue and new poles not yet delivered ... Just excited about seeing international competition at this level - U20s is still very real and personable, not many egos yet. Also see some friends who coach internationally and catch up with them.
Q. Finally - What's your background with USATF that has put you in a position to enjoy such a prestigious honor?
A. I have volunteered with USATF since the early 1990s, helping with videotaping projects, teaching Level I schools, instructing the old junior elite camps, and working with the Combined Events committee. I am good at managing and logistics and will do anything needed for anyone during the trips and competitions, so they have selected me a few times to be a team manager and also as a jumps, throws, and heptathlon. Always fun traveling and working with the athletes and staffs.
**IAAF U20 World Championships competition schedule: https://www.iaaf.org/competitions/iaaf-world-u20-championships/iaaf-world-u20-championships-tampere-2018-6082/timetable/byday