Name: Derek Mills
Role at New Orleans Metro Stars: Head Coach
Day Job: I am the Manager of Demand-Side Management for Entergy New Orleans. In that role, I manage Energy Smart, the energy efficiency program for New Orleans.
What is your personal athletic background? I played many sports growing up, but I settled on Track and Field by the time I reached college. I competed throughout college and subsequently at the international level, usually running the 400m or the 4x400m relay. I competed at the World Championships in 1993 (preliminary round) and 1995, and in the Olympic Games in 1996. Our relay won gold in 1995 and 1996. I was ranked #2 in the world in the 400m in 1994.
What brought you to coaching track? Track and Field has been a huge part of my life since I was 11 years old. I have been truly blessed with the experiences I’ve had and the friendships I’ve made through the sport. I wanted to pass along those blessings and opportunities to others.
How many years have you coached? I coached 5 years (2002-2007) at the collegiate level, and 10 years of age group track. So, I’ve been coaching for approximately 17 years.
What teams/age groups do you coach? I coach the New Orleans Metro Stars Track Club (ages 6-18), and this past winter I coached the Louise McGehee High School Indoor Track Team.
What is your general coaching philosophy? Does it carry over into any other sports you might coach? My general coaching philosophy is to develop a training program that allows athletes to develop and improve each season with a focus on being ready to compete at their best when it matters most.
What is your general season goal for your AAU athletes? For varsity athletes? For professional athletes? My goal for all of my athletes is to see improvement each year. For kids, faster times naturally happen as they grow and develop
Do you have any key workouts you use throughout the season? I have a few key workouts. I like to do repeat 200s (different quantity and interval depending on the athlete’s event) regularly to give me an idea of how my athletes are progressing throughout the year, especially during the offseason.
How do you handle injury? Anxiety? Apathy? I prefer to let injuries heal so that you can compete at 100%. I try to convert anxiety and fear into hype and motivation, but that’s an acquired skill. I’m still learning how to deal with apathy; suggestions please?
How do you see athletics integrated with academics? For me, academics is always first and foremost, but I believe athletics can be a great complement to academics.
What is the most important skill or value you try to impart to your athletes? The value of working hard. Nothing beats setting goals and working hard to achieve them.
The Metro Stars have historically honed national caliber athletes, and managed to keep them enrolled and competing at a high level. With athletes that are nationally ranked, and may have school coaches, club sport coaches, strength coaches, etc — how do you bridge the gap and communicate with many different agendas? We try to be flexible if it benefits our athletes. Some have strength coaches or personal trainers who provide instruction and training that complements what we do. The key is communicating so that training and competitions are coordinated such that the athlete isn’t being overworked.
AAU youth track coaching approach: Throw everyone in everything and let them find their way VS Curated entries guiding the kids into events you feel they are best suited for? I think it’s a combination of both. With kids, I like for them to compete in a range of events. For example, I might believe that an athlete’s best event is currently the 800m. I would still have that athlete compete in the events between the 200m and 1500m during the course of a season. I believe kids develop at different rates, and the best event for a particular kid at 10 years old might not be the best event for them in the latter part of high school.
What is your favorite level to coach? It’s hard to say. I enjoy each level for different reasons. It’s fun working with the younger kids and seeing their excitement when they achieve the results they want. It’s also fun working with older kids and college students because of their commitment and dedication.
What is your best track memory, as an athlete? As a coach? As an athlete, it’s probably winning the Olympic Games. I will say that our first 4x400m relay NCAA Championship at Georgia Tech is close though. We weren’t expected to even be in the running for first or second, but we pulled it off and almost broke the collegiate record. That’s pretty special for your first NCAA title. As a coach, it was probably watching the athletes that I coached at Tulane have a great Conference Championship meet in 2006.
What race are you the proudest of, and why? I’m probably proudest of my race at the Olympic Games. To be able to deliver my fastest split ever at the most important time adds significance to it.
What competition presented you with the hardest challenges and what did you learn from it? Competing in the Olympic Trials in 1992 and 1996 presented the greatest challenges. At that time, the United States consistent had 6-7 of the top 400m runners in the world. Running 4 rounds against that level of competition with all that was on the line was probably the most stressful thing I did in athletics. In 1992, I had just finished my sophomore year at Georgia Tech and those of us that made the trials were coming off a successful NCAA Championship meet. My mindset and focus was not where it needed to be coming into the Trials and I didn’t make it out of the semifinals. In 1996, I came into the Trials with a much better mindset and approach.
Here are a few more questions about your daily routine because I know you're still out there doing your crunches (Haha)....
What time do you wake up on a regular basis? I’m generally up by 7am.
What is the first thing you do upon awakening? Check my phone and brush my teeth.
What do you put in your body first, hydration or nutrition? Usually hydration
What's for breakfast? Usually nothing. I’m more of a lunch and dinner person.
How many times do you work out a week? I try to work out 4-5 times per week.
What is your recreational sport of choice? Probably golf or basketball
How often are you in the gym or doing PT? I try to make it to the gym 4-5 times per week.
How many meals/what time do you eat? What's typical (be honest)? I generally eat lunch and dinner as meals. I have a habit of snacking several times throughout the day.
What's your daily training shoe? I’m a fan of Nike Pegasus if I’m running.
Do you nap? I don’t nap as much as I’d like or as much as I used to.
How many hours of sleep do you routinely get at night? I generally get around 6 hours of sleep. I’ve found that I don’t need as much sleep as I’ve gotten older. I would sleep more if I could though.