Running track has provided Jessica Cousins, assistant coach for the track team, with some of the best experiences of her life.
Cousins, a South Carolina native, began running in high school and has turned her passion for the sport into a career. She said she started running when she was in 9th grade and ran until her senior year of college.
“It’s the one thing I’ve done since I was a child, between that and basketball,” she said. “I ended up choosing track over basketball. I ran my first two years at Clemson University and then I transferred to University of Arkansas.”
After completing her collegiate career, Cousins went on to compete professionally, attending meets such as USA Nationals in Oregon, as well the IAAF Indoor Championships in Turkey and Qatar, and Olympic Trials in 2008 and 2012.
Cousins favored collegiate running over professional running due to the team atmosphere and dynamic. She believes that the team atmosphere is one of the reasons that she found running to be so enjoyable in college.
“Running professionally is different because I’m training by myself most of the time. A lot of workouts are done by myself; I had training partners, but sometimes we had to travel to different places or we had workouts at different times, so it was a little more difficult. I had to be much more disciplined. If I had to choose between the two, I’d choose to run collegiately for the rest of my life because of that team atmosphere,” said Cousins.
In 2012, Cousins competed in her last professional meet at the Olympic Trials. After completing her career as runner, she shifted her focus from competing to coaching. Cousins spent three years coaching at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
But transitioning from a runner to a coach was not easy for Cousins.
She said, “It was hard. I love competing, and when I made the decision to not compete any more, it wasn’t a quick decision. It was well thought out. I spoke to my mentors and my family members, but in the end, it was my decision I had to come to on my own. In my first year of coaching I always had the urge to compete again; the only thing I didn’t want to do was the training.”
In September 2015, Cousins was hired as the assistant track and field coach at NSU.
“I was looking for another position while I was coaching in my last year at Howard University, and I wanted to be in a place with more diversity, and I had heard of NSU before, all about the great athletes and coaching staff. When the opportunity became available, I applied here, and when I finally got the call for an interview, I was so excited. I told myself that if I got the opportunity, I would take the position.”
In addition to the difficulties Cousins faced during her transition from athlete to coach, Cousins also described what she believes is the most difficult aspect of coaching: leaving the athletes.
“You get so close to them, personally and athletically, that they become like family, and so when I made the choice to leave Howard, it wasn’t hard to leave the area or my colleagues, but it was hard to leave those athletes after forming such a great relationship. It was really hard to sever that tie. Up until this point, that would be the hardest part about coaching for me,” said Cousins.
But being a coach is also incredibly rewarding, according to Cousins. She described seeing the success of her athletes as the most rewarding part of her job.
“From the first day at practice to their last day of competition, you get to see all the progress from the work they put in, the dedication, the sacrifice they have to make. Winning a conference championship or a national championship, that success for them is rewarding for me as their coach.”
Using her own experience as a professional athlete is one of the tools Cousins makes use of to motivate her athletes. She notes that the experiences that are possible for professional athletes is what should drive athletes to work hard at their sport.
Cousins said, “For me, I make use of my experiences. Whatever I’ve gotten to experience as an athlete, and I try to get them to feed off of that. To be able to travel, and I don’t tell them that everyone is going to be able to do that, you sacrifice so much as an athlete that you need to find something rewarding, and that was my reward. I want to give them that outlook that if you’re going to do it, then you need to have some kind of reward for yourself. You give up so much of your time that you have to be seeking some kind of reward for it. That’s one of the main things I use to motivate them, I ask them, ‘What are you seeking. What reward are you seeking?’”
The athletic experience is really what has driven Cousins’ career as both an athlete and a coach. Cousins has gotten to experience both sides of running and has had many incredible experiences as a result.
She said, “My best experience as a runner was making my first national team, which was at World Indoors in Qatar, and I was a part of the 4×4 relay that won gold there. As a coach, it’s seeing my athletes on the podium or seeing them graduate.”