Q&A with Director of Athletic Performance Rob Mamula


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Rob Mamula tries to maximize the potential of UCSD student-athletes in the weight room.
Rob Mamula tries to maximize the potential of UCSD student-athletes in the weight room.
Courtesy: UCSD

One of the unsung heroes in the UC San Diego Athletics Department is Director of Athletic Performance Robert Mamula. Along with his staff, Mamula oversees the strength and conditioning regimen for nearly all of UCSD’s 23 intercollegiate athletic programs. A 2005 graduate of North Dakota State University, Mamula is entering his fifth season on the La Jolla Campus in 2009-10 and fourth in his current position. A former Division I football and track standout, Mamula has quickly changed the culture among Triton athletes and coaches when it comes to strength training and that change has translated into results on the on the field, on the court, and in the pool. Mamula took a break from his hectic schedule to answer a few questions for UCSDtritons.com.

Q: You are beginning your fourth season as the Director of Athletic Performance at UCSD. Tell us about a typical workday.
A typical workday is up at 5:00 am, so I can be in the weight room and ready for our first teams of the day, which come in at 6:00. Only the toughest teams workout at 6:00 am! Our teams rotate on an hourly basis so we have teams from 6-7, 7-8, 8-9, 9-10, 10-11, then we take a breather try to regain our sanity, do some paper work, or update workouts before we go back at it again from 2-3, 3-4, 4-5, 5-6. By the end of the day you are pretty beat. If we aren’t in the weight room leading student athletes and teams through workouts then we are down in the office programming for our next training phases, reading up on new training techniques, or working out ourselves.

Q: What are some goals you have for UCSD athletes when they arrive on campus?
My goal is to get our athletes to understand that they are capable of more than they think. I want the athletes that pass through our doors to look back at their experience here at UCSD and say that the Athletic Performance Department did everything they could to make me better and I was able to achieve more than I thought possible because of it. I also look at team goals and department wide goals. My goal is always to produce the strongest, most explosive team that we can. I want to be a part of national championship teams. I know we have the coaches that can get us there, now it’s my job to prepare the players for that level.  

Q: Working with our student-athletes on a daily basis, you can directly influence their performance in competition. What are a few keys to being successful in the weight room?
Effort and focus are the two keys. You must focus on the right things in order to see the value in doing things that you don’t necessarily want to do. If I can get the athletes to realize that this rep or this exercise or even this phase of training is going to positively impact their performance, then they won’t see exercises as painful, but helpful. We also start every day with an emphasis because contrary to popular belief, “more work” and “harder work” is not always better work. We need to be smart about how we train and that means that some days are technique days and some days are unload days and some days are max days. Our athletes must be focused on what the emphasis of the day is to achieve maximum benefit. The second is effort. If you give great effort with great attitude, it will always yield great results. Because we aren’t just lifting weights, but trying to instill the kind of character, integrity, desire, and fire that these student athletes need to be successful.

Q: What do you do to track an individual athletes’ growth with it comes to strength and conditioning?
We test. We have a battery of tests and that is the number one way to determine what level our athletes are at and whether or not the training program was beneficial. We test strength attributes and then the various speed, agility, plyometric or conditioning attributes that are necessary for success in their respective sports. For instance: we test a lot for power in our volleyball players. We test them on short sprints, vertical leap and short agility drills. For other sports like basketball that have a larger conditioning component involved we test in the three-mile run and 300 shuttle. We always tailor or test to the specific needs of the sport.

Q: Is there a particular team or sport that stands out in the weight room? Are there programs you need to spend more time with than others?
I am really pleased with the progress we have made at UCSD in regards to teams understanding the value of hard work in the weight room and in conditioning sessions and achieving results. We recently tested all of our programs and we had some fantastic results from our women’s volleyball team as each player increased their vertical leap. That is outstanding. We also saw some great test results from our women’s basketball team.

In regards to spending more time with teams, we would love to get to a point where we can have strength coaches attending practice and taking part in the warm-up and cool down sessions, as well as helping with nutrition on the road, but that is a little ways down the line. Right now my focus is on getting all of our teams participating in the strength program with 100% attendance for all the athletes on that team. I would like to work more closely with women’s soccer, because I believe they will really benefit from a solid strength program. They do work with us some now but I would like to see it increase. I would also like to see our women’s tennis team a little more involved. I am passionate and I happen to think that our program is the most important in the world so, naturally, I would like to be doing more with more teams. Overall, I think we do a great job of maximizing our time and resources here at UCSD.
Q: Because you work with most of UCSD’s athletic programs, you get to know the athletes as well as anybody. What three words best describe Triton athletes?
Intelligent, driven, hardworking.

Q: Have you noticed any differences in student-athletes today from four or five years ago when you started at UCSD?
Absolutely. I have noticed there is a level of expectancy in my arena, meaning that athletes and coaches expect that participation in this program is going to lead to results. Sometimes that is a point of conflict because coaches or players think they should see results faster then they are, but it keeps me on my toes.

Q: What is the best part about working at UCSD?
I get to do the job I love and work with great kids each day. I really love getting the chance to positively affect our athletes’ lives and it charges me up to be around determined coaches and players. I love helping people “get better.” I also love the beach and the fact that it is never cold here. EVER! Anybody that says “It’s freezing outside” while standing in San Diego should have to run gassers for days. We have the best weather ever.
Q: You were a Human Performance and Fitness major at North Dakota State University. When did you know you wanted to become a strength coach?
My sophomore year in high school I found out that Boyd Epley was the strength coach at University of Nebraska. I researched him a little bit and realized that this was the perfect job for me. No suit, no tie and you get to hang out in the weight room all day. It was a no brainer. I also realized that the math requirements for our major in college are pretty slim and I was never a big fan of math so that was an added plus.

Q: You played football and competed in track and field for the Bison. What are some of your favorite memories of your time as a student-athlete?
My first Division I football game in the Fargo Dome was awesome. My parents made the trip out to Fargo and I intercepted pass that game. I loved summer conditioning as well. There just isn’t anything else like it that you will ever go through. 85 guys giving 100% effort for a common goal in the heat. We would get up at 5:30 am, lift weights from 6:00-7:15, walk across campus to the university housing where myself and a few other guys on the team worked construction and do demolition or dry wall or landscaping from 7:15-3:30, then jog back across campus to make afternoon conditioning at 4:00. After conditioning, we would stop off at somebody’s girlfriend’s house and beg them to cook for us, which they always did. Those are my favorite memories.

Q: What do you do today to stay in shape?
I lift and run just like the teams do. Anything new that I want to put in a program I try out myself first. I usually pick one team a quarter to follow and do the workout that I program for them. I lift on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays, and I condition on Tuesday and Thursdays and I spend Saturday playing sports all day.

Q: Prior to coming to UCSD, you worked at the Arco Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. What was that experience like and how does it apply today working with collegiate athletes?
That was a great experience because I was working with the top athletes in America. I was able to use some of the most cutting-edge testing equipment and really take a scientific look into the world of strength and power training. That experience helped me develop a good grasp of how to periodize a program because I was working under a great strength coach in Kim Sanborn. It also gave me great perspective to take special care not to “try” anything out on athletes. When you deal with high caliber athletes who get paid for their success, you must be certain that what you ask them to do will be beneficial to them. It was at ARCO where I developed my “test myself first” mentality.

Q: Are there any athletes or coaches that you admire? Why?
Absolutely! The coaches that I most admire are the ones who demand excellence on the field and don’t waiver in their faith. Coaches I look up to are guys like Tony Dungy, and Lovey Smith. Strength coaches that I look-up to are probably too numerous to mention, but I had the opportunity to hear Donny Maib, the strength coach for the University of Texas, recently and I was impressed to hear him talk more about his faith as a Christian, his family, and how much people matter before he ever spoke to us about how to effectively train athletes. That really impressed me.

Q: What teams do you root for?
I don’t watch sports that much outside of UCSD competitions. I always root for the underdog. I pull for North Dakota State of course, and then the Jayhawks. I am a rock Chalk Jay Hawker all the way. I don’t like watching professional sports, but when I do it’s football and my teams are the VIKINGS and the Chargers.

Q: You are a big karaoke fan. What are a few of your favorite songs to sing?
Hold on to your seats.
Here I go Again - Whitesnake
Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl) - Looking Glass
Johnny B. Goode - Chuck Berry
Ramblin’ Fever - Merle Haggard
Bad, Bad Leroy Brown - Jim Croce

I almost always try to close out my set for the night with either “Walking in Memphis,” the Marc Cohen edition -- I feel like the lonestar version is un-authentic and, as a karaoke purist, I won’t touch it -- or “Seven Spanish Angels”, the duet of Willy Nelson and Ray Charles. My brother does a good Willy and I rock Ray pretty hard. Another good options is “The Ballad of Curtiss Lowe” By Lynard Skynard. I haven’t been in a while though so this is a good reminder for me to exercise the pipes again.

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Leon Baham (Men's Track & Field) May 21, 2009

Kristyn Lesovsky (Softball) May 8, 2009

Kazumi Negishi (Men's Tennis) May 5, 2009

Laiah Blue (Women's Track & Field) April 16, 2009

Ryan Andre (Men's Crew) April 2, 2009

Josh Tanner (Baseball) March 24, 2009

Anju Shimura (Women's Swimming) March 7, 2009

Stephanie Bocian (Women's Water Polo) February 20, 2009

Lauren Chastain (Softball) February 5, 2009

A.J. Maulhardt (Men's Basketball) January 28, 2009

Annette Ilg (Women's Basketball) January 22, 2009

Steven Hardy (Men's Swimming) January 13, 2009

Frank Fritsch (Men's Volleyball) January 5, 2009

Kendall Bohn (Women's Swimming) December 22, 2008

Kelvin Kim (Men's Basketball) December 15, 2008

Michelle Osier (Women's Basketball) December 5, 2008

Sylvia Schmidt (Women's Volleyball) November 7, 2008

Denny Harper (Men's Water Polo Head Coach) October 17, 2008

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Julie Ertel (Athletics) June 16, 2008

Clint Allard (Men's Basketball) June 9, 2008

Jen Myers (Women's Crew) May 27, 2008

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