Q&A: Alamosa AD Erik Melgoza on developing athletes in different roles

(Photo courtesy of Erik Melgoza)

Five minutes into a conversation with Alamosa athletic director Erik Melgoza and it's clear developing student-athletes is why he wakes up every morning.

He has served many roles through his career in education. He reached the top of the mountain as the girls basketball coach at Lamar as he guided the team to a Class 3A state title in 2017. At the conclusion of the 2017-18 year, he took on a different challenge by moving into his current role at Alamosa.

Though he no longer works directly with student-athletes, he is never shy about promoting the accomplishments of the kids competing under the banner. And it doesn't stop with the kids at Alamosa. If a student-athlete has done something incredible, he doesn't hesitate to applaud and congratulate them, regardless of the name on their jersey.

As the 2019-20 school year is set to begin in the coming weeks, Melgoza took the time to chat about the differences between coaching and administration and how he continues to play a role the athletic development of high school kids.

Question: What's the biggest difference between working with a kid directly as a coach and from a bigger role as an athletic director?

Melgoza: You know, the biggest difference is that I'm able to talk to more kids. I get to see kids across different spectrum as far as different sports. I get to interact with the gymnastics kids or the soccer kids or the football kids, cross country kids instead of just cross country kids (as a coach). I think the interaction with all groups is really cool.

Q: What did you learn from your first year in that role that you hope to apply moving forward?

Melgoza: The biggest thing in my first year that I learned personally is I need to convey things to my AD a lot more (as a coach). I want to be that AD; I have my coaches call me coach because I don't want to forget where I came from. I really want to be a servant leader in that capacity.

I think I could have facilitated that a little more with my former AD's as far as working with them more, asking more questions, kind of just being around them and understanding their point of view. I think you'd go into a job and you always say, "You know, if I was the AD I would do it this way." But when you get in the job, you realize there's reasons why you can't do it that way. I think just the communication with my AD's would have been a lot better.

(Photo courtesy of Erik Melgoza)

Q: What's the advantage of being an athletic director in a small community town like Alamosa?

Melgoza: I don't know if there's an advantage. We're big enough, right at 600 kids, but we're not really small. We offer 17 sports plus the activities plus the AP so there are a lot of responsibilities with it. I think a little smaller school district like a Lamar with 400 kids, it doesn't seem like a lot of difference in the number of kids, but 200 kids makes a huge difference and adding all those other sports. Even though we are relatively small, I don't know that there's really an advantage cause I still don't know everybody.

Q: Does it feel like you're more tied into a community though, even with 200 extra kids being where you are in the state?

Melgoza: Absolutely. I think if you start going up to say 800 or 1,000 kids, you don't have the community feel. I've been in a larger school district as far as watching their sports programs and stuff and it's just not that family atmosphere is not the brother you know. You know your linebacker's little brothers in seventh grade. You know your freshman coming in has siblings in third and fourth grade. You understand those community ties. You know grandma and grandpa and that's not always the case in a larger school.

So this is probably about as biggest school as you can go to and still get that hometown family feeling.

Q: As a coach and a teacher, you just primarily have to worry about kids and their grades and their performance on the court and their development. I think with the administration, there's a lot more that goes into it. But how much of those core beliefs you try and hold on to in your role as an athletic director?

Melgoza: Every one of them. My first and foremost core belief as a coach was to be a servant leader. That's one thing I want to teach my kids. As an athletic director, I want to model that for my coaches and I want to teach them to be servant leaders. I think sometimes they get put out there on an island and they don't feel supported. Parents are coming back from their job every day and there troubles at home and that we expect them to win on Friday and Saturday. So I think they need a lot of support. They're kind of feeling like they're on an island out there. First and foremost, servant leadership is as my core value that I want to teach my coaches.

Q: How much do you feel still feeling ingrained in the direct athletic atmosphere as opposed to maybe that perceived step back with administration?

Melgoza: I don't want to tell my coaches how a coach necessarily, but man, I miss coaching. I miss that day to day planning. I miss the strategy. I miss the interaction with the kids and the one on one of that cross country runner and we're going to talk about a race plan. I don't get to do that anymore.

Instead it's bus scheduling, facilities, meal money. It's making sure your coaches are on arbiter and all of those other things. And I still try to find time just to ask a kid, "Hey, how'd your race go?"

Just talking to a kid at lunch and seeing their eyes light up when, when somebody asks how they did on Friday and Saturday. That still gives me that same buzz as a coach that I always had.

Q: Do you feel like they get that level of excitement with you because you've been in the shoes of a coach now you're still trying to make sure you're tied in with them that way?

Melgoza: I think so. Kids ask me about winning a state championship and I always try and go back and tell them that that part is fun, but it's always the process that was more fun.

Maybe (the most fun) wasn't the team that won it all, maybe it was the team that was third. In cross country we were close several times and it was just the process of the summer workouts, going on camping trips, training in the mountains. I really want the kids to put more of a vested interest in the process as opposed to saying they want a championship. Only one team gets to feel that but everybody gets to feel the process.

Q: Knowing how much you love athletics at the high school level how great is it to see a kid anywhere in the state, regardless of the uniform they're wearing, do something special?

Melgoza: That's a great feeling. As a coach you kind of focus on your sport, your team. Now as an AD you get to network out there and you know other athletic directors so you kind of follow what they do, you try to emulate the good things and you start following their kids.

Cali Clark and Cherry Creek basketball won their first state championship ever and they've won all those state championships and every other sport. Alamosa wrestling won their 12th state title this year. I got to see the individuals that went into that and now my first real summer of seeing what goes into that. You look at these baseball teams; you're looking at a Fowler High School who was second. Maybe they didn't win it, but I know coach (Mark) Lowther down there and he is always trying to win and master his craft. You see him at every coaching clinic there is.

You get to network and you see what these guys are really about, not just on the coaching realm but how they implement it with their kids.

Q: What should we look forward to with Alamosa athletics this year?

Melgoza: We have great kids here. We put some great coaches in place and they will get the support from the athletic director. The administration here is outstanding all the way up to our superintendent and our board of education. This town is a winner. The college has numerous, All-Americans, numerous championships and they want to win here. And not only in athletics, they want to win in academics too.

When you have that total piece, it is a recipe for a winning atmosphere.