Long Beach State coach LaTanya Sheffield readies to lead Team USA in Track & Field

Published March 6, 2024

Long Beach State track and field head coach LaTanya Sheffield, guiding the campus’ teams toward higher levels of athletic and personal development, is now preparing to lead U.S. Olympians.

“I am super humbled, so excited and prepared,” Sheffield said. “All of those. Totally blessed just by this acknowledgement of my body of work.”

In late February, USA Track & Field selected Sheffield as head coach for the women’s Olympic team that will be headed to the 2024 Summer Games in Paris. The appointment is a major distinction for the Beach’s championship-caliber program and for Sheffield, a member of the coaching staff since 2013. Now head coach of the men’s and women’s track and field teams and designated as the program's “director in waiting,” Sheffield stands to have a prominent role for years to come.  

“Coaching is very interesting because all of your passion, your expertise, all of your emotions, it is all combined and you are pouring it into a person, and you are giving to them for them to physically manifest it all,” Sheffield said.  

Sheffield has held several high-level assignments, including head coaching gigs at the 2022 World Outdoor Championships and the 2019 Pan American Games. She also served on the coaching teams during the Summer Olympics in Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro. Sheffield is an Olympian in her own right, having represented the United States during the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, and holds the 1985 NCAA championship in the 400m hurdles.

“She likes to win,” Long Beach State Track and Field Director Andy Sythe said. “Winning is something that she’s accustomed to here.”

Developing winners

Sythe has known Sheffield since they both competed as student-athletes for San Diego State. They have worked together at The Beach since 2013 and over their collaboration, the men’s track and field team has won a quintet of Big West championships and women’s team has clinched a trio. Beach athletes have also won several individual and relay team conference titles.

“She delivers motivation that resonates,” Sythe said. “She speaks of things that are relatable but in a way that there is only one option, one way to get there in terms of mindset.”

Recently, Beach athletes claimed 10 individual and relay wins, plus the men’s and women’s team championships at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation’s Indoor Track & Field Championships in Spokane, Washington. The competitions took place in late February, mere days after Sheffield’s Olympic appointment. Campus athletes subsequently secured six wins during Beach Opener, an on-campus meet held March 1 and 2.

Sheffield’s Olympic assignment, athlete Justin Watterson said, is a deserved honor for a world-class leader.

“You felt proud to have her be your coach,” he said.

Coaching athletes who compete at both the international and intercollegiate levels, Sheffield works in parallel worlds. In one realm, she has what she calls the “profound responsibility” to ensure that Olympians can rely on the support and coordination of Team USA and their personal coaching and support teams in Paris.

In the intercollegiate world, Sheffield and her colleagues are focused on competitors who are still approaching their full potential.

“She wants us to grow as men and women,” Watterson said. “She doesn’t just want us to be fast, she wants us to mature.”

Watterson studies kinesiology and sports psychology. He aspires to emulate Sheffield’s example and join the coaching profession.

Student athletes balance coursework with early morning workouts, mid-afternoon training sessions and competitions. Sheffield recognized the multi-pronged support that student athletes receive from Bickerstaff Academic Center, her coaching colleagues, and other campus resources.

“It’s the holistic man, it’s the holistic woman that we’re most concerned about developing,” she said. “There is the student and there is the athlete. But there also is the person and their social and emotional and mental needs that we must accommodate.”

Another Long Beach State athlete, Rahni Turner, said Sheffield helps team members get ready for life beyond the arena.

“She is definitely adamant on making us realize that your legs are not going to run forever,” said Turner, a communications major who is minoring in journalism and interested in professional sports journalism.

“She’s very clear – you're a student first before you’re an athlete,” said Turner, who is also Sheffield’s niece.

Chasing gold

Sheffield recalled her own Olympic journey and the elation – “there’s no better feeling” – and cheers that go along with winning a spot on Team USA. She also remembered shouldering an immense responsibility as the games approached.

“The weight of the United States of America,” she said. “That’s a whole different beast. It’s almost as though you lose your name, but you gain a country. ... To bear that type of weight is so awesome and it’s so unforgettable, I wish it on my next elite athlete.”

Back in the college world, track and field is a spring sport and Beach athletes are looking forward to working with Sheffield to build on past victories. The women’s team has won the past two years’ Big West titles in track and field and there is still a drive to win for Long Beach State.

“What we would like to do is build a type of dynasty that represents Long Beach State being the place to be,” Sheffield said. “That it’s simply better at The Beach.”