Photo by Nate Olsen/Nebraska Communications

Martin Brings Youthful Exuberance To Rifle Program

By Brian Rosenthal

Rachel Martin, an NCAA champion and a seven-time All-American for the Huskers from 2014 to 2017, was named the sixth head coach of the Nebraska rifle program on April 9. She returns to Lincoln after spending a season as an assistant coach at Army. After graduating from Nebraska in 2017, Martin moved to Colorado Springs to train at the United States Olympic Training Center. Martin has been a member of the USA Shooting World Cup team since 2013. She spent more than a year as a resident athlete at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, during which time she also participated in a year-long internship with the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s office in Colorado Springs. Martin visited with Brian Rosenthal of Huskers.com to discuss her challenges and expectations as the Huskers’ head coach in this QnA.

BR: Besides the opportunity to become a head coach, what attracted you to return to Nebraska?

Rachel: “I’ve always wanted to really get into coaching ever since I was an athlete, but I think when the job at Nebraska opened up, just knowing what it’s like here and the support they offer the athletes is really huge. I love coaching because I love the sport, but I also really like it because of how you get to help develop people, especially in college. That’s kind of a time where you figure out who you want to be, and I want to play a big role in that, because I understand that struggle and I understand it’s a time where you can make great decisions, but you can also make some really bad decisions. That’s kind of why I wanted to get into coaching. And then me knowing Nebraska very well, I feel that probably out of all the schools, they do the best job of developing their athletes. The give them the opportunity to make the good decisions, but also kind of holding them to a higher standard and pushing themselves to a higher standard, which I think is really, really important for athletes.”

BR: You’re only two years removed from being a student-athlete yourself. What are the advantages and disadvantages, or maybe challenges, of being so close in age to your team members?

Rachel: “That’s actually a question I’ve gotten quite a lot. It is a little abnormal for a head coach to be so young, but I think if you look at the Olympic sport right now, shooting as an Olympic sport, it’s changing so, so much, and I think a lot of people are having an issue keeping up on that. The nice thing is that I’m so close to the sport still, I know those changes and I kind of know the mindset and the tools and the techniques that an athlete is going to need in order to get through that. I think I can also relate to them a little bit more just because I understand the struggles that come with college, and you can make some really bad decisions. I pushed myself, and my family did a great job of pushing me in a positive way, and Nebraska did as well. I do expect a lot from these girls, but honestly, this team is really, really amazing, and I’ve gotten to know all of them throughout these last few weeks. I’m really psyched to coach them. You never know what you’re going to get when you come into a team that’s not your own, but after talking with them, I really think that they’re going to be great. I think they see kind of the benefits of having a younger coaching staff. Right now, especially with where the sport is, I think it’s going to be a big advantage.”

BR: What are some of those changes in the sport you mentioned?

Rachel: “NCAA has stayed pretty much the same, but as far as Olympic stuff … in NCAA, it’s the only sport that men compete against women. Now, that’s not true in the Olympics right now, however it’s kind of going that way. Women need to shoot what’s called a 3-by-20 course in small bore, which is 20 shots in three positions, and men would always shoot double that. Now they’ve changed it to where women are shooting the same as men. What they’re trying to do is make it to where we’re going to compete against each other in the Olympics, which is great, but for my shooters and the way I want to develop them, I want them to have that international experience. I want them to go to World Cups. I want them to do Olympic trials. I want them to experience this amazing amount of pressure that you feel at those matches, that way when we got to NCAAs or conference championships, they’re already very well prepared for that. But you can’t do that unless you have stamina and the mental capacity to handle a 3-by-40, which is three hours of just straight shooting, which is really, really exhausting."

BR: How and where do you recruit the best shooters?

Rachel: “Rifle is a little bit different. We’re going to focus on national matches – USC Shooting Nationals, Junior Olympics, Olympic Trials – so we’re going to go to all those matches and keep up on the shooters who are there. In some ways it’s a little bit easier in rifle because it is a smaller sport, that all the coaches really do help each other out and we’re going after the same kids. Now, that’s a good thing but it’s also a bad thing, because you have five coaches going after one shooter. Obviously at Nebraska we are a little bit more limited because we are a women’s only team. The guy shooters, I can’t recruit them at all. Something that’s kind of an untapped resource that we’re getting into is international recruiting. We actually have a trip to Germany this week that we’re going to go and look at some girls and chat with them. It’s hard because a lot of international shooters really want to come over here and shoot, but they’re not always aware that’s an opportunity. We’re trying to make some connections and let them know, ‘Hey, this is an opportunity if this is what you want to do.’ So hopefully we’re looking at bringing in some internationals as well.”

BR: What are your immediate and long-term goals for the rifle program?

Rachel: “Obviously long term we would like to win NCAA Championships. I don’t say that lightly. I think every program is supposed to say that, but I think with the tools we have, with the girls that we have, and the support the athletic department gives us, I think we have a very good shot in a few years. I think that’s going to take quite a bit of development and some time, us building those relationships with our shooters and them trusting us, and us getting them up to the level that they need to be at. But that’s kind of the long-term goal, and I really do believe that is something that’s achievable. This immediate next year is really getting the girls to have a great team dynamic. I think that’s really important, just teaching them how to be teammates. Because it’s hard sometimes. You would love a team that they’re all friends and everything’s great. But I think if you look at any great sports teams, that’s not always the case. You can not be somebody’s friend, but you can certainly be their teammate and have that loyalty to be with them on the line. Just making sure that we have that culture, doing well in our matches and doing well at conference championships and qualifying for NCAAs. I think this team kind of needs to see that they really are great, and we’re going to give them the tools they need to be great.”

BR: How and when did you first become involved in rifle shooting?

Rachel: “That’s actually an interesting story. I was pretty young and my dad and his side of the family have always been really big into shot fit shooting. They absolutely love it. We joined 4-H when I was probably like 7 or 8, and my dad took over the rifle team because they didn’t have a coach. Nobody was coming to practice, so he made me and my two sisters go, and we were kind of the rifle team for a little bit. I absolutely hated it at first. I really, really didn’t like it. I was very into dance. That was my thing. But honestly, over time, I really learned to love it. Part of it was because I wasn’t any good at it, and that was kind of motivating for me to want to be good at it because it didn’t come naturally. But honestly the biggest reason that I liked it, and still like it, is it was something that really brought me very close to my dad and my mom and my sisters. And I think that’s why we have such a great relationship now, is because we shot together and it was an amazing experience, and they’re still very involved, which is great.”

BR: Either now or when you were younger, who’s been your source of inspiration?

Rachel: “Honestly, it’s hard to pick one person. I think there’s always multiple people. I’ve got a lot of support from my family – my grandparents, my aunts and my uncle have been so, so generous with helping me out. They’ve been really great. But I think the people that when I didn’t believe that I could do it, and they knew I could. They believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. That was definitely my mom and my dad. They were great. They were hard on me, but in a very positive way. They really, really pushed me. And I wouldn’t have been as good of a shooter without them, but I also don’t think I would’ve developed into the person that I am without them doing that.”

BR: What’s a common misconception people have about collegiate rifle who aren’t familiar with this sport?

Rachel: “There’s actually a lot. A lot of people think we’re like color guard, and that we twirl the rifles and stuff, and that’s not true at all. (laughs). Honestly, it’s hard for people to watch because they don’t understand the rules or how it works, but it really is an amazingly fun sport to do. It looks kind of odd and people don’t get it. What we’re hoping to do is when we have home matches, to bring a lot of people out and to let them shoot on our scat system, which is a laser system, and just help them understand what the sport is about, because it’s really such a blast. I think it’s great for families to get involved. Hopefully, I think part of our job this year is kind of educating the community. Hopefully, they’ll come and they’ll support us. I think it would just be great.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter@GBRosenthal.

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