Blog Case Studies

Q&A with Zack Zillner, Sports Performance Coach, University of Texas

Zack Zillner enters his second season as women’s basketball sports performance coach at the University of Texas.

Zillner develops, implements and supervises the training regimen for the Texas women’s basketball team in the areas of speed, strength, agility, conditioning and flexibility. Zillner also works collaboratively with the areas of sports medicine and performance nutrition. 

In his first season at Texas, Zillner helped the Longhorns to a 28-7 overall record and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16. Zillner helped develop senior guards Ariel Atkins and Brooke McCarty – both first-team All-Big 12 selections – and Atkins was the No. 7 overall pick in the WNBA Draft by the Washington Mystics.

Zillner comes to the Forty Acres with a vast amount of experience at three NCAA Division I institutions, most recently serving as Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Kansas. At KU, Zillner was the sports performance coach for the women’s basketball, softball, women’s golf and women’s tennis teams. He worked directly with 2017 Big 12 Women’s Basketball Newcomer of the Year Jessica Washington. He also assisted with men’s basketball, including 2017 consensus National Player of the Year Frank Mason, and was responsible for the development of incoming athletes. 

Q: What advice do you have to athletes working through an injury or rehabilitating from a surgery from a training, mental or psychological ‘tips’ or encouragement perspective?

Focus on the things you can control. Too often, when athletes suffer an injury they focus on all the things they can’t do and the things they can’t control. I have my athletes start by making a list. It’s a simple exercise and a great learning experience that puts a positive outlook on the situation. An injury is an opportunity to focus on some aspects that often get overlooked when athletes are healthy. 

Athletes often overlook three aspects of their training that profoundly affects force production: 

1.     Sleep

2.     Hydration/Nutrition

3.     Mental Health

Start with small goals to build consistent habits. This helps in three important ways: 1) it gives time to evaluate and reevaluate, to create new goals and focus on the healing process; 2) It also allows them to remember their core values and identity; and 3) It sets them up with more tools to succeed in the future.

At the University of Texas our program places an emphasis on the well-being of our student-athletes. I encourage our athletes to visit with our sport’s psychologist. Their physical health is no more important than their mental health, which also effects force production.

Q: What advice do you have for athletes in the off-season when they don’t have the support network from you and your staff?

I’m fortunate that our athletes are in the weight room 47-50 weeks out of the year. When they are off-campus and on breaks, I encourage them to be active while doing activities they enjoy. We’re extremely structured during the season. This all includes our sports performance training, practice and games.  We have constant open line of communication between the athletes and myself. I give them ideas and activities that help promote global health. On the flip, side- if they want something structured, I’ll give them whatever they need to succeed. 

Q: What advice do you have for young athletes that could help them when they get to UT as freshman athletes?

1.   Be Coachable: You are not always going to want to hear everything your coach is trying to tell you. Trust in the fact that they are doing everything they can to help you succeed. Get outside your comfort zone; nothing good has ever come from being comfortable.

2.     Trust the Process: In the next four years, you’ll experience some of the highest highs and lowest lows. Buy into your team, coaches, and development, and you’ll be so proud of yourself when you’re done.

3.     Be a Sponge with a Filter: Be open to everything around you and take advantage of all the resources and support you have at UT. You’ve been given an incredible opportunity with the best campus, facilities, coaches, and support that are there to help you succeed. Don’t waste it. 

4.   Pay attention with intent: There are small lessons along the way. They prepare you for more than just what’s between the lines.

College goes by fast. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!