By Michael Smith
Michael Smith is the Head Cross Country / Track and Field Coach at Mascenic Regional High School in New Hampshire. You can find more of his thoughts at New Hampshire Track and Field and New Hampshire Cross Country
Having coached now for fifteen years and having had some of my athletes and team perform at the highest level in this sport, I from time to time, get asked the question, what is the secret to success. Anyone can coach that talented athlete to strong performances but how do you replicate that success when the truly gifted are hard to find? The bigger your team is the better your chances are to get another talent, but here in Division 3, those talents come around only so often. So what do you do? You focus on making every athlete you coach a better athlete. And what if you are new to coaching cross country in NH regardless of how good you were at the sport in your day.
I have a couple of ideas that I’ve glean over the years and definitely have led me to more success than the knowledge I brought to the sport 15 years ago as a coach. I know I certainly know I wanted to prove myself worthy and was reluctant to ask questions in those first few years. After a lot of reading and asking those coaches I saw as the best in the business I developed a program that I operate off of today, always adaptable, but focused on a few “truths” and those particular workouts and philosophies I know work for me. Here are some guidelines for those new to coaching along with supporting information for those of us that have already been at it for a while.
- Make sure you believe in your program. If you don’t know why you’re having the kids do a workout, either find out why or don’t do it.
- Teach the kids to understand why they are doing what they do. Some kids will improve by simply telling them to do the workout, however all of them will improve if they understand what the workout is for and why they should do it.
- Learn each of your kids. If you wish for them to truly improve to perform their best, it’s going to be a collaboration between athlete and coach.
- Don’t become so entrenched in a principle that you are unwilling to try something new. Try it and if it doesn’t work, throw it out.
- The best workouts have already been done before, by someone else. Get over yourself and steal their ideas. However make sure you know why you want to use it, it needs to have a purpose in your program.
- The best coaches do the same things, but differently. Different style, different approach but the human system is mostly the same, adapts mostly the same, and improves mostly the same.
- Don’t be afraid to ask someone who has good teams what they do. You’ll be surprised, many of them will tell you in pretty good detail. If they don’t, what have you lost? Learn from someone else, then go out and beat them.
- Lose the clipboard. You miss too much of what the kids are actually doing by worrying about splits. If you can’t, give it to an assistant, have them take the splits, and watch what’s happening in the race.
- Athletes know when things are going really well. Tell them anyways. They also notice when things don’t go great. Remind them it’s a process. There are good days and bad days. But each day moves us further.
- Every true effort is good. Find the part of it that is good and make sure to tell them that. Don’t bullshit them but find the silver lining. If they just torpedo, say so, they know it, but find out what they’ve learned, ask them why. Then move on.
Maybe I could call these my top ten coaching principles, but that would insinuate that I actually am that principled to follow a dictum, which I am not. Everyone has their own way, just like every runner is different. Maybe some of these will strike a cord and you will use it in your coaching arsenal. Maybe they are all hogwash, who knows. But I’ve learned, over time, that the most ingredient in coaching is you and the relationship you have with your athletes, not the top secret training plan.
Good luck in your season.