The importance of mentorship for a Track and Field coach

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When we look back on our lives I often imagine many of us would be embarrassed by what we did or said. My experience as an athlete and early as a coach would not be an exception to the rule. As an athlete in high school and in college I was a coaches nightmare, talented, thought I knew everything, and often injured. Sadly my first couple of years as a coach went along a similar progression. As I look back at those early years of coaching the one thing keeping me sane is the fact I have grown a lot as a coach. It was important for me to learn from those early missteps. As coaches we know the route to mastery is not and should not be an easy experience.

One way a coach can cut down on their growing pains is to find a good mentor. A mentor coach should be someone who has success not only in performance on the track but in management, promotion, training theory, fellowship, and recruitment. Often times a single coach does not embody all of these traits. If a single coach can’t meet these high expectations it will be important for you to have a community of coaches that cover all the bases.

In the sport of track and field potentially everyone can have a successful experience on the track at the same time. This potential for shared success has allowed for the coaches in track and field to spread their knowledge more freely. In fact I feel in the last 10 years the sharing of knowledge has increased in frequency and density. No doubt this a good thing and since track is measurable you can see the amount of improvement nation wide through records and higher levels of regional competition.

Personally the biggest two moments in my coaching career came in the form of mentorship. The first of these moments as I stated on my previous blog came from the relationship I developed from joining the coaching staff for the Ladue Lightning (now known as the St. Louis Lightning). The experience I gained during that first summer has been invaluable developing how and why we train. I learned that first season science and research could be applied to my coaching even at the high school level. I became distinctly aware of how much kids could improve. It was almost like the moment in the movie the Matrix when Neo discovers the “land of the real.” My brain felt as if it was about to pop! Through that relationship my thrist for knowledge grew! I started to search for any research I could find to give my kids every competitive advantage!

This hunger for knowledge would lead me to my next important mentorship moment. One of my assistant coaches and I were talking about a locally successful high school soccer coach. During our conversation it was discussed he had achieved the highest certification a high school soccer coach could acquire. That information made me wonder if there was such a thing for track? Now of course all of us who frequent this website know the answer to that question is YES. I then made it my mission to try and get to as many of those schools and clinics I could. If it were not for my assistant (who by the way used to be my teacher back in the day) pushing me to be better and go discover that schooling I would not be in the spot I am currently.

Now since then I have been blessed to have very talented kids and some success at my level of coaching. These relationships have opened many doors that previously had been closed. It has given me the opportunity to become friends with wonderful professionals in the field. I have been able to pick their brains and call on them when I need some advice. This relationship has been invaluable.

Be careful not to abuse these relationships. Remember mentorship can be and should be a two way street. If you are getting something you should give something back. Now if coaches don’t want anything you could provide them it’s ok but you should always offer. That is why I believe when we look at our mentorship lineage it should not be a tree. Instead it should be a WEB where information is received but also returned. Many coaches are masters in one discipline or another. For example, you may be a great coach in the jumps but can’t coach distance to save your life. If you have a good relationship with a coach in the event group you are weak in you should offer to give the coach your best mico-cycle of training, templates, etc. In return he could give you that great interval workout you have heard about for your 1600 stud. In fact this year I had this very experience with a coaching friend at Moberly who is a jump guru. Both of our kids have benefited and it’s really been fun to watch!

In St. Louis County we have had the unique situation to have a strong web of coaches. We bounce ideas off of each other and have even gone one anothers practices to see how we manage training on and off the track. That experience has been awesome. Another neat idea for mentorship is the “Dutch” clinic. A “Dutch” clinic is where a group of coaches get together to talk track and your only payment is you are expected to make a presentation and share some of your secrets!

Some time in the not so distance future you will end up becoming a mentor to a younger coach. Don’t forget your experiences and development. You could become the most influential person in that young coach’s development. Being a mentor could seem like a daunting task but this relationship can be just as fun as the kids you coach! Plus you never know you might learn something as well.

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