“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
My goal as a coach has always been to have a certain level of success. As I have discussed on numerous occasions in my early years I wasn’t quite sure how to thrive. To thrive as a coach you must passionate, compassionate, have a good sense of humor when things don’t go as planned, and most important everything you do should have your own sense of style to it.
Passion has never been a problem for me as an Italian my passion has earned me respect but also some enemies along the way. However, as I have matured as a coach the more compassionate I got with my peers, assistant coaches, and athletes the stronger my team has become. A good sense of humor is always important in a sport like track and field because a sport that lives and dies on tenths of a second or inches can be so intense it will eat at you from the inside out. Plus, kids love a good sense of humor. Sometimes a good sense of humor is the decided factor for a kid to buy into things you are trying to accomplish when they seem impossible or so very far away. Making someone laugh even in the most difficult situations can be invaluable when a kid doesn’t inherently loves track but they love/respect you. Finally, you need a sense of style. I believe style goes way beyond the way you look in a coaches polo shirt. Instead, style is part culture, intrigue, and even a little swagger.
One of my assistant coaches this year kept trying to remind me that this years team is a rebuilding year. At first I was put off by that statement because my passion leads me to believe we never rebuild we only reload. As the season went on I began to understand more of what she meant about rebuilding. It’s not just your performance on the track you rebuild but some much more. This season we lost a veteran distance coach of 30 years due to retirement. This meant hiring someone new. I was lucky enough to bring in a passionate new coach. I decided our new coach needed to be exposed to as many training plans and athletes as possible to help increase his learning curve. He jumped at the challenge and did a great job. So to rebuild this position I came up with a plan where the sprinters and distance runners would train with each other every two days or so. On the days we were not together my new assistant coach would rotate between the two groups. This system worked out well by allowing both my new assistant coach and I to work together two out of every three days.
In the past couple of seasons we had a number of true superstar tack and field athletes. This year I knew we had a number of new faces and since I knew subconsciously we were rebuilding I didn’t want to scare anyone off before we started the season. In order to make the kids feel welcome you sometimes have to share these athletes with other sports programs. Let’s face it most of your best athletes probably didn’t start out with track being their favorite sport. For example Diane Robison, Emily Sisson, and Galen Rupp all played soccer before they found their true calling in track and field. I found it important to show these kids compassion by allowing them to still do their club sport while doing track and field. I had ten athletes doing more the track this last spring. A number of these kids were allowed to miss one practice a week and even leave at 4:45 from practice so they could balance both sports. Now some coaches would NEVER allow this to happen and many more would not return the favor. I still do share because I would rather be the “yes” guy by showing compassion because in the long run that wins over a few kids and parents who might not otherwise return the next season. Does this always work, do all coaches even know I did this, and does this win me points with the other programs? Well of course the answer is sometimes. I believe in this because compassion has helped me keep a young lady last year who never played sports and she needed to balance track with her music lessons. As it turned out she has become a state qualifier in the 800 and one of our fast girls in school history. Sharing her has helped our team.
One of the things I continue to learn is it’s always better to smile and tell a good joke to cut the tension then to give huge speeches or long drawn out lectures. As a coach we have tried to do more this to make our team fun. Like team theme days before track meets like “throwback Thursday, twins day, crazy hat day, etc.” We did secret track buddy, a track big sister, and team breakfasts. All of these things can be fun to do and you can’t help but smile when you see some of these kids dress up for their pride days. I personally act more strange then I actually am (at least in my mind) with my athletes by saying awkward hellos, breaking out in song or rap, and sometimes just dancing in the middle of practice for no good reason. I believe being eccentric is part of being a good coach. A little strange can go a long way and for me strange is easy. Kids need to laugh and it is important to make them smile as much as possible because track and field can be hard.
Style can come in many forms. Personally, I take pride in the other schools knowing that our team is good. Nothing makes me happier then seeing our kids warm up, hype each other up, and carry a sense of pride when they toe the line before an event. At the end of the meet there is nothing more awesome then watching my team cheer and dance at “hot corner” for the 4×400 meter relay. I always want to be competitive in all relays because there is just some a little more special about doing battle with three of your teammates. I have seen amazing heroic moments this year in a number of races from our kids. That kind of heroics makes you believe anything is possible and to never be afraid. This year we won our seventh Mshsaa district team plaques in eight years. It is my attitude that winning those trophies is what we do and no one can stop us but ourselves. As a leader your job is to prepare them and set realistic goals. Once your athletes begin to trust themselves, their training, and you as their coach there is nothing that can hold them back from greatness.