In my first blog I mentioned that even the best coach needs talent to be successful. Now the question is, besides illegal recruitment (which happens in high school track), how do I improve the talent pool I have available in our building?
First, you need to create communication between the high school and middle school programs/PE departments.
You can do this in a number of ways like a bulletin board highlighting your team’s accomplishments in the middle school. Our middle school physical education program does a track and field unit. During this unit they record each performance and reward the kids who have the top performances in each class. Every year I get this list from the PE department and target the kids who I believe can help us. In addition to the PE numbers each year the middle school has an intramural track and field meet between the other middle schools in our school district. Each year I go to this meet so I can see a number of these kids in action.
Second, have a teacher on your staff in the middle school.
This is not always easy to do since the middle school usually has a different daily class schedule that conflicts with practice time. But if you can sacrifice having them at the beginning or at the end of practice they can be really useful in building relationships, spreading the word, and opening the door to the possibility of running track in the future.
Third, get the word out about your program.
Every year I send each of the 300 plus freshman a letter highlighting the accomplishments the program has achieved over the years. Also in this letter, I mention all of the other benefits our sport provides young people like goal setting, fitness, improving their main sport, and participation. As we all know there is no bench in high school track and field. For a number of the best prospects in the high school I write them a personal letter discussing how much they could help our program. I make sure this is sent to the parents of the athlete. I also bold face the personal part of the letter. This is a little trick that creates an opportunity for the parents and the kids to have a positive conversation about our sport and a nice letter complementing them.
Forth, a team informational meeting and posting fliers before the season starts.
The informational meeting is best to have after the letters have been written. I like to send the letters out about month and half before the season starts. Then I like to have the meeting a month out from the start of the season. Here we talk about team expectations, rules, and get a lot of the paperwork done for our athletic director. Finally, after this we will put up fliers with pictures of our track and field athletes in action. These fliers also include important information like the start time of our season. Spreading out the above mentioned events will help you stay in the kids thoughts and at the same time not become a wall of noise
Fifth, have an off season conditioning program.
I know that each state has different rules on how many days and what things you can do during conditioning. We are lucky in Missouri because the rules allow us to get our kids into shape. This program should be open to everyone and any sport. If done correctly this program will prepare your kids for success and will help you pull in new athletes who enjoy the time you spend with them so much they will likely end up on your team in the spring! The time spent in the off season can dwarf the time spent coaching in the regular season. The time commitment can be intimidating but in the end it is well worth the time and effort. In future blogs I will discuss how these programs can be successful.
Last, if all else fails personally go introduce yourself to a talented kid, shake their hand (VERY IMPORTANT), and look them in the eye then tell them how much you would enjoy the chance to coach them!