There are a variety of reasons I enjoy coaching, but one of the top ones is the connections I form with my particular group of athletes. Not every coach will click with every athlete. I don’t expect to have a special bond with all of them, but for those I do, it makes for an even better coaching experience.
I liked my high school cross country coach. She had been a state record holder in her day and was a very successful runner until an injury in college sidelined her. She often biked alongside us on our runs as she was no longer able to run herself. She was energetic and enthusiastic. She just didn’t understand me. As a former elite athlete it didn’t seem to fully register to her that there were athletes like me who would not or could not ever be anywhere close to as good as she was. I think she believed that if anyone worked hard enough they could be successful, but there’s a definite difference between a successful runner and a state champion. I was perfectly happy being a “displacer” on the team as the 6th or 7th best runner (only the top 5 runners counted for points but as a displacer if I finished ahead of one of the top 5 runners on another team it would help my team’s score) and breaking my own personal records. I don’t know that she fully understand that some of us could enjoy the sport without winning races.
My high school track coach on the other hand was a true mentor. He understood me as a student, an athlete, and a person. I confided in him and trusted him more than I trusted any other adult during my high school years. He never wrote off my teenage stresses and really listened to me. He was also a superb coach, recognizing each athlete’s potential regardless of whether they were first or last in a race. While he was a distance coach and not a hurdle coach, he still had plenty of knowledge and I tended to trust his advice over my actual hurdle coach’s. As a gift my senior year of high school I bought a brick with his name and the inscription “PT Track Coach FT Life Coach” to be part of the bricked area at the stadium.
In my last semester of college I completed a 600 hour internship in my high school’s athletic department. Part of this time was spent helping to coach the junior high track team, primarily the hurdlers and 4×1 relay teams. I had already been assistant coaching the junior high cross country team for two years and enjoyed it. That spring though was the first I ever truly connected with any of the athletes. My 4×1 relay teams were made up of kids who were both talented and just generally nice and fun to coach. The boys in particular were especially funny and no matter how crummy my day was just hearing them yell “Coach Myers” as I walked down to the track would make my day better. They liked to ask personal questions, some of which I had to tell them they weren’t allowed to ask until they graduated high school, but for the most part they respected me and listened when I told them it was time to focus. Many saw success as well with two of the sprinters setting new school records. That 2009 team will always hold a special place in my heart both for their level of talent and ability to brighten my day.
I coached another year of cross country after that before I obtained a full time job and had to give up the position. I never expected to have the opportunity to coach again and have felt blessed to have a job with flexibility in its hours that allows me to finish at 3pm each day to get to the local high school for track practice.
Last year being my first year as a new coach to the program was a “figure it out” year. I was getting used to coaching at a much bigger school, working with new coaches (2, including the head coach, whom were brand new to the team as well), and just trying to learn as many of the athletes’ names as possible. I did form a decent bond with the hurdlers I coached, two of them in particular who were sophomores.
This season I’m taking on the role as the middle distance coach. Last year the primary sprint/hurdle coach went on maternity leave so I floated between the varsity and junior high teams to work with just the hurdlers. Now that she will be back for this season it was decided I would be a good fit to work with the 300m hurdlers, 400m runners and 4×4 relay teams. I’m perfectly fine with that as I am more specialized in the 300m hurdles and most middle distance runners are willing to work harder than a lot of sprinters I’ve coached in the past.
Now that I’m my second year of coaching and have gotten to go through a full winter season with some of the athletes, I’m finding my place more and more. I am more confident in my abilities to create workouts and assert authority if needed. More of the athletes know and respect me. I’m finally learning names of athletes beyond just my group of hurdlers and getting to know more about them as individuals.
My connection with my two “favorite” hurdlers, now juniors, has deepened even more. They have trust in me as a coach knowing that I am there to help them grow and perform better. I believe they respect me because I am willing to take their input into consideration when it comes to workouts. I have always tried to coach in the way that I preferred to be coached – by someone who recognizes that not everyone is an elite athlete but that everyone can work to improve.
I have also started connecting more with some of the other middle distance runners. One in particular is quite talented but whines a great deal and is rather lazy. She seems to not realize how much potential she has if she would only put the work in to improve. I have had to call her out for skipping parts of workouts and to date she’s been my most frustrating athlete to coach.
Today I had a breakthrough with her. I told my group we would be going on a 2 mile run as they needed to build up some endurance before the regular season started. Immediately she claimed she couldn’t run that far and wanted to go with the sprinters. I told her she was staying with us and that we would run a nice, easy pace and weren’t worried about the time. She, myself and two others did stay as a group while two others ran ahead. Not once did she complain during the run and though she walked a bit near the end, I think she actually impressed herself and said that the run wasn’t that bad. I told her that I will never ask her to complete a workout if I didn’t believe it would help her improve.
It’s those small moments that mean the most as a coach. Yes, I love to see my athletes place in meets and invites and to improve their times. I get an adrenaline rush cheering for them as they compete. I share in their defeat when a race doesn’t go as well as they had hoped. Those moments though when I can really get through to them, and help them grow in even the smallest capacity, those are the times when I’m reminded why being a coach is the best job I’ve ever had.