Not to steal any thunder from this weekend's FSU Invitational (Pre-State), which was the best organized and run cross country meet I've ever been to, but I felt the need to put a few thoughts down in an article so that some of my fellow coaches, our student-athletes, meet directors around the state, and even the parents of our runners can read just in case they're feeling a little bit stressed out dealing with this sport we love, cross country. Primarily because this season seems to be filled with a lot more stress than most other seasons, and not just for myself, but for many individuals around the state. And this is something I quickly realized this weekend when talking to many of our state's finest coaches, whom I consider friends, about how their seasons are going. The main thing I realized was more people talking about bad than good, and a heck-of-a-lot less smiling than in years past.
So although I'm just some over-opinionated young punk coach in Miami that walks around with a wheel walking calling everyone's courses short, I still happen to be, if nothing more, many people's informal favorite forum poster on Flrunners. Haha! So for those handful of people who wish to continue reading, feel free to do so...
Part 1 - Coaching Headaches.
As a distance coach, there is a certain vernacular you develop the more you learn about the sport. Some words or expressions get tirelessly worn out until they have no apparent meaning when you say them, yet you keep repeating them over and over in the hopes that maybe one of your athletes will get the hint. Some of the expressions that I preach regularly include: 'Be at practice every day', 'Hydrate', 'Stretch', 'Ice', 'Buy new shoes', 'Eat right', 'Get to bed on time', and my personal favorite 'Read your itineraries'. And as I say them over and over again every day, I can't help but think to myself why don't my kids just listen to what I'm telling them? (Of course the first thing that comes to mind is a Bill Cosby routine, but that's all in jest). As for the coaches (and parents) out there, I don't know what to tell you. Teenagers, kids, will always be a handful. And while almost every coach out there has the complete best interest for the child in mind when giving advice, this presents an extra tough challenge for us when they don't listen, and for a multitude of reasons.
Now, running, for me and for many others, means many things, from the basic: joy, excitement, and entertainment; to the complex: love, passion, and career path. Unfortunately for many others, like our kids, the range is staggering, from the basic: a social engagement, a way to lose weight, or something to put on a college application; to the complex: a college scholarship, a reason to come to school every day, or even a way to escape the reality of the world. And because of these substantial differences, and the dynamics of a child's mind, coaching becomes even trickier. So although I don't have a solution, to why athletes don't listen, let me offer some advice to everyone based on a couple of things that I have learned in my short decade dealing with this sport.
- Basic Advice for Everyone:
1) Almost every coach desires the same results for their athletes. (To name a few: Having fun; consistency in training; progression in racing; progression as an individual; and hopefully utilizing running as a life-long tool whether it be for fitness, inspiration, or even a career choice.)
2) When athletes believe in a coach's philosophy and training methodology, everyone succeeds. (Communication and getting everyone to believe in the same structure and properly working with it, will almost always yield positive results for everyone involved.)
I know that I could make this list ten times longer, and I'm sure many other coaches would love to add on information to this list (and probably will in the forum), but I think those are the two most crucial ones to point out. If you can understand that almost every coach desires positive results for their student-athletes and that if everyone is on the same page then everyone is going to succeed at the end, then these next smaller lists will be that much easier for everyone to understand. Everyone deals with their own stress and issues, not exactly the same as everyone else's, but if lines of communication can open between the three main groups (Coaches, Athletes, and Parents) then success should be the ultimate result.
- Some Advice for Coaches:
1) Remember that they're just kids running a 3.1 mile race. (Sometimes we put so much strain and emphasis on everything because we truly love the sport with all our hearts and it's our chosen life career, but sometimes you need to take a step back and just realize, it's just kids putting one foot in front of the other for just a few minutes. And while everyone else might not know or understand your stress or how you couldn't get to sleep at night because of that one varsity kid who skipped the long run this week, just relax and try not dwell on it. Forget the complexities and the mitochondria, and try to focus on the simple and the positive.)
2) Remember that kids change. (Some kids are great for four years, some are a handful for four years, but as a coach you should NEVER stereotype an athlete into a particular category. Whether it be good or bad, varsity or JV, or hard worker versus apathetic, because kids change. While we hope every kid can be a state medalist and a straight 'A' student, you need to remember that with every season that comes, their minds, personalities, and even work ethic can and will change. Don't pigeon-hole or categorize kids based on their history, many will surprise you throughout their careers, both for the good and the bad.)
3) Develop a proper philosophy and always gain knowledge. (As I briefly mentioned before, the more you can communication with your athletes and get them to believe in your training structure, assuming it is a proper foundation, your program will develop into a successful one. And to make sure you're developing a proper plan, gain as much knowledge as possible, whether from networking, reading books, researching online, going to clinics [e.g.: FACA or USATF], or all of the above.)
4) Have someone else talk to your team. (Many times when I'm frustrated and just can't get a message across, I have someone else come and talk to the team and 19 times out of 20, the advice they give is the exact same advice that I give, and the kids actually listen. Whether it's an alumnus in college, a professional runner, a fellow coach on a respected team, or even a parent with background knowledge, you'd be surprised how kids listen whenever someone else is doing the talking. This is how parents feel with us when we can get kids up at 5:00am for weekend long runs, and they can't get their own kids up at 7:00am for school every day.)
- Some Advice for Athletes:
1) Do the little things, that's what makes the difference. (Consistency, Eating, Sleeping, Hydrating, Stretching, Icing, etc; all of the little things I mentioned above, for many athletes, are the differences between going from average to good, good to great, or great to elite. If you do not do these things, you make your coach's job to properly train and progress you a near impossibility. Coaches can't gauge workouts or race performances if you're de-hydrated, tired, or injured. The first rule is to always take care of your bodies.)
2) Listen to your coaches. (Realize that your coaches are spending many hours, receiving little money, and working their hardest to ensure that both you as an individual as well as your team, can do they best they can week-in and week-out, all the way until your final meet. Coaches are not there to harm you, nor do they hate you, nor are they unapproachable. Talk to your coaches, communicate, believe in your coaches, and develop a proper bond with them and your teammates. You will always work hardest for those that you care about.)
- Some Advice for Parents:
Disclaimer: I'm not a parent, and I don't currently wish to be a parent, but that doesn't mean I don't know about parenting. Realize that most teachers / coaches deal with a couple hundred different teenagers on a yearly basis and you must realize that these student-athletes spend way more time in a classroom and on the field / track with their coaches than they do with their parents. That being said, coaches develop a different type of bond with these kids, and believe it or not, sometimes we become your child's 'second parents'. We don't ask for this role, but it happens. And when there is discrepancy between a coach's advice and a parent's parenting, complex issues can arise. And I'll tell you that I'm the first person in line that will directly tell a parent when they're being a bad parent and doing more bad than good in a child's development. This is why I offer the advice below; it can really make a huge difference in your child's life. So hopefully this message gets across to a couple of people.
1) Know and support your coaches / program. (Believe it or not, you are the most important factor in a team and individual's success. Way more important than coaching. Parents and their involvement can greatly change a school's administrative view on a sport, the structure of a team program, and help maintain a strong team philosophy. How? Developing a proper relationship with your child's coach, believe in their philosophy and program structure, and helping your kids do the little things. With proper parenting you control whether or not 1) a child is at practice and on time, or 2) they have proper food to eat every day, or 3) they are getting to bed on time versus playing on the computer or cell phone, 4) they have proper running shoes [Don't be stingy, buy good shoes!], 5) they are receiving love and support at home, etc. Coaches cannot control these things, and kids will always manage a way to slip up; parenting is the key factor in keeping these puzzle pieces together.)
2) Support your children, always. (As a coach it amazes me how many kids I've driven all around the state for so many years and have never met their parents, at the same time it amazes me how many parents complete belittle and yell at their own children when they have a bad race. Two complete different ends of the spectrum, both are examples of horrible parenting. As a parent, you all want the same things that coaches want: consistency, progression, having fun, winning, etc. But the way to help ensure those things is to NOT pretend you're the child's coach. If you want to help your child succeed, do all of the things listed about and most importantly: love and support your children. It is a coach's job to tell a kid they had a bad race and figure out how to improve from there; not a parent's job. An example of good parenting is to comfort a sad child and tell them 'everything will be okay' even if you look like a dork and don't know what you're talking about, than to develop anger in that child because you're upset that they didn't perform as well as you expected them to do, although you have no knowledge of the coaching structure. Be there for your kids; love your kids; support your kids.)
Part 2 - Course Measurements.
Disclaimer 2: If you really hate my rants on the forum about how to correctly measure a course, or you don't understand how to correctly measure a course, you're going to hate everything below. Click away!!
I for one enjoy a sigh of relief when I can prove things that I already know to be true, true, with proper evidence. Anyone who has gotten into an argument with me on the forum over the years will know this to be true as well. Using common sense, logic, and knowledge are paramount in anything that you do in life, and cross country course measurement is just one of those major issues that has been around over years past. I'm glad to say that this year it has yet to be a major issue with any big meets, but let me explain why course measurement is still relative for the 2012 season.
For those that were at Apalachee Regional Park on Friday, you probably saw a bright colored guy (me) walking around measuring the course (not because I thought it was inaccurate, in actuality Coach Bob Braman and I completely acknowledge and understand how to measure a course correctly), but because it allows for those in doubt to have evidence to support their possible thoughts. At the same time, knowing the exact measurement of a course allows for what I consider to be the most important factor in coaching, being realistic with your athletes, not lying to them. Final course measurement: 16,419 feet. = 15 feet (4.5 meters) long of a 5k.
Funny enough, Coach Braman's statement when I had just passed him at the 2.5 mile mark as he was marking roots with white paint: 'The timers moved the finish line back a bit, like a meter or so, because they couldn't lay a proper finish long. So if you come up long, you know why'.
- Why does this matter?
It matters because some of the misinformation about courses in the past, and/or because of coaches not really understanding that all courses aren't created equal could be what is causing stress for some of you as I mentioned above. Surely many of us coaches around the state are sitting here looking at our varsity squads and realizing that half of them haven't hit a Personal Record (PR) for this season, even after the Pre-State Invitational, but the real truth is that while the coaching hasn't changed, the course length definitely has. And the only reason for this is improper measuring methods, presumably from meet directors.
So while this discussion has gone on for a while now, let me just link a couple of older articles / links that explain how and why this happens...
- GPS: The Shortest Distance Between Two Points is NOT a Straight Line
- Short Course? The Truth Above Fast vs. Short
- Best Practices for Cross Country Course Measurement
- NFHS Track and Field and Cross Country Rules Changes 2012
The most important part to understand is just this: Course measurements shall be along the shortest possible route a runner may take. Meaning an inside measure of the course going from tangent to tangent. While this SHOULD HAVE BEEN a common knowledge practice in the past, I thank Coach Bob Braman at helping get the National Federation rules distinctly written down so that there should be no further discussion in the future. So although this part of the article is seemingly pointless, let me point out two reasons why understanding this course measurement idea an issue from here forward, primarily right now.
1) Any course in the past that has been measured incorrectly needs to be re-wheeled and re-marked. (I acknowledge that the odds of this happening are slim and none, but for those meet directors that just want to make a course 'super fast' so that kids want to come back to their meet every year, are really hurting the kids and the realistic job that the other coaches have to do. Please see the comparisons below for a simple understanding.)
2) Any athlete that has run a Personal Record on an incorrectly measured course might have a hard time seeing progression this season. (And all coaches, athletes, and parents need to acknowledge that for this season in particular, as we move forward. Because if you haven't figured that out yet, you need to, and perhaps the numbers below will help with that.)
- Apalachee Regional Park vs. Little Everglades Ranch
As I mentioned before APR is an accurate course (within five meters) and that's a great thing for our sport with our new state venue. But when comparing it to 2011 LER (Although it has changed many times over the years), you're going to have many issues. 2011 Pre-State Final course measurement: 16,168 = 236 feet (71.9 meters) short of a 5k. So just a basic math discussion will tell you if an athlete has to run at least an extra 76.4 meters at the end of a race, their final time might be a little bit off from what you're expecting to see as a result. Maybe a conservative 10 seconds if you're an elite boy? Or a liberal 30 seconds if you're a slower girl? But let that be on each coach to decide how to deal with those discrepancies. But if you still can't understand, let's just look at the basic numbers.
2011 Pre-State @ LER: (2nd week of October)
Girls in the 17s = 5
Girls in the 18s = 22
Girls 19:00-19:45 = 44
Flrunners National Elite = 71.
2012 Pre-State @ ARP: (1st week of October)
Girls in the 17s = 0
Girls in the 18s = 18
Girls 19:00-19:45 = 26
Flrunners National Elite = 44
Final Comparison: 27 less female elites in 2012.
2011 Pre-State @ LER: (2nd week of October)
Boys in the 14s = 1
Boys in the 15s = 28
Boys16:00-16:30 = 55
Flrunners National Elite = 84.
2012 Pre-State @ ARP: (1st week of October)
Boys in the 14s = 0
Boys in the 15s = 13
Boys16:00-16:30 = 27
Flrunners National Elite = 40
Final Comparison: 43 less male elites in 2012.
So either there really is something to discuss when it comes to course measurement, OR the state's talent is ridiculously diminished (slim chance), OR that one extra week of training made that large of a difference (nope). But just in case someone wishes to argue the last point, allow me to show another example for comparison (even though Jason will disagree and argue with me tooth-and-nail and discuss how his course has changed slightly to add length). Let's look at a comparison of Chain of Lakes Park last weekend to ARP this weekend, even though my measurements are from a couple of years ago. 2010 Chain of Lakes Final course measurement: 16,178 = 226 feet (68.9 meters) short of a 5k. So if we want to compare a week-to-week analysis arguing that athletes really get faster by a substantial amount, let's compare the numbers...
- Chain of Lakes Park vs. Apalachee Regional Park
2012 Flrunners @ COL:
Girls in the 17s = 3
Girls in the 18s = 17
Girls 19:00-19:45 = 23
Flrunners National Elite = 43.
Final Comparison: 1 more female elite athlete at FSU Invite than Flrunners Invite.
^ Except the FSU Invite had some arguably better talented teams such as: St. Thomas, Plant, Olympia, Bolles, Holy Trinity, and Bishop Kenny.
2012 Flrunners @ COL:
Boys in the 14s = 0
Boys in the 15s = 17
Boys16:00-16:30 = 31
Flrunners National Elite = 48
Final Comparison: 7 less male elite athletes at FSU Invite than Flrunners Invite.
^ Again, except the FSU Invite had some arguably better talented teams such as: Norcross (GA), Colonial, Holy Trinity, Leon, and Bishop Kenny.
And of course what we find is that even though the numbers are fairly similar, HUGE discrepancy in the numbers when you take all talented teams that raced into account. Now I'm sure people will argue about weather or temperature or race conditions, etc. But the primary factor will ALWAYS be the measurement of a course. And so for us coaches out there that are dealing with athletes and parents that might not quite be as understanding as we are with the time differences, it really is our responsibility to inform them of improper versus proper course measurement. And if we can properly do that, then maybe they will see that their performances aren't as off as they think they are.
Please remember that all of this is just my personal coaching advice, so you can take it how you will, but I know this is of major concern around the state for many individuals this week. My simple solution is to explain to the kids that they have two different PRs. A faster 'inside measure' course (which is obviously not a true 5k), and a real 5k PR. But for those kids that don't want to hear that and are going to argue that a middle measure course is accurate, then my advice becomes to make sure to sign them up for Foot Locker South this year (inside measure course at McAlpine Park) if they want to have an earnest attempt to break what they consider to be a PR. Because it's not very likely to happen at most meets this season, nor at the FHSAA State Championships for 2012.
That's it from me, and the elephant in the room. Good luck with the rest of the season, everyone.