I did something like this on my personal blog last year and had a lot of feedback from high school coaches and parents, etc. I can’t coach high school students, and don’t have any experience in doing so, but find that most of the questions I get about training come from either students I am recruiting, parents of students I am recruiting, or high school coaches.
So, with that in mind, I wanted to do a series this week on high school running and preparing an athlete throughout the high school year. Now, I’m starting off this series telling you, “I’ve never coached high school athletes.” So, I won’t pretend to know the day to day situations and circumstances that a high school coach might encounter. But, I have a lot of high school coaches as close friends and colleagues and so a lot of this is based on conversations that I have had with them, my personal beliefs in training, and what I would do if I were to coach at the high school level.
I’m titling the first three days of the series Vol. 1, Vol. 2, and Vol. 3. These segments will cover broader subjects and be a bit more general in nature. I will use the last four days of the series to really outline the training for the Summer, the Cross Country season, the Winter, and the Track season.
So, without any more hesitation…here is Vol. 1.
Vol. 1 — For High School Coaches
The first and most important thing, in my opinion, for a high school coach to do is to recruit athletes. You have to recruit athletes and you have to build a roster. Now, each school will have their own unique circumstances within building a roster; for example, my high school only had 210 or so people in it and only half of them were males. So, you only had ~105 guys to build a men’s cross country team around. And from that number you had ~50 guys who played varsity football. Let’s say another ~20-30 guys who did not do any athletics at all, and another group that were strictly band members, etc. So, when it came down to it, over my four year high school running career, we only had about 10 guys total ever come out to run cross country.
Now, there are some schools where I’ve heard the coaches say that they’ve got 70-100 total males on their cross country team!!! So, obviously, building a roster at a school like that is probably a little easier than at a school like I went to.
Regardless, task #1 is building a roster and in most cases that means recruiting students to join your team. You see, once you build your roster and have athletes on your team, THEN, you can start building the CULTURE.
Outside of recruiting students to join your team and building a roster, BUILDING THE CULTURE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING FOR A HIGH SCHOOL COACH.
What do I mean by building a culture?
I mean the attitude and passion and commitment to excellence that your team either has, or does not have. THAT’S CULTURE.
Do you have a group of students that are committed to working hard, being great teammates, getting in the work when the team isn’t together? If so, then you’ve built the right kind of culture on your team.
Do you have a group of students that are excited about the season, that want to do the summer base training, that are invested in the process of training? If so, then you’ve built the right kind of culture on your team.
I believe that once that culture is built, you probably won’t have as hard of a time building the roster each year. The kind of culture I am talking about creating is special and it’s contagious and young people want to be part of something special.
So, how do you create that culture? How do you build that culture?
- You show up, EVERY DAY. You need to be the captain of that ship. Your students need to know that you are there and that you are prepared to captain that ship and go down with it if needed. Show up. EVERY DAY. Show them how important the endeavor is by being there EVERY DAY. Start by showing up.
- Emotionally invest in the TEAM. I think some people would say that this isn’t very smart, but I disagree. If this is a paycheck for you, or a stipend for you, then that will be very evident and I don’t think these kids want to follow that. But, if they believe that you are invested in them and with them, and if they can see that and feel that, then I believe that they’ll follow you to the end of the world.
- Start with encouragement and end with encouragement. They want to know they can do it. Can you challenge them? Can you call them out and hold them accountable? Can you discipline them? YES, but that can all be done by starting with a word of encouragement and ending with a word of encouragement. Just like the culture being contagious…so is encouragement.
- Set the bar high, but make sure there are realistic pit-stops along the way. Don’t just say you want to WIN STATE. You can make that the end goal, but make sure there are tangible and realistic steps along the way to get there. I’ve always heard the statement, a kid knows the bull from the bull-oney!!! If you are dead-last at district in year #1, setting the goal to win state in year #2 is probably bull-oney and kids aren’t dumb.
So, in summing up Vol. 1…YOU HAVE TO BUILD THE TEAM FIRST. ONCE YOU’VE BUILT THE TEAM, PUT EVERYTHING YOU HAVE INTO BUILDING THE CULTURE.