Learning From the Greats — Steve Sisson

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Much like Rob Conner a few posts ago…I owe Steve Sisson a ton of thanks for helping shape me as a young coach. In fact, I still go back and re-read some of the emails he sent me with advice on training for my college kids; anything from structuring the long run throughout the season, to setting up the training for a cross country season, to key workouts to hit when peaking during the track season.

There are two things that I learned from Sisson that constantly stay with me…the first, and probably most important was that I can’t coach from the back of the pack. We ran a dual meet against the UT Cross Country team one season and it was a pretty simple 4 mile race down a lonely country road. We let the girls jog out four miles from our makeshift finish line and met them where we would start…they changed shoes, we lined them up, and we sent them off…4 miles.

At the time my ladies were ranked in the top-20 for NCAA Division II and the UT women were starting to rise themselves in the NCAA Division I ranks. And my top lady that day finished 2nd to the first girl from UT…but I wasn’t able to see the finish. We had two or three ladies that were well behind the rest of the race and I stayed back to watch them, encourage them, and see them finish.

Afterwards Sisson, who was my biggest mentor at the time, says, “Your ladies ran great, but you wouldn’t know because you weren’t there to see it. You can’t coach from the back. You’ve got a top-20 team and they need your full attention if you are going to make it to the NCAA Championships.”

He was right. He wasn’t telling me to ignore those few at the back…but I should have been engaged in the race that was happening at the front. If you want to be great, you cannot coach from the back.

The second thing that is constantly on my mind from Sisson is simply this:

Easy doesn’t mean slow.

I think sometimes we forget that. Easy does not mean slow.

Sisson was a great coach and an even better motivator. Every time I spoke with him it fired me up and made me want to be better. For that, I am forever thankful.

Fun fact: Sisson also served as my coach for a year…one where I set PRs in the 5000 meters (Penn Relays) and 10,000 meters (Butterfly Boogie – road race).


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