I had the joy of coaching outdoor track at my former high school this past year. It was a huge growing experience for me as a coach, runner, and person. The head coach, Jon Waldron (JWal), put me in charge of the distance running program, which included 18 boys and 5 girls. They competed in various events, ranging from 400 meters to 3ks. I led distance practice everyday, taught yoga and strength training, and tried to provide guidance on the highs and lows of high school life. Here are a few of the lessons I learned from the experience in a TRACK acrostic:
T: “Track workouts are a privilege:”
Coach JWal shared this statement with the team before their final track workout of the season. I was struck by the forthrightness of his words since I had never heard anyone describe track sessions this way. Running is a sport that takes days, months, and years of consistent, intelligent training to progress in. In order to be equipped to tackle a track workout, mental priming and purposeful training days are essential before stepping on the line.
R: Remember how you want to feel after you finish a race:
An hour before one of my athletes competed in the 1500, he shared some pre-race butterflies. The yoga teacher in me told him to close his eyes, breathe, and visualize how he wanted to feel after he crossed the finish line. He meditated on this for a few minutes, and then expressed how helpful it was to remember the sense of accomplishment that he knew he was capable of experiencing after a well-run race. A simple meditation on the post-race feeling can remind you to both enjoy the journey and work towards a strong finish.
A: Always err on the side of confidence:
As a first year track coach, I would be lying to say that I knew what I was doing all the time. In fact, I often felt like when I came to practice with a detailed plan, my plan would invariably change due to weather conditions, injury/illness, moods, or many other unforeseen circumstances. Learning to change my plan on the fly was essential. However, with 46 teenage eyes looking at me for an answer, it was important to always err on the side of confidence— not a cocky confidence, but a confidence that would foster team trust and cohesiveness.
C: Call yoga, stretching:
Although my distance runners knew I am a yoga teacher and enjoyed poking fun at my Running On Om endeavors, I found that when teaching yoga to the entire 50+ person track team, calling it stretching made it less intimidating. On a daily basis, athletes would tell me, “I can’t do yoga, I am too inflexible” or “I can’t even touch my toes!” Runners are not meant to be super flexible— with many miles of running in the bank, runners’ bodies adapt to the repetitive motion and their hamstrings, hips, and other muscles tend to contract. I believe that the proper amount of tightness, matched with strength, stability and mobility, can give runners the explosiveness they need for a powerful stride. That being said, yoga is an incredible tool to include in training programs when used at the right time. My athletes practiced yoga after runs to aid recovery, promote mobility, improve balance, and strengthen areas of the body that running does not access. My favorite part of teaching yoga was watching my athletes unwind in savasana after their “stretching” session and embrace a moment of rest during their demanding high school schedule.
K: Keep your coaching mentors in mind:
As a newbie coach, I felt privileged to have a knowledgeable and passionate head coach to learn from. JWal is an accomplished long-time runner and experienced high school coach. He became a mentor to me, offering wise advice on the art of coaching, running training, and my own journey into adulthood. Although I was fortunate to have Jon close by during practice, I had to make many game-time decisions on my own. I would often ask myself “WWJWD?” (What would JWal do?) and this question never failed to provided insight. I would highly recommend checking out JWal’s blog, The Runner Eclectic. It is one of the most thoughtful and heartfelt sources of literature on running you will ever read.
I look forward to many more years of coaching and am very grateful to my athletes and JWal for supporting me during my first year of coaching TRACK.