The stages of developing a high school cross country program, Part 3
Part 3 – This is part three of a three part series on the stages of developing a high school cross country program.
In hindsight, I now believe that the SHCP team reached the midpoint of building a cross country program in the summer of 2004. We had a lot of frosh-soph runners in the 2004 track season and a big core group of them were from a talented freshmen class of boys. We lined up twenty boys in the mile in our dual meet against St. Ignatius just to show off our strong and large group. After that race I sat the boys down on the grass and told them my timeline of goals: 2004-make it to CCS (the section championship meet), 2005-contend at CCS, 2006-make it to State Meet. Making it to the State Meet was my realistic but big goal that would have seemed impossible to fathom back in my first years. It had been four years since SHC had qualified a boys team to CCS. Qualifying for CCS could have been seen as a big goal. I was talking about the State Meet. This talented freshmen group would be seniors in 2006 and I wanted to put the goal out there early.
We ended the track season with many of our frosh-soph runners breaking five minutes in the mile. In fact, I wrote a story about the significance of this for the SHCP website in August 2004. The 2004 season went better than expected and not only did we qualify for CCS, we were contenders, coming in sixth. We had achieved the 2005 goal a year early. The question became, could we achieve the 2006 State Meet goal in 2005? I was unrelenting in my desire for the boys to strive for this seemingly impossible goal. When we qualified for the State Meet in 2005 I was beside myself with pride. The SHCP team had moved past the midpoint stage of development into the final phase – we were not just a cross country team, but a cross country program.
The same things that are important in the beginning and middle stages are still important at the end. The kids still need to have fun and there needs to be sound training principles in place. But now that SHCP is in this final phase I don’t have to go out of my way to make it fun or make sure we are following sound training principles. It’s pretty natural and normal for us to have all that; I just need to not forget to schedule non-running social events for the team, to make practice both challenging and interesting, and to find ways to recognize all the kids for their hard efforts!
A hallmark of the final phase is consistency. Both our boys and girls teams of the past few years have been very consistent. The varsity, the junior varsity, and the frosh-soph are competitive in league competition and the varsity usually places in the top six at CCS. All of this seems to happen regardless of the talent pool. Sure, some years will be better than others, but a hallmark of a program in this final stage is the ability to be consistently competitive year in and year out.
This past fall I realized that I was in a really good place with the program. We were training at a high level and as we prepared for the final championship meets I had very few things that I wanted to tweak from our usual training. We started having the boys and girls warm-up separately and without the coaches being present because that’s what they did on race day. We also had the kids practice running the last 1000 meters of the race. We tried to simulate everything – making them tired like they would feel in the race, matching the terrain and elevation change, and even having the kids run alone because often they may not have a teammate nearby to help push through the pain during a race. After we qualified for the State Meet we started as many practices as we could at 8:30 A.M. because that’s what time the first race at the State Meet would be, and I wanted them to get their bodies used to working hard in the morning.
I absolutely love coaching cross country. I think Anna, Steve, Jimi, Paul, Tomas, and Mark would tell you the same thing. Steve may have described it best when he said, “My guys give me their trust and 100% effort day in and day out. This in turn, gives me my drive to provide a program that is fun and challenging. There is nothing like watching your athletes toe the line, nervously waiting for the gun to go off. All the training, speeches and preparation come down to the next 16 minutes. And it is those 16 minutes of sprinting around a cross country course yelling encouragement and instructions to my team, when I know I love coaching.”