Chanman's Blog


From Jury Duty to Fresno

Posted in Coaching,SHC Cross Country by Andy Chan on November 17, 2019
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30 people strong - CCS runners, alternates, and managers

This all started on Monday June 10. It was a 6:00 pm practice because I was on jury duty. It was one of the hottest days of the year and even in San Francisco it was well over 90 degrees when we met at 6:00 that evening. That’s where the journey for the 2019 Sacred Heart Cathedral (SHC) Cross Country team began.

Along our journey we enjoyed countless memories together. We had a great summer of training. We started to see who was going to step up to fill the shoes of the six varsity boys from last year that were not going to be on the team this year. Late in the summer, we realized that there was a “fast kid” transferring in to SHC from Lowell. We took an epic trip to Oregon that included an 18 hour Amtrak train ride (each way) and sleeping 300 steps from the starting line in the barracks at Camp Rilea in Seaside. We started to more publically appreciate and thank the amazing work done by our managers. New faces got their first taste of varsity as CCS alternates, some of whom were probably not even thinking about this as a possibility at the start of the season. As a team, we ran amazingly fast races at WCAL.

All of a sudden it was CCS Week. The preview article implied that SHC was seeded third in both the Girls and Boys races. Third is solid. But third is not the place you want to finish, when only the top two teams qualify for State. For the Girls the battle would be with SI and Aptos. SI looked tough to beat. We didn’t know much about Aptos but we respected that they were good and would be a challenge to beat. For the Boys, all indications were that it would be a close race between us, St. Ignatius (SI), and Riordan, with Saratoga and maybe Aptos also in the mix.

Before the meet there was a lot of talk about how when you have high hopes there is potential for disappointment. We emphasized that this was OK….that it was part of sport….that it was a gift to have the opportunity to compete under these circumstances, stressful as they might be. Deep inside, though, what we all wanted was for both teams to qualify for State. The plan was to run the race and then after the race, we’d add up the scores and see if we made it.

The theme for the whole season had been, “Keep Calm and Throw Your Darts.” We wanted the kids to feel that they had permission to go for it….to keep throwing their darts and see what stuck. A side theme for CCS was the idea that, “Pain is Temporary. Pride is Forever.” We knew it was going to be tough in the last mile and that people would be hurting. The hope was the idea of having pride forever in their race, would help them overcome the temporary pain of racing the last mile at Crystal Springs.

Race morning, we reminded everyone that you can’t always take first place but you can always run to win. And we wanted our team to go for winning races at CCS. The Girls were told to just be themselves because, “no one is better at being you, than you.” The boys were told that I was proud of them for fighting so hard to be in position to make State. But that we were greedy and we wanted one more thing to be proud of so they should go out there and fight for State.

Those were the final instructions the teams were given. Then, before we knew it, the races were underway.  

The Girls got to the two mile mark and we found ourselves one point behind Aptos for second place with a mile to go. The Boys, despite our top two runners being off their game, were actually leading a tight battle against SI and Riordan but beginning to fall back with a mile to go.

It’s hard to put into words what transpired in those last miles. It was something out of a fairy tale. There was suspense, heroes and heroines, dramatic finishes, and a happy ending that left us all breathless.

We did so much between that first day in June and the moment each runner got to the mile to go mark. No one thing was “the” thing. It was a combination of many things. All the training and all the motivational talks/quotes/sayings were to have people ready to race this last mile at this exact moment. I think the fact that we teach the kids to love one another and to really care about making State, is huge. Every single one of them wants to contribute something to the cause. No one wants to let down the team. Everyone wants the season to go on for two more weeks – so we can take a dance class, so we can have another overnight trip, so we can dress up for dinner in Fresno, so we can have an emotional team meeting, and countless other traditions that are small and silly but mean the world to us.

The Girls pushed like I have never seen them push before. We kept screaming to them that every place was going to count and that “pride would be forever” if they could pass just one more runner. We finished fast and passed people. Sabina ran the fastest last mile of everyone in the race, except the race winner, and moved from eighth to fifth. Liz passed one runner. Kate, who the night before e-mailed me that she was feeling sick and wasn’t sure she should race or not, passed two. Tessa and Corona passed five and three runners. They both passed Aptos’ #4 runner. Gigi and Kennedy both fought to stay ahead of Aptos’ fifth runner. We improved our places by 14 in the last mile.

The Boys were actually leading the close battle with a mile to go but you could tell that SI and Riordan were closing on us. Aptos and Saratoga had runners up front, too, so it was possible they were in the mix. It was impossible to sort this out with the human eye. All we could do was yell to the guys that it was close and they needed to fight for every place and, of course, “to throw all their darts.” Andrew and Sedge had been out really fast and were now suffering in the heat. We tried to get them to fight to hold on to their current place. Dylan was chasing a pack that included Riordan runners. One of those Riordan guys had previously beat Dylan head to head five times (by :48, :44, :44, :30, and :31). But not on this day. At CCS, Dylan edged him out by one place and 0.29 seconds, good for a two point swing. Gavin and Briac were clearly exhausted. They would speed up and pass someone when we cheered them on but they would then fall back again. With 200 meters to go, I yelled to them one last time. “Run us to Fresno!” In the end, Gavin stayed in the same place he was a the two mile mark. Briac fell back but was the fastest fifth runner in the race. Mason was the fastest sixth runner, and he beat both SI and Riordan’s fifth runner.

After the Girls race, it just felt like we had beaten Aptos. The Girls had run so well in the last mile and I knew we made up a lot of points. Finally the score popped up on my phone. SI-50, SHC-67, Aptos-75. We made it by 8 points!

After the Boys race, it was just too close to call. We all found each other and gathered around my phone. The quick scores showed SI and us tying, with Riordan just 4 points back. I knew that this could change so I tried to keep everyone from celebrating too soon. Someone saw SI cheering and wondered what that meant. At some point I looked at a few of the boys and said, “No matter what this phone says in a few minutes, it won’t change that we raced great. Let’s try not to let what the phone says define this race.” A few seconds later, a tab appeared on my phone’s screen saying click here for final official results. The kids said I was shaking as I pressed on it. SI-87, SHC-88, Riordan-90. Yes, we missed winning by one point. But somehow we didn’t even care. What we cared about was that we were going to State….by just two points.

Qualifying both teams to State is our most beloved goal. We’ve been blessed to have it happen five times in the last ten years. It’s happened in a variety of different ways and circumstances. All of them have been memorable in their own way.

We can now add the 2019 CCS Meet and more specifically the last miles of both the Girls and Boys races to the list of legendary moments in SHC Cross Country history. The season that started with a 6:00 pm practice in June because of jury duty, will end Thanksgiving weekend in Fresno.

Varsity Girls - 3rd straight trip to State, 6 out of the last 10 years.
Varsity Boys - 7th time to State in the last 10 years.

Raining on your Parade

Posted in Coaching,SHC Cross Country by Andy Chan on December 27, 2018
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IMG_1299I’m sorry, boys of the 2018 SHC Cross Country team. I MAY have told you a little white lie before the Central Coast Section Championship race (CCS). But it was only because I was trying to prepare you to achieve our goal, to make it to the California State Cross Country Championship Meet (State).

With less than week until CCS, I felt we were getting a little over-confident. A little too focused on beating Greenfield to win CCS. We were bordering on losing focus on the primary goal, to place in the top two and qualify for State. I worried that this singular focus on beating Greenfield might cause us to commit the cardinal sin of how not to race on the Crystal Springs course – going out too hard and fading in the last mile. My mantra has always been, you don’t qualify for State in the first mile; you qualify for State in the last mile. I wanted to create a scenario in your minds, one that made you nervous enough to stick to our season-long plan.

That’s why I came up with my speech.

That’s why I rehearsed it in my head while running the day before delivering it to you.

That’s why I rehearsed it again in my office before practice, and again in the car driving to practice.

After I sent the girls on an adventure run, I gathered you boys around me.

IMG_1470“How we doing, guys? Feeling good? Feeling confident?” I began.

I heard a few responses. “Yeah, we’re good.” “We got this, coach.”

That was my cue to begin my Oscar-winning performance. Was every word I was about to utter the complete truth? No. Was this what you, my team, needed to hear at this moment? Yes.

“Well, I’m here…to rain…on your…parade.”

“Greenfield has been holding back all year. They’re just waiting to drop a bomb on us. And there’s a mystery team, because there’s always a mystery team, that will come out of nowhere and get out hard. They’ll be ahead of us at the two mile mark. They’re trying to take OUR spot to State.”

“The only way to prevent that is to race smart. I need you to go out and run the first mile like we’ve been practicing. Don’t change things. The race starts at the mile mark. You have to be ready to fight during the last mile, and when you get to the top of Cardiac hill, you will have less than five minutes to write the story where WE go to State.”

I paused and slowly looked around the circle. Everyone was quiet. I had everyone’s attention. In some ways, I knew at that moment, we’d be okay. After my speech you nailed a good track workout. Despite CCS being postponed three times due to the poor air quality and an extremely stressful ten day lead-up to the actual CCS race, when the race finally happened, you got it done.

Andy Chan 2.0

Posted in Coaching,SHC Cross Country by Andy Chan on November 23, 2017
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For most of my twenty years as the head cross country coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral, the week before the Section Championships (CCS Week we call it), has been filled with very specific race day preparations. My style and belief has been that to prepare the runners to be ready for the moment, we should do specific training and have specific conversations about how the race will probably play out. There has been a lot of talk about qualifying for State Meet. Tactically, we have discussed where to try to position oneself early in the race, a first mile time goal, when to surge, and what teams to be looking for. We’ve gone so far as to pass around pictures of the teams we are competing with, so our team would know what color uniforms to be looking for.

I felt this year’s Boys team, given their experience, would be able to run a solid race regardless of my coaching tactics. I had no regrets about their training. I felt confident they would go out and give everything they had. The question was, was their best going to be good enough to place in the top two to qualify for State. As it turned out, Aptos and Greenfield were just too fast for us. We ended up a solid fourth but we were a far distance from for second. I was at peace with that.

The Girls team on the other hand, was new to the sport, inexperienced at championship level racing; a very un-confident group. My usual CCS Week talks, workouts, and activities were not going to work. They would only serve to make the Girls more nervous. I needed to give them emotional support and mental confidence, much more than physical training and race information.

I am proud of myself because during CCS Week I basically re-invented myself as a coach. Andy Chan 2.0, one of the girls called it.

Tactics were replaced by focusing only on what is controllable (effort and attitude) and letting go of the un-controllable things, like how the other teams raced.

The usual overall race plan was replaced with just focusing on the next 30 seconds to one minute of the course.

Talk about State Meet was replaced by reminders that we love them, no matter the outcome.

On Monday, we held hands before the hill workout and I had everyone think of someone that loves them unconditionally. On Tuesday, we all shared who we had thought about who loves us unconditionally. A game of duck, duck, goose followed. Then I passed out index cards and pens and told them to write down anything that was stressing them; I then asked them to write down the worst thing that could happen at the meet. After some sharing, I told them to rip up their card into as many pieces as they wanted and then throw the scraps into the garbage can before starting their warm-up.

CCS Week had become Kumbaya Week.

We held hands a lot. We formed a lot of circles when we talked. I sat down with them for meetings rather than standing over them.

I heard later that the kids were talking about it outside of practice, “What do you think he’s going to do today?” No we didn’t write our names in blood or sacrifice Lawrence at the team dinner. But I had them guessing now and more importantly had them thinking about what I would do next instead of worrying about the upcoming race.

At the team dinner, we played some crazy games. Everyone brought a stuffed animal and shared a story about their stuffed animal. The only time I said the word “State” that night was during the meeting when I said, “Getting to State isn’t that big a deal. It’s getting to spend an extra two weeks with the team that’s special.”

I went to the school’s Academic Resource Specialist (Cally Salzman) for advice. I figured she works with students who get nervous and struggle in class. I hoped she could give me a tip or two to help at the meet. She suggested giving them some time to sit alone, breathe deeply, and listen to music.

Normally we just send the team out to warm-up on their own with a basic idea of what time they should be ready to go to the starting line. Not Andy Chan 2.0. We gave them a very structured warm-up schedule. There was no time to get nervous because they were constantly checking the schedule to stay on task. Everything was plotted out. Usually I don’t let kids use their phones once we get to the meet. But this time I made an exception so we could use Cally’s suggestion. We gave five minutes of “Alone Time” for anyone who thought it would help them to sit, breathe deeply and listen to music.

At the starting line during the team huddle, I reminded them to focus on effort and attitude only. They should only concern themselves with the next thirty seconds to one minute of the course. If their mind wandered at all, they should think about how much everyone loves them.

During the race, I only said things related to effort and attitude and I gave them short term goals, things they would focus on for only a few seconds to a minute. This wasn’t easy for me, as I am wired to shout out their position in the race or who we needed to catch in order to qualify for State. In fact, I had to rehearse this strategy the night before the race.

Halfway through the race, I could tell that Aptos was way out in front and was going to win. The top three girls teams would qualify for State and mid-race it was clearly North Monterey Country (NMC) and Sobrato in second and third. I heard the announcer say we were in fourth and that our San Francisco rival, St Ignatius (SI) was in fifth.

In the last mile, I noticed SI was making a strong move up and that NMC and Sobrato were falling back. But still, every time I cheered for our Girls, all I would say was “give me a good effort,” “focus on attitude,” and “pass one person between here and the turn.” I never once shouted to them about the other teams’ position.

At the finish, I was super pleased. We had run great races all around. The Girls looked pleased but also nervous. They were wondering if we had qualified for State. I remember running up to them and telling them that they ran great, that that was the race we wanted and that we didn’t need a results sheet to tell us it was a good day. As we walked to the start line for the Boys race, I wouldn’t let myself think about whether we qualified or not. I was happy with the race. I wanted to follow my own advice and not care (too much) about the result.

Then we heard an unofficial announcement that we were third. That made things difficult. It would be too painful to start thinking we made it, only to find out that we hadn’t when the official results came out. I didn’t want to go down that road and I didn’t want the Girls to either. So I kept telling them to wait…to not celebrate yet. I was having an internal fight in my head, on one side I wanted to consider what it would be like if we qualified for State. On the other side, I kept saying to myself, “don’t go there.”

IMG_9470Finally, on my fiftieth refresh of the results web page in the twenty minutes since the race had ended, I saw the official results. Only fifteen points separated second place from fifth place. We were a State Meet qualifying third place, only six points ahead of Sobrato and only eight points ahead of NMC!

Wow! A lot of things went into this achievement. Mostly the girls who ran. But also the support from the alternates, the other coaches and the rest of the team. And if the Andy Chan 2.0 coaching style contributed just a little, I’m proud of that, too.

Thoughts During a 12 Hour Plane Ride

Posted in Coaching,Report From the Road by Andy Chan on August 3, 2008
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One of the many special moments between an athlete and a coach

I can’t believe we’re here in China. This trip has always seemed so far away. It’s been months and months of talking about this trip. When it started years ago, it was just an idea.  Then in January, when we booked the trip, it was a great honeymoon with the possibility that Shannon would make the Olympic team (she was “an underdog trying to sneak in” at that point). In May when she ran 4:01, things changed and there was now a good chance she would make it. But even when she qualified at the Trials on July 6, it didn’t really sink in. This last week, when I started saying “we leave on Saturday,” it finally sunk in.

Lots of great coaches who run terrific programs and have coached a long time, never get a 2-time State champion athlete like Shannon on their team. It seems almost unfair that I got to coach Shannon my first 4 years as a head coach.

Lots of high school champions do not go on to collegiate success and even less continue on as professional runners.

There are many professional athletes who are not Olympians or US Olympic Trials champions. And many Olympians who are not medal contenders.

That’s what’s incredible. I feel blessed and fortunate that these things have all happened and that I am still involved in helping Shannon.

Other coaches (especially high school coaches) really understand how cool and amazing this is. I feel genuine happiness for how proud I am feeling. It’s been so much fun to share how I am feeling with people like Margi Beima, Coach Fran, Ed Nevus, and Tony Kauke. And I’ve never had so many people wish me safe travels!

As a coach, my goal is to have a successful program. You do the best job you can with every kid and every team. The passion and hard work you put into it often gets unnoticed – but that’s okay because the reward is the relationship you build with the kids. Whether or not Shannon ever came along, I think I’m a pretty good coach with a pretty good program at SHCP. I do the same things today that I did when I coached Shannon (OK, maybe I can’t keep up with my varsity runners like I did ten years ago – that age thing!). Thanks to Shannon’s accomplishments I’ve been recognized and thanked a lot lately. I admit it’s been real nice but again I think a lot of this has been just good luck on my part.

Those are the thoughts I’ve been having (following 12 hours on a plane!). I’ll end by sharing with you what I told Shannon on Friday: Thanks for bringing me along on this great journey!