The New Year is tonight, of course, which means the gyms will be ridiculously packed for the next two weeks and then return to normal as we approach February. You probably have personal goals for getting in shape, improving your life, etc. But do you have any coaching goals? You should. Here is a list of 16 New Year resolutions you can make to improve your team in 2016. If I left anything out (which I always do), post it in the comments.
1. Go to more clinics.
The Midwest has an abundance of Track & Field clinics. I try to go to a minimum of two a year, and would go to more if my schedule would allow it. Most athletic departments set aside a budget for such trips. While you’re at the clinics, treat it like school. Take notes. Ask questions. Volunteer to help demonstrate. And bring your assistants along. More education amongst your coaching staff has rarely been a negative. There are also clinics in places like Orlando, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, etc. Nice weather and knowledge is a great combination.
2. Do your own research.
If you are reading this article, congratulations, you’re on a website that can help you become a better coach. There are hundreds of these websites out there. Every offseason, I fill up an entire spiral notebook with notes I have taken from track websites and YouTube videos. Most sites will have newsletters to sign up for that will send you helpful coaching tips. I can barely emphasize how valuable these resources are, or how lucky we are to have all this information available at the touch of a few buttons. Take advantage.
3. Get on social media.
The year 2016, in case you hadn’t noticed, is in the 21st century. That means you should be using social media. Get a Facebook page for your team, and invite the alumni to join as well. Set up a Twitter account (ours is @LFHStrack). Publish Google Docs with personal bests. Put as much information as you can on the school webpage (schedules, team rules, goals, school records, award winners, etc.). Videotape races and put them up on YouTube or Hudl. Encourage parents to post their meet pictures on an Instagram or Snapfish account.
4. Schedule a destination meet.
Do an overnight trip if your athletic department and budget will allow it, or just go to a meet farther away in a great location. When I was at Antioch, we went to the Tri-State Invitational at UW-Platteville (a three-hour trip) as an overnight trip. Kids would clamor to be included on the roster for that trip. We also went to Illinois State University (another three-hour trip). This year at Lake Forest we’re going to the Madison West Relays at UW-Madison. Who doesn’t want to run on a B1G campus?
When I was in college, the destination meets were the best. One year for Spring Break we went to Azusa Pacific University near Los Angeles, and another year we went to Washington University in St. Louis. We also took a group to the Drake Relays every year. If you have an amazing relay team, try to get them into the Penn Relays. I guarantee they won’t soon forget running there.
5. Ditch the bad meets.
All of you reading this probably have a meet on your schedule you don’t particularly like. So why do you keep going? Because your team has always gone there? Who cares? If it’s a bad meet or a poorly run meet, get out of it and find something better. There are some meets we can’t go to anymore because our Spring Break has changed, a better or closer meet became available, etc. We’ve also stopped going to meets because they took way too long (unnecessarily), the host coach ran a relay from the wrong line (and refused to change), the results were hand-printed even though an automatic timing system was being used, the indoor track was way too small, there were always mix-ups with the medals, the results were printed one-heat-per-page (which means you’d get a 60-page stack of paper for the results), and various other reasons. You can afford to be picky when there’s a wealth of good meets available.
6. Add some cool meets (aka non-traditional meets).
Go to something different! Here are the names of some of our meets the past few years: Madison West Relays, Wildcat Relays, Prospect Relays, Spartan Relays, Cougar Relays, Mustang Relays, Bulldog Relays. Notice a pattern? In case you couldn’t tell, I love relay meets. Most invites have the exact same order of events as every other meet you have all year long. If you don’t have at least one relay meet on your schedule, I feel bad for you.
This year we at Lake Forest are going to the Cougar Relays at Vernon Hills. Instead of a 4x800m or 3200m Run, they run the Distance Medley Relay (1200-400-800-1600), and instead of a 200m Dash, they run the Sprint Medley Relay (200-200-400-800). You’re allowed to enter a JV team in each of the five relays, and it’s a coed meet. How cool is that?
I’m positive there’s a relay meet in your area. Give your athletes a chance to run a Hurdle Shuttle, 100-100-200-400 Relay, 4x1600m Relay, etc. We go to the Spartan Relays at Glenbrook North High School, where they run a 30” Hurdle Shuttle Relay. But they only put hurdles 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 on the track. So instead of taking three steps between hurdles, you’re taking seven or eight. Such a great relay. Do you think your hurdlers would rather do that, or run in their 15th regular 110m Hurdle race of the season?
We host a pretty standard invitational at Lake Forest, with the regular order of events, but we spice it up as well. Instead of the 1600m Run, we run the Mile. We also run a Weightman 4x100m Relay for the Shot/Disc guys. This year we’re having the coaches vote on a Meet MVP. Plainfield North runs the “Gauntlet Mile,” “Dunkin Donuts 55m Dash,” and “Rock the 4×4” at their home invite. For an invitational, the host school can more or less do whatever they want! Add a tweak to your home invite. Have an award stand. Give wreaths instead of medals. Add a 300m Dash, 600m Run, 1000m Run, or Coed Relay. Do something to make it stand out.
7. Get cool apparel.
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m not cool. I never was, really. So I ask the kids on my team what sort of apparel they want. A local sports store in Lake Forest makes a flier for us every year and we distribute it to all the athletes and their parents. The fliers have the standard fare of t-shirts, hoodies, shorts, etc., plus “bro tanks,” Nike Elite socks, ¾ tights and other things the kids think are cool that I have no idea about.
Tony Holler told me his team gets shirts every year with their school records printed on the back. How cool is that? I’m definitely stealing that idea. Some teams have shirts for different “crews.” The Distance Crew, Hurdle Crew, Vault Crew, etc. There are hundreds of places that make t-shirts at insanely cheap prices.
Spike bags are practically a necessity. Screen your logo on there and get one for every kid on the team. Stocking caps are great as well. You can go for a retro look if you like, or just get a simple beanie. The distance runners will use them all the time, and the sprinters won’t have an excuse not to have their head covered when you go outside (side note: In my program, the athletes aren’t allowed to wear hoods or pull their sleeves over their hands while running outside. This changes your running form and puts you in a negative frame of mind. If you’re cold, bring a hat and gloves.).
8. Start cool traditions.
What stands out about your program? What do you do that is unique or memorable? Hopefully there’s something, otherwise you’re going to have a problem retaining athletes and getting new athletes out. Again, we’re looking at getting away from the norm here. If every day is a boring repeat of the day before, what do your athletes have to look forward to?
I’ve already told you about Banana Relays. I’ve coached Cross Country, Swimming and Track & Field in my life, and in my 20+ seasons I’ve seen dodgeball tournaments, t-shirt relays, team bike rides, pool aerobics, flexing contests, scavenger hunts, watermelon rind spitting contests, sibling relays, trivia contests, Slip ‘N Slide relays, team pentathlons, dancing contests, movie day, skits, rap battles, etc. All during regular practice time. None of those are from my own high school experience. I competed in Cross Country, Swimming and Track & Field, and my senior year we had 6, 13 and 18 athletes on those teams, respectively (in a well-to-do school with 800 students). This probably isn’t a coincidence.
We play basketball the Friday before Spring Break every year at Lake Forest. I reserve the game gym and everything. Barely anybody is there because they’re all on vacation. One program I coached for had the varsity Cross Country athletes run the Homecoming football back from the opposing team’s school on game day. They timed it out to jog the ball into the pep rally on Friday afternoon.
When I was coaching Cross Country at Eau Claire Memorial High School, they had an annual Jingle Run. Coach Mark Johnson (definitely the best coach I’ve ever had the pleasure of working under) had the team in “core groups” since the beginning of the season (another great idea). For the Jingle Run, the athletes would go for an easy jog with their core group and come up with a song. Some would be accompanied by a dance routine. Then the whole team would get together to perform the songs. One year, we had a shy freshman who hadn’t talked much up to that point. When it was his group’s turn, the rest of his group laid down a beat while he rapped. I couldn’t hear anything he said, because everybody was laughing and cheering so much. That was in 2003, and I guarantee everybody on that team still remembers it.
9. Get better equipment
This year, we invested in a Freelap timing system. With it, we can instantly and accurately measure a 10m fly, 40 yard dash, lap slits for a 1600m…anything, really. Hand times are notoriously unreliable. The Freelap is accurate within 0.02 seconds. Once you use one, you wonder how you ever managed without one, especially if your sprinters do a Short-to-Long program.
Obviously, most programs have to cover the basics. Starting blocks, poles, shots, discs, hurdles, measuring tapes, stopwatches, rakes, etc. Beyond that, try to use the money available to you (through a yearly budget, fundraising money, or your own pocket if necessary) to get something that will help your program. Get a Freelap timing system, GymAware, Exxentric kBox, Bullet Belt, Wobble Board, vertical leap pad, timing clock (every swim program has them), weight sleds, weighted sandbags, plyo boxes, therabands, etc.
10. Start a coaching journal.
Maybe the most valuable piece of equipment in my coaching arsenal (yes, even more valuable than the Freelap) is my coaching journal. Cost me $2, and I’d be lost without it. Every day, I write down what we’re doing, of course. I also write down any important announcements I need to make (what time the bus leaves on Friday, when the fundraising is due, etc.). But most importantly, when the practice is finished, I write down what did and did not work. I put down suggestions for how I can improve the workout for next year. This proves to be invaluable from day to day, week to week, and year to year.
11. Focus on positive coaching.
You’ll hear a lot of these statements at track meets:
“Don’t drop the baton.”
“Don’t start out too slow.”
“Don’t look down at the board.”
Why are you telling your athletes what not to do? Instead, how about telling them what you expect them to do?
“Be sure Suzy has the baton before you let go.”
“Remember we’re trying to get out on that first lap in 65 seconds.”
“Keep your eyes up when you approach the board.”
Obviously, there are times when you need to say “don’t” statements. But make it a habit to use positive language. Always remember the ‘sandwich’ theory of feedback. Sandwich every negative or corrective comment with two positive comments. “Hey, we’re getting there. You still need to stay lower on the first phase, but that’s a lot better than last week.”
12. Take more videos and more pictures of practices and meets.
Football has film sessions. Why doesn’t track? I was lucky in that somebody (usually my sister) videotaped pretty much every single race I ran in high school and college, and my dad was an amazing photographer. Most kids nowadays have never seen a video of themselves running. Get a team iPad or video camera and use it to record the important moments of your season, analyze practice video, etc. Having a still camera can be very useful too, especially when banquet time rolls around and you’re hoping to make a team packet as a keepsake, or give a memorable gift to the seniors. A picture, of course, is worth 1000 words.
13. Figure out what to add to your program.
Nobody has a perfect program. There’s always something more you can do, something you can change, something that’s missing. Maybe you’ll add a quote of the day. Maybe you’ll get a Freelap timing system, or team t-shirts, or a new iPad, or a Twitter page, or a better weight lifting plan, or add hill running. Talk to other coaches. Ask advice from your assistants, captains or seniors.
Don’t be stubborn. Be progressive.
14. Figure out what to remove from your program.
Something didn’t work last year? Tweak it or get rid of it. There’s no shame in admitting you tried something and it didn’t work out. Don’t be stubborn. Be progressive. Sometimes you can find a good alternative to what didn’t work, other times you have to drop something entirely. Virtually every program has fluff. Lots of coaches do too much. Again, talk to your assistants, your leaders, your fellow coaches.
15. Get the best athletes in your school out for the team.
You know how you can instantly become a better coach? Get better athletes. All of you have at least a few athletes walking your halls who would be tremendous at Track & Field, but instead go home at 3:00PM every day in the spring. Some have never even considered our sport. Talk to your current athletes and see if they know of any athletic kids who might want to join. Go to the football, basketball, soccer and volleyball games, where sprinting and jumping talents are easy to see. Put posters up in your school advertising your program. Follow @LFHStrack on Twitter to see a bunch of posters advertising our sport. The best athletes in your school should be running track!
16. Have fun.
Coaching is fun. Track & Field is fun. Never forget that.
Did I miss something? If so, post it in the comments below. You can follow our team on Twitter at @LFHStrack.