Skinning The Cat

Jason RetzCoaching Blogs, Illinois HS Cross Country, Opinion Leave a Comment

By Jason Retz
St. Joseph-Ogden Cross Country & Track

Every year in November the IHSA hands out six individual and team cross country championships. From August till that first weekend in November thousands of high school athletes run lifetime best times.  What’s the common denominator?

Our program sets it’s workout calendar months in advance not day to day or week to week like some other programs. (Just so we’re clear, I don’t have a problem with that, it’s not what we do.)

I can rattle off our “Big” workouts.  I can tell you the volume of our long runs.  I can also tell you on average how most will respond from week to week based off their workload.

We have been fortunate enough over the last few years to find some success at the state level. But the one thing I can not tell you is what every other team in the state has done from week to week to find success.  We all skin the cat a little differently.

The 2016 cross country off season, I gave up almost every weekend to travel the state and sit down with numerous high school, college, and Jr. High coaches to see how they skin the cat.  Everyone was different.  Now don’t get me wrong, this sport is easy, run, run, and run some more.  But team cultures and philosophies are all different.

Now in my 13th year of coaching distance runners, I can tell you I “know” less now than I knew 13 years ago.  There are a lot of smart people out there that do the things they do to make them successful.  Each year we add new things or take some things out, but the base of what we do is the same. We run. And I’m passionate about that!

Through my time meeting with coaches the one thing I can tell you is the same, is everyone I met with is passionate about helping kids.  I didn’t say passionate about running. Yeah they love the sport of running and that flows into helping kids.  But they love making passionate, accountable, responsible men and women.

If you are an experienced coach or a new coach, I have learned the most important thing you can do is help kids.  Running is our platform to teach a number of life skills.  For example, logging.  It’s not a way for your coach to make sure you are doing what you are asked to do, it’s a way a team can build trust in you by the visual evidence of the work you are putting in.  Been hurt?  Look at that log to build confidence in yourself knowing you can get back to who you were before the injury.

When the athlete enters the “real world” the hard work they show can help them move up in their place of employment or even push them into a leadership position.  Logging is not about logging, it’s about learning what it takes to set yourself apart.

The list of lessons goes on, it’s not how you skin the cat, it about making sure you are skinning the cat.  Be passionate, always listen to people that are smarter than you, and have fun.  If you don’t like the way you’re skinning the cat, change it!  Our sport has thousands of passionate coaches who all do different things to help kids.  They all get kids to run fast and they all have a great time doing it.  I guarantee you will never have a quality coach not share how they skin the cat.  At the end of the day, it’s about helping kids.

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