Two Ideas for Creating and Maintaining Program Success
I was honored to have Ben Draper ask me to blog on this site. Ben has been a huge part of the renaissance with Yorkville’s cross country and track programs, and he is certainly bringing some of his energy to help us reinvigorate ITCCCA.com. I am also happy to become part of a growing community of Illinois coaches sharing their experiences in the profession. Ben, Tony Holler, and Ed Ernst are blogging on here while Lake Park jumps coach Tom Kaberna is writing a blog for DyestatIL.com. I am indebted to all of them for helping me become a better coach.
My goal in this blog is to focus on the work and energy that goes into creating and maintaining a championship distance running program in Illinois. As I mature in my coaching career, I find that a lot of my energy goes into the “process of perpetuation.” I’m not quite sure whether it is harder to build or to maintain success, but I have certainly entered the stage of my career where staying at the forefront is the biggest concern.
The entries in this blog will be informed by two ideas that concern me on a daily basis. One idea is the necessity for improvement. With the accelerating level of competition at all levels – professional, collegiate, high school, and even junior high – the type of effort that would have led to success 10 years ago does not cut it now. If your program isn’t always getting better, it will quickly be passed up as the level of play increases. The intimidating times run in this year’s state meet on all levels for boys and girls should be warning enough. My goal is always to look at the 15-20 aspects that make a program great and continually seek improvement in all of them. Small incremental gains across many areas are the key to not just sustaining a high level of performance, but also to winning championships – whether team-oriented or individual.
The second idea is that running a winning distance program is exactly like running a small business. Along with coaching my athletes and designing training programs, I find that I am engaged in all kinds of CEO activities: managing major events and employees, fundraising, budgeting, logistical planning, marketing, and recruiting all take up varying amounts of my time. Rather than just serving as an in-season coach, I now find myself running a 365 day a year business. This role was not one I would have imagined when I first started coaching with my father in the fall of 2000, but it is one that I have grown into and find both draining and exhilarating.
Over the course of this track season, I’ll share a number of the ideas I am working on. They run the gamut from improving the competitiveness and athlete experience at the Palatine Invite to creating branded logos for my teams. This year alone I have worked with an alum to redo my team web site at PalatineCC.net, partnered with Dave Cox to start the Palatine Running Club, started both a Twitter account and a YouTube channel, and recorded our first Palatine Invite preview show. Now, I’m onto my biggest idea ever as I seek to connect all of the grass roots running groups in Palatine through the Run Palatine organization.
Run Palatine – A Virtual Portal to Build Actual Community
The idea for the Run Palatine web site and organization came about through a conversation I had with Eric Gronwick, the owner of Running Unlimited in Palatine. Eric and I were in a preliminary planning meeting about a 5K run we began last June when I started to realize just how many grass roots running groups there were in Palatine. We have the competition teams at both Palatine and Fremd. We have the competition teams at all of our junior highs plus our smaller religious schools. Greg Armamentos and Heather Duran both have established running clubs at the grade schools where they work. Eric had helped bring together a group of community joggers through the store. We ran with a ton of collegiates and adult competitors through the Early Bird park district program. On top of that, there seem to be road races nearly every weekend in the summer and fall. The only problem? None of these groups really seemed to know about each other.
I immediately saw that there could be gains for all of the groups and all of their associated events if we simply became aware of one another. Much of what I do in coaching has a direct impact. Run a workout, get a gain. Communicate with a young person, get a gain. As I considered this idea, I realized that there was much to be gained through indirect effort. The immediate value of promoting and marketing running in Palatine was not readily apparent, but I know that all of us benefit when there are more runners. Road runs might have more participants. So might sports teams. Businesses could make more money selling gear.
The trick is to use virtual tools – a web site, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube – to bring people together into actual communities. My goal is to create RunPalatine.org as a one stop portal for all the running events and groups in Palatine. Looking for a race? Browse our Google Calendar of community events. Looking for local results? Browse our online results section. Looking to catch a run? Check the Twitter feed to see which groups are meeting over the weekend and where. Looking for a junior high or high school meet to attend? Check the master schedule.
The basic idea is that the web site will promote all events for free. The various stakeholders in our community will be able to market their events to a broad audience. In return they will help to promote other events and the web site itself at their event. The goal is to create continous awareness and connection between all of the groups that care about running in our community. To this end, I have partnered with Fremd coach Darius Sanchez, Palatine girls coach Joe Parks, and Eric Gronwick to begin the process of connecting the many fragments of our running community into a whole.
In the beginning, Run Palatine will be a non-profit organization with no members. Its center is a simple value proposition and two tangible objects: a logo and an event. In development right now with sophomore student Ana Villarama, the logo is going to be our main promotional mechanism. We plan to make it ubiquitous in the running community by the simplest of mechanisms: printing and handing out hundreds and hundreds of free stickers, static stickers, and magnets. It will communicate some of the values of our organization while simultaneously promoting our most important message – the web address of RunPalatine.org. I’ve included below one of Ana’s initial attempts to the left. Any comments from graphic design folks would be more than welcome.
The second tangible object is the Run Palatine 5K on Saturday, June 1st at Palatine High School. One of our assistant coaches, Mark Hajik, is the point man for the 5K, and he is working to arrange an elite, but cost efficient event that has the potential to grow into one of the best road runs in the northwest suburbs. The boys and girls teams at Palatine and Fremd will use this as our kickoff event for summer training, and we are also hoping to draw a sizeable contingent of area youth runners for our one mile run on the track. Any group that wants to promote its schedule or event will be welcome to attend our on-site Expo and we will also be working to gain sponsorships from area businesses.
This is a “think big” idea. I surely don’t want an idea like this to distract from my day-to-day coaching of my current athletes. One part of me, though, likes to see the potential down the line. I am reminded by Palatine old-timers that the Palatine Invite started its life as a varsity event in 1985 with 5 teams and one card table for a concession stand. Last year we hosted 60 guys and girls teams, sold more than 1000 T-shirts, hosted teams from three other states, and enjoyed high school competition bettered only by that seen in the Illinois state meet. Who knew back in 1985 what the Palatine Invite would become? Who knew what role it would play in growing the prestige of our program or drawing kids onto our team? Who knew that the fundraising from this event alone could fund team trips to Colorado and other exciting locales? Aside from the basic competition for the athletes, the indirect benefits are many.
All distance programs in this state exist in varying stages of development. My advice is to think big. Old platitudes like “tradition never graduates” are just that. Tradition needs sustenance. The work you put into your program is what keeps it cranking year in and year out. Investing time and money into your local running community may not pay immediate and direct dividends, but it surely will have some long-term benefits if you dare to innovate.
In the coming weeks, I’ll keep you posted on the progress I’m making with my fellow stakeholders while also introducing other ideas I have for improving the experience our athletes have within our program. Thanks for reading!
Palatine Cross Country and Track