I was a high school coach for four years (I taught history & PE) and following that a college coach for thirty-five. After I retired from the collegiate scene and began to enjoy the good life I was asked to take over a boys and girls cross country program in Chicago for one season. They had a small team so I figured it would be a laid-back experience, a nice addition to my monthly pension.
You Have to Walk Before You Can Run
At the first practice I told them a little about myself and then explained the workout to eleven (wow, not many) eager faces, led the squad over to Lincoln Park on my bike for warmup drills in the grass, demonstrating how to do each one properly – the difference between correct and incorrect technique, explaining the effort on our strides and how far to do them, and then got the squad started on the workout, guessing the times they should be running and who they should partner with on each interval.
They got through each repetition close to my estimations, although some struggled to complete the allotted number, far too many cutting the workout short, my description of the first day one my mother would have used – "it was nothing to write home about." I quickly realized this was going to be an challenging season.
The squad jogged back to the school and did stretches, pushups, and core work in the small gym after I had someone demonstrate each activity, some of them clearly wishing they could have left ten minutes earlier, others grateful to have some direction. But I knew things would get better with time.
They Call Me "Coach"
I remember reading an article on the legendary UCLA coach John Wooden as told by Bruin's great Bill Walton, the Hall-of-Fame player describing their first practice at Pauley Pavilion when he was a freshman. Coach Wooden came into the locker room bare-footed, sending the upper-class athletes out to warmup on the court while he pulled the newcomers together to demonstrate how to put on socks and tie basketball shoes.
Walton described the eight new-comers rolling their eyes, barely refraining from laughter as they listened to his solemn lecture. Coach Wooden finished with these words. "From this moment on, you new players are expected to know what to do out here, and when." As foolish at it may have seemed, they got the message – every aspect was important.
I called our eleven together after the first day of practice, proud of what we accomplished, looking around the circle with a smile as I reached my hand into the center for the team cheer, "One-two-three-TEAM!" Four hands went up and eight (including mine) went down. I grinned and shook my head. I hadn't taught them my way to perform the team cheer. I stuck my hand in again.
"OK, let's all go DOWN this time. One-two-three-TEAM!" Even after thirty-nine years of coaching I still had some things to learn.
Enjoy this story? Be sure to check out the rest of the website where you can purchase my books, "A Golden Era" and "A Long Road Ahead" which tell the stories of the high school and college running careers of a father in the 70s and his son in the 2000s.