In high school cross country, team performances can ebb and flow year-to-year as varsity runners enter the spotlight and then graduate. The elite programs are the ones that stay constant and are contenders annually, even as the names change, and the only way to build an elite program isn’t through any one runner but through the coaches.
At this school, the cross country team’s three coaches, Kellie Redmond, Jacob Buxton, and Matthew Davis, have created a culture of excellence that produces a states-caliber team on both the boys’ and girls’ sides every fall and helps each runner maximize their potential. Entering my second year running on the cross country team, I’ve witnessed this amazing team atmosphere and benefitted greatly from the experience and aid of all three coaches, both athletically and personally.
Like any other sport, the bulk of the work is done in practices. Coach Redmond plans each run, alternating harder workouts with road runs while gauging the weather conditions, overall fatigue of the team, and proximity of future races. As the season moves on, the workouts are planned to simulate race scenarios and prepare athletes for the grind of a 5K race. The workouts seem hard, but the runners on the team buy in and routinely give it their all.
I’ve learned this year that coaches can be immensely beneficial on race day, before, during, and after a race. Prior to the race, the coaches talk to the team about the course, the competition, and the focus of the 5K so the runners will go in prepared. I’ve also talked to them about strategy prior to some of the more important races. During the race, they offer needed encouragement and keep runners focused on their goals, rather than the inevitable pain. Afterwards, they’re open to talk to runners about their performance and usually sum up the race for the whole team. This season, I’ve talked to each of the coaches after my races and the insight and feedback I’ve heard from them has helped me reflect on the races and keep each race in perspective.
I could go on and on about the ways that the duties that the coaches faithfully fulfill, from paperwork organization to summer training plans, but I’ll conclude with the moment that I needed them the most. During the states race last November, I started out too fast and paid dearly for it, barely limping over the finish line. I was so tired that I fell to the ground a couple yards from the finish and could barely move.
The coaches, along with my teammates, attended to me for the next 10 minutes while I recovered enough to move to the team section of the field. Even though it was a cloudy, 41-degree morning, I could barely keep my eyes open. Thanks to the coaches, I didn’t need to, because they were literally watching over me.
When I was ready to move, Coach Buxton helped me off the main field and up to the team section. I was still recovering next to my equipment when Coach Davis checked on me to make sure I was doing okay and encouraged me. And Coach Redmond was there every step of the way. I blew the biggest race of the season and damaged our chances for a top-three finish, but the coaches didn’t talk to me at all about the negatives. They treated me like a person, not just a runner, and that is a lesson I’ll remember for a long time.
Published in Wootton’s Common Sense Newspaper