By Mike Smith
While last Thursday was the vernal equinox, the beginning of spring doesn’t really get here until that one day that has you out there in shorts thinking about taking off your shirt because you’re beginning to get hot. While we’ve had glimpses of spring thus far, it really hasn’t caught hold.
For us as coaches, the spring begins in January and February, just as indoor track is winding up. Even though some of us have most of our schedule set, we scramble around trying to fill the holes that will make our season work out the best for our athletes. Once we have the meets plugged in, we can go ahead and start laying in the workouts, Looking at workouts to build up from the beginning in mid March towards peaking come end of May.
Once the season begins, we scramble around trying to make sure everything is set, checking off paperwork, assessing and grouping athletes based on both volume and intensity, while trying to provide all the instruction an athlete might need, all at once, to everyone. For D2 and D3 coaches, we have our preseason coaches meeting the second day of practice; often the first “real” day of practice as day one is usually devoted to laying out expectations and parameters of the program. Before we know it, we’ll be issuing uniforms, setting pace splits for our distance athletes, getting marks for the jumping events and a plethora of other things necessary to get everyone to the first meet without losing their minds.
With 17 events, three different training groups for running, hurdles, jumps, throws and relays, getting into the season can be frenetic. Trying to pump up some of the kids while keeping it mellow for others is a unique juggling act. Making sure they have expectations, but convincing them that their best performances are to come later in the season is priority one going into the first meet. Having them see the vision for the season, not trying to hit an arbitrary number right out of the gate. It’s a challenge for sure.
But once the first meet is out of the way, the fun begins. After their first outing, a coach can really begin to build the individual program for each kid, having a sense of what they will be capable of within the season and where they should head. Coming up with a game plan, recognizing who your competition is, how to best prepare for the races, what workouts to do and to what degree; that is the fun part for me.
I love the sport of cross country, it is my favorite.for sure. The entire team, working together in every workout to get better both individually and collectively. Laying it all out on the line on a cold, blustery day to find out what you’re really made of is something special.
But spring track is fun. As a coach, one of the benefits is I get to see the entire performance. No back woods to obscure the moves that were made to decide the race. No, everything is front and center. You get to see athletes take that step forward, to dig in, and to become runners.
It’s also great for coaching. There’s an opportunity to give advice during the race at intervals that are useful in ways you can’t in cross country. You can assess what’s going on and give the athlete usable data in a way that’s difficult in cross country. Also not every athlete is in the race, so they can benefit from the advice your giving out to another athlete while they are observing the race themselves. I often think that athletes learn a lot about racing for cross country by running track.
And we like to have fun. From yelling inside jokes to the athletes on the track while they’re racing to trying different events for the first time we get the opportunity to have more fun simply by the nature of the sport. Having a teammate go out too aggressively for the conditions or the competition, seeing the gorilla climb on their back and affecting their finish does have a certain comedic flavor to it and there are more of their teammates around to witness their folly.
So as the snow begins to fade away and the days get longer, the grass grows drier and everyone’s collective fitness is on the rise, spring will emerge, as it always does, and the feel of track and field will permeate the air.
Good luck to everyone as we begin this year’s spring season.