Thursday, November 29, 2007

The elements of a successful cross country program


Did you ever wonder about what makes a successful cross country team? Why do the same teams land on the podium in Fresno year after year? Here is, in my opinion, a list of what makes up a successful cross country program. Keep in mind that while each element aids in the success of a team, not all are required for a successful team.

1) Coach with long tenure at school-Take a look at the top programs in the state and more than likely, the head coach (along with the long line of assistant coaches) have been part of the program for many years. Stability at the top is the key to long term success.
2) Team Website-While not necessary, in this age of the internet, a team website has many uses. Coaches can communicate, update and motivate their runners and parents. Team pictures from the last meet or spaghetti dinner can be posted. Links to the best injury prevention information. The list goes on.
3) Supportive parents-Coaches think they can do it all but if they are smart, they would use the resource that is readily available to them, parents. Most parents are thrilled to help the coaches in a positive manner. They just need direction.
4) Summer Running Camp-Whether it's Lake Tahoe, Mammoth or a team cross country camp, the team needs to go travel somewhere during the summer. And why are these so important? Kids have to get in shape beforehand to handle such camps so the camps themselves are great incentives for your kids to run over the summer.
5) Tradition-I once heard that a tradition is anything repeated twice. What does your team do that you would consider tradition? Is there a crazy hat day? Do you stay at the same hotel at the state meet? Traditions give the runners something to look forward to during the season.
6) Team records-Who is the fastest junior on the Mt. Sac course? Who holds the record for the team ice cream run? You want to find the fastest runner in 1965? You want to really motivate all the runners on the team? Keep all records!
7) Team photographer-While this is more than likely another parent, a team photographer allows the coach to yell, scream, or as most think they are doing, kindly encouraging his or her athletes.
8) Team get togethers-While it's great to run together over hill and dale until the cows come home, it's important for teams to have team get togethers like spaghetti dinners, pool parties or just spending a few hours at the local miniature golf place.
9) Feeder program/Recruiting-This could be your local middle school or a local track club but something needs to grab runners for you before they turn to other sports. You want to have a great cross country team, get the best athletes at your school to come out for your team.
10) Local Newspaper-Your parents know you run a great program but your local newspaper can spread the word for you. Contact them after each meet and sell your team.

So from that top 10 list, which are the most important aspects of a cross country team? What did I miss? Feel free to add your own thoughts about what makes your team so successful?

1 comment:

mike sherwood said...

Nice list. I do have a comment on this one:

6) Team records-Who is the fastest junior on the Mt. Sac course? Who holds the record for the team ice cream run? You want to find the fastest runner in 1965? You want to really motivate all the runners on the team? Keep all records!

Your examples are all about the FASTEST. With this approach, you're likely to motivate only those runners who can compete with those records - probably a small percentage of your runners. And of course as time goes on, the records become increasingly irrelevent, as today's runners are competiting with more and more people. Coaches do this because it's a daunting task to keep records on every runner on every course throughout time.

I am passonate about this topic because I am a parent of some "middle of the pack" runners, a group that most runners fall into. Cross country is so great because everyone can participate and everyone can succeed when compared against themselves. With this approach every team member can set appropriate goals that can challenge and motivate them even if they finish 120th out of 200. Measuring runners and teams by how much they improve is a formula for success regardless of the speed of the team or that of your competition. My passion on this topic translated into the creation of www.xcstats.com, a site designed for just this purpose.

Mike Sherwood