Saturday, December 03, 2011

Catching up with College Prep coach, Jack Coakley...

Today we chat with College Prep School coach, Jack Coakley (picture to the left is courtesy of the CPS website).  At the past California State XC meet, the CPS girls finished in 3rd place in the Division V race to make their 3rd podium in a row.  In the past 5 years, the CPS girls have finished in the top 3 at NCS including the team section title in 2007 and 3 second place finishes.  The CPS boys have qualified to the state meet 5 times out of the past 7 years in the highly competitive section.  The 2006 boys' team defeated University at NCS to break their string of 7 section titles and went on the finish 2nd at the CA state xc meet.  Jack was named NCS Honor Coach in 1985 at one of his previous stops before CPS, St. Joseph (when it was an all boys school).

1)  What sports did you play in your youth and what were some of your highlights?

I enjoyed playing baseball and tennis, but lack of stereovision prevented me from continuing in those sports.  I tried football as a high school freshman, but track and field and distance running became my sports.

2)  Who were some of your teachers and coaches and what did you learn from them that you still use to this day?
A variety of teachers and coaches over the years of my youth inspired me by having faith in me, allowing me to learn on my own via mistakes, and allowing me to question things.  Being told – academically and athletically – to test my limits and to not be afraid to fail pushed me to work harder.  As a teacher and coach, I’ve learned from getting to observe my colleagues in action.  I am always evolving and consider myself a better teacher and coach every new school year.

3)  What led you into teaching and coaching?  What do you teach now?
I did research after grad school, but realized fairly quickly that I was a result guy, and as much as I respect scientific research, it wasn’t my thing.  While pondering a return to school, I thought I’d try teaching because I liked working with people as well as science.  Bingo – it was a match made in heaven.  Coaching came naturally, being in a school environment, and I’ve done both now forever.  I teach chemistry and AP chemistry.

4)  Where did you coach before College Prep and what were some of your highlights there?
I first taught and coached at St. Joseph Notre Dame High School in Alameda, then spent four years at El Cerrito High School before going to College Prep.  We had league and NCS successes at both.

5)  How long have you been at College Prep and what have been some of your highlights?
This is my 21st year Prep, and I’ve had a good time developing the program.  Successes?  Lots of league titles over the years, as well as NCS and State Meet successes.  The 2006 boys team placed 2nd at State after winning NCS, the 2007 girls team won NCS, and the recent girls teams have made the State Meet podium the last three years, placing 3rd, 2nd, and 3rd respectively, which is a huge tribute to them.  To be honest, though, I think every year is a success.

6)  What was the state of the cross country program when you took it over and what do you feel have been the most important changes that you made during your time coaching the team?
The team was small but was doing just fine when I came to Prep.  When the coach left after my first year there, I got the opportunity to be the coach.  Over the years, consistency has been the main ingredient.  I think you would find this to be true for any team.  I’m big on team unity and culture, as well as making everyone feel important/special.  And I can’t under estimate the power of success, which we’ve been fortunate to achieve.  As cliché as it may sound, it does breed further success.  The harriers’ willingness to buy into the program has been the secret.

7)  Track and Field is important to the success in XC in what ways?
Leg turn over, improved form, and confidence.  I’m big on 800s for the XC kids.  And during training, they get in lots of speed.  This translates nicely into the fall.

8)  What are your expectations for your runners during the summer?  Running camp?
I hope that they get in base mileage, the amount depending on their age and experience and volume capability (100-400 miles).  I give them a summer schedule to follow in order to help them achieve their summer goals.  Given that the runners are doing all sorts of things throughout the summer, we have not gone to a summer camp as a team, but we might try it.  Some athletes go to camps on their own.  As a team, we start the season with a week at Bear Valley in August just before school starts.  The retreat is a great way to start the year.

9)  During the season, what does a typical week look like for your team with a Saturday invitational?  What changes take place as you get closer to the section and state meets?
I am not a high mileage proponent due to the runners’ age and all of the concrete surrounding our school neighborhood.  I tend to go for quality mileage.  I also ask the runners to run for an amount of time, rather than miles.  We also run only 6 days a week on average.  Finally, we train through some meets.  Given that, the typical week looks like this:
Sunday: long run (45-75 minutes) (about 20% of the weekly mileage) on their own
Monday: easy 30-45 minute run, drills, strength/core work
Tuesday: track workout; long intervals (1200s or 1600s or 1000s depending on the time of the season)
Wednesday: easy run (30-45 minutes)
Thursday: tempo run, followed by drills, strength/core work
Friday: easy pre-race day (20-30 minute run)
Saturday: race
As we get into the late season, we add 800s to the track workouts and do more 400s at the ends of the track workouts; long runs are shortened – some tapering, but nothing drastic.  I found big tapering to leave the runners feeling flat.

10)  What do you feel are your key workouts during the season?  Distance for their longest run?  Weekly mileage?
I think the long intervals are key. On October Saturdays that we aren’t racing, we meet on the track for a workout at the time of the NCS races.  I want to get everyone’s bodies and heads into working intensely at the time that they will need to be “on” for the post-season meets.  As stated earlier, I’m not a high volume coach.  Based on time, the longest run is probably 8-12 miles, and weekly mileage might peak at 30-45.  Again, much depends on each athlete’s fitness level and natural ability.
11)  What is your advice for new coaches who want to make sure their runners have a good experience on their cross country team?
Trust yourself, remember it’s about the runners, and emphasize the team nature of our sport.  Give ample opportunity for team building.  This is also a sport that requires time to see development/improvement.  It’s also critical that you want to learn all the time – read articles, go to clinics, observe.  Have fun!

12)  Anything else you would like to add.
I’d like to give a big shout out to my teams!

Thank you very much for your time Jack!  AJC

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