Today, we head down south to interview the coach of one of the top programs in California, Brian Shapiro of Palos Verdes HS (pictured here, 2nd from left, courtesy of the Palos Verdes athletic site). This past cross country season, the Palos Verdes Sea Kings wrapped up two state meet titles by taking both Division III races in two different fashions as you will see below. Brian was also coached in high school by one of the coaching legends in this state, Joe Kelly of Peninsula HS. His fellow distance coach is well known in his own right. He is standing far left next to Brian and I will let Brian tell you all about Jeff Atkinson below as well.
1) What was your own athletic experience in high school? Highlights? What about college?
I grew up in Palos Verdes and I was a pretty small kid who didn't do very well in baseball and basketball. But in soccer I could hold my own, mainly because of running. In the 6th grade I ran a community 1K event for kids and did well. I decided that I wanted to run and my older sister was running high school cross country at the time. My dad was a pretty decent high school xc/track runner too in Illinois.
I ran cross country and track for all four years at Peninsula High School and played soccer as a freshman and sophomore. Peninsula was a distance powerhouse in the '90's under Joe Kelly and during my 4 years we went 1st-1st-3rd-2nd in CIF and 3rd-2nd-1st-5th at state in division 1. I was never a superstar but got to run varsity as a junior and senior. That state meet victory in '96 was probably my favorite memory from all of high school.
I went to college at Washington University in St Louis. I was a triple major in Biology, Education, and Religious Studies and ran cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track all 4 years. It was a very busy time, but very exciting!
2) Tell us a little about your HS coach Joe Kelly and his influence on you as a teacher and coach.
I am so grateful to Coach Kelly and his coaching staff. Most people know about Joe and his success as a cross country coach from 1980 to 2001. He won pretty much everything and was a pioneer in cross country coaching, particularly with girls teams. CIF didn't have girls cross country until 1976. Joe figured out how to coach his girls effectively very quickly and he left a lot of other people trying to catch up. They never really did, his last team, state champions in 2001, was the fastest he ever coached.
Joe has been the greatest influence on my choice of profession. I don't remember a lot of ra-ra speeches and big pep talks, but the way he ran his program made me want to run through a wall from him. To me, my performance was good if it made him happy and he always took the time to talk to me after each of my races and mention specific things about what I had done during the race.
Joe was equally commanding in the classroom. People lined up to get in his English classes and he took his teaching as seriously as he did his coaching. I had no idea how hard he worked until I became a teacher and coach myself. You can never say thank you enough to people like him who have done so much good.
3) What led you into coaching? What do you teach?
Aside from Coach Kelly, I had four of his assistant coaches as teachers and another was my counselor. I was surrounded by people in the sport I love who were happy as teachers and coaches. I never even had to sit down and think about what I wanted to be. I currently teach Biology and Chemistry classes at Palos Verdes High School.
4) Tell us a little about the history of Palos Verdes HS and when you became the coach at the school.
Palos Verdes HS opened in 1961. At first we were the "Poseidon's" but you couldn't fit the name on any jerseys, so we switched to the "Sea Kings". Later, Miraleste and Rolling Hills high schools opened and it stayed that way until 1991. Enrollment dropped and the three schools consolidated into Peninsula High School. In 2001, enrollment was on the rise and Palos Verdes HS reopened in the fall of 2002. Palos Verdes HS has won 4 state girls titles and 2 boys titles. While the school was closed, Coach Kelly led Peninsula to another 3 girls titles and 1 boys title.
Jeff Atkinson was brought in as a walk on coach in 2002 and worked with with two teachers on campus who didn't have much running experience. I showed up in 2006, eager to join in just as the other teachers were ready to retire from coaching. I went to Jeff to introduce myself at the start of a summer practice. It went something like "Hi, I'm Brian Shapiro, and I was thinking about helping to coach." Jeff said "Right on!" and turned to the team and yelled, "Hey guys, come meet Coach Shapiro!". Since then we have added Alex Broughton to our staff in 2008.
5) What do you feel were the key components that you had to establish for your teams in order to be successful at the state level?
The biggest turning point for our teams was when we started paying attention to our daily training pace. GPS watches were just coming on the scene around 2006 and we took advantage of that tool. It turns out our 6 mile runs were really 5.5 and that 7:00 pace was really 7:15 pace.
6) What are your expectations of your athletes during the summer?
We expect our returning runners to be at practice every day if they are in town. We know that there are vacations and trips, but otherwise, they better be there. We have a great program we call "100 Days of Glory". It's exactly 15 weeks, or 105 days, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Every kid gets a workshirt, which is a t-shirt with a calendar on the back. The kids fill in their mileage for each day with puffy paint and have to wear the shirt to practice on "Workshirt Wednesdays". It's a great way for us to monitor their summer mileage.
7) What does a typical week look like during the summer? Typical weekly mileage for your varsity athletes during the summer?
Our varsity boys will typically run about 65 miles per week during the summer and our varsity girls are at about 45 miles per week. A freshman will often max out at about 30-35 miles per week during the summer.
Sample week: July 11th-17th, 2011. All runs done at steady training pace, no specific workouts.
Varsity Boys: 10M, 7M, 11M, 8M, 4M + 4M, 13M, 4M + 4M = 65M
Varsity Girls: 8M, 5M, 8M, 5M, 5M, 10M, 4M = 45M
8) What about during the season? Key workouts? How do you divide your season and what changes as the season progresses?
We have found that during the season we have to adapt our schedule to meets, school activities, illness, injury, and fatigue, so we change things up a bit from year to year and try to incorporate new stuff all the time. We try to put off starting workouts as long as possible. We don't get on to the track at all until November, if at all. We like to cycle through long runs, tempo runs, hill repeats, and intervals. Early in the season it's more hills and tempo, later in the season it's more intervals at race pace and faster. During the last two seasons we have experimented with some mixed workouts combining those different workout types and we like how they go. Palos Verdes is full of trails and hills. The nearest truly flat stretch of road is 4 miles away from our school, so it's hills, hills, hills.
9) What do you feel are the keys to competing well during the last three weeks of the season?
Oh yes, tapering and peaking. I was hoping someone could tell me how that works because I don't get it! In fact I would say that we don't really believe in a lot of the traditional approaches to tapering. We actually don't decrease our mileage much over the last 3 weeks. This year our boys ran 63, 61, and 55 miles during the last 3 weeks of the season. What I do know is this... A coach needs to be in touch with the team and be able to sense what they need during those weeks. Physiologically, the work is done and there's not much you can do to get better at that point. So if the team looks look a little sluggish, work on the turn over. I have always felt that when kids are flat or maybe not very sharp, a solid 65 minute run will reset the body and get you back on track.
10) Tell us a little bit about Jeff Atkinson's impact on the XC and Track and Field teams.
If I'm a brain on our staff, then Jeff is the soul. Our teams are nothing without him and I'm convinced that there is no better motivator out there. I just hope that some of his charisma rubs off on me as we work together. It would make me a better coach and a better teacher in the classroom.
For those who don't know, Jeff enjoyed a good high school career at Mira Costa and was 19th at Footlocker (Kinney) in 1980, He went to Stanford and ran even better. Out of school he went pro and made the '88 Olympic team in the 1500m by beating Steve Scott at the Olympic Trials. In Seoul, he made the Olympic final and made an awesome move with 700m to go, but didn't have the leg speed like the other guys and faded to 10th.
You can watch the race: http://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=dYjaJDII65k&list= FLGCyTqLOKZbSkGxZ7zZ88dA& index=31&feature=plpp_video
Jeff is supremely humble and I think that some of our younger kids don't even know that he was in the Olympics. He never tells a story, "Well when I was in the Olympics..." Jeff has a way of talking to the kids that is just fantastic. He is energetic and animated and we are so lucky to have him in our program. And he knows his stuff.
11) What was the plan going into this year's state meet and how did each race unfold for your teams?
State meet 2011, the tale of two teams.
The boys started the year as heavy favorites. in 2009, we won with 4 sophomores in our top 7, in 2010 we were 2nd without any seniors in our top12 and our number one, Jonah Diaz, was out with injury much of the year. I think everyone (including me) assumed that this would be a special season. Jonah was healthy and tearing up courses right away. Our other guys were a little further back but we just attributed that to Jonah running so fast. It turns out we just didn't get that 20-30 second improvement that you usually see in boys on a yearly basis. We were still running well, but not what we had hoped for. At that point you can't abandon ship. You have to re-evaluate the training and march on. We hoped to run faster and barely escaped the state meet with a title, St John Bosco was right on our heels. We were happy to win, but it wasn't what we had pictured 12 months ago.
The girls were more of an underdog. I have no idea why DyestatCal had our girls ranked ahead of teams like Campolindo and Vista Del Lago throughout the year. Those squads are awesome and Aptos and Acalanes were starting to look scary as well. Campolindo crushed us, and everyone else, at state in 2010, so we figured that they were the team to beat. We were doing well, but there were some serious injury worries. Two of our top 5 girls were battling the symptoms of stress fractures towrads the end of the season and we got creative in trying to keep them on their feet. The CIF championship at Mt Sac didn't do us any favors. The uphills don't get you, it's the downhills and Mt Sac has twice as much downhill mileage as uphill mileage. Those kids struggled to get through that race, but they did. Fortunately Woodward Park is a bit flatter and one of the girls was able to come back and run very well. The other girl started out ok, but had to limp home as our number 7, way out of the picture. The other big teams were all out quick and it didn't look great. Somehow our girls managed to keep moving up and by the finish we were felt like we had run great, but probably only good for 2nd. When they posted the results it was one of the happiest surprises of my life and the joy that the girls got to feel is why you coach.
12) Anything else you would like to add.
We may be way down the road from the northern California schools but we have a ton of respect for what your teams and individuals are doing. Northern California is home to some of the best and brightest coaches in the country and the results sheets show how great the runners are.
Thank you very much for your time Brian! AJC