Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Catching up with Redondo Union HS coach, Bob Leetch

Today we catch up with Redondo Union HS coach, Bob Leetch (photo courtesy of the Redondo Beach Patch).  Last year, Bob's girls team finished 3rd in state in Division II (perhaps the toughest  and fastest girls race in California cross country history).  They followed that effort by finishing 10th at the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland.  Following a spectacular track season by his distance runners, Bob was named the Gill Athletics Girls National High School Track and Field coach of the year.  In his youth, Bob was one of the top runners in California as you will see below.  

1)  What sports did you play in your youth?
Everything possible. I was always the first pick when choosing sides. In organized sports I played football and baseball.

2)  How did you get your start in running?
I was fast but I knew I could always do stuff longer than the other kids. I never got tired. I guess we just know that about ourselves. It was in freshman football during a drill called the "rabbit run" where I first realized a specific talent of being able to out run people.

3)  How quickly did you discover your running talent?
Freshman year was my first introduction to track. I had a wonderful coach, the great Howard Smith, who pulled me aside told me I could do something special, that I had a talent. This was probably the first adult to tell me this in my life. It had quite an impact on me. Although I felt loved at home it was not a tender upbringing, very disciplined.

4)  What high school did you attend and what were some of your accomplishments and proudest achievements?
I attended Redondo Union High School, where I currently coach. I came out that freshman year and ran 2:00.7 for the 880. And was hooked. As a senior I was the CIF 2A 1600 meter champion and placed 5th in the State Meet at Edwards Stadium in Berkeley. I ran 4:09.49 in the Masters Meet that season as a personal best.

5)  Where did you run in college?
After high school I enrolled at El Camino College and ran for the greatest coach I had, Dave Shannon. That year I was State Champion over 1500 meters with a very talented and ambitious group of middle and long distance runners. We led the state in the 4x800 and DMR. I split 1:50/49.8/2:58 that year. It was one of funnest years of my life. Many of those teammates are still close to me now. My coach and many teammates were in my wedding a few years back.
From there I received a scholarship to run for Steve Miller at Kansas State University. I received All Big-Eight honors in Cross Country, Indoors and Outdoors with PR's of 4:03 indoors in the mile and 14:01 for the 5,000.

6)  Who were the coaches that had the  biggest impact on you?
My high school coach was Howard Smith, who later moved on to Westchester High where he had great success. He helped focus my competitiveness. He passed away recently. He was a wonderful man. At El Camino College my coach was Dave Shannon. Shannon was extremely detailed in his approach to training. The was my introduction to micro and macro cycles. He was very passionate and took a great interest in his athletes. We have stay close over the years. Shannon was in my wedding 25 years later. The mood and feel of the Redondo program is modeled towards the family atmosphere at ECC.  At Kansas State University I was coached by Steve Miller. Coach Miller was a brilliant coach and an amazing motivator. Athletes were drawn to him like moths to a flame. Occasionally we got burned but we always reached heights we never thought possible. Coach Miller has left quite a footprint in our sport.

7)  How led you into coaching?  
I went to the South Bay Cup a few years back to watch my friend, Torrance High coach Israel Pose, host his high school cross country meet. I looked in on my alma mater and was dismayed at the current state of the program. Months later I approached the coaches and asked if I could offer any assistance. They were both retiring so I just took over the whole program. I have never formally coached a team before this. I have received the Daily Breeze, local newspaper,  Coach of the Year award four times and last season was selected as the Gill/USATF Girls High School Track and Field National Coach of the Year.

8)  How did you end up at Redondo Union?  What was the state of the team when you first started coaching there?
When I took over the program we had 12 kids returning to run cross country. Of the those 12 maybe 7 trained that first summer. That year I stood in the line at freshman registration and literally pulled kids out line that were in P.E. and told them they were now in cross country. We pulled in 65 freshman that year. In the first year our varsity could not compete with any of the JV teams in the brutal Bay League. A very tough road those first years.

9)  What have you changed in terms of training or other aspects pertaining to the teams from your first year to now?  
I don't have quite as many killer workouts as I did back then. So much in the beginning was to build their confidence. We built the identity of the team as that of "the hardest working team in the state."

10)  What does a typical week look like for your team with a Saturday Invitational?
It depends on the invitational. If it is a travel meet we may account for that. Typically we are more focused on league meets than invites. We try not to race much early and hit it hard in the middle. Each of our teams have been different and needed to be approached differently. Just as different squads respond to different tactics. We generally do two hard workouts a week mixed with cross training, core and speed. We do not vary from this much.

11)  Key workouts during the season?  
We don't really have any. Everything is built on progression through the season so it depends on how the team in improving. We typically do not get injuries but if someone has a setback we adjust for that. This year one of our key runners had mono early in the season and that changed things quite a bit.

12)  What changes as you get into November and championship season?
Not much. For some reason with our training, and past teams, when we taper too much everyone goes flat. Not sure why that is. But we keep the foot on the gas all the way through.

13)  From your perspective, what are the keys to being a successful distance runner in high school?
The team mission statement I created for the program is three words; Excellence, Balance and Consistency. If we work towards those goals as a coach good things happen. There is much written on the kids being different than "back in the day." I see other programs that are built on togetherness and having fun. I don't see much winning there. Our kids are very, very close and most keep in contact with us and each other quite a bit when they move on to college. But ours is a discipline and fun program. You work hard, you win. Winning is fun.

14)  Your girls finished 3rd last year in the uber competitive Div. II state meet race.  Tell us a little about the race and achievement of making it to the podium once again.
We were very proud of our third place finish at state.That was one of the most competitive races fields I have ever seen at any level, relative to age. That being said it was bittersweet on the podium. As it usually goes we are all waiting on that fifth girl. That year we had two very competent runners vying for that spot. One usually raced well if the other did not. At state we had fine performances by our front girls. Our fourth runner finished nine spots in front of the eventual winners number two runner. But five score, not four. And the next week at Nationals our front four had solid performances, nothing like the state meet, but our fifth girl ran fantastic. We were all very proud of her.

15)  They went on to race at the Nike Cross Nationals finishing in 10th place.
The Nike event was wonderful. Everything Nike does is first rate. And this event was no different. Hats off to Nike for making so many kids feel special. That was an amazing week. We did not race as well as the week before. It might have been the distractions of traveling or the events at Portland. But I think it is just tough coming out of the Southern Section and having to go five straight weeks. We compete in the extremely competitive Bay League. Our league finals is a very emotional race. From there it is two weeks in CIF at Mt. Sac against top-tier teams.  And from there it is off to the state meet and if you are lucky enough, one more week in Portland. For us that is five straight weeks of high level racing.We raced Saugus and Simi Valley three straight weeks. The state meet is our number one priority. The state meet is everything to us. I do not feel the Southern Section schools do as well for this reason. Most of the other out of state regions have time to focus, rest and peak for that meet. All that being stated, it was one of the highlights of the my coaching career.

16)  Following this past track and field season, you were named Girls' National Track and Field Coach of the Year by Gill Athletics.  What were some of the highlights/achievements for your team this past track and field season?
Our girls were undefeated in all dual meets and invitationals. When we ended the relays portion of the season our girls were ranked #14 in the 4x400, #1 in the 4x800, #2 in the DMR and #1 in the 4x1600...  in the nation. Our time in the 4x1600 meter is the fastest time ever recorded at that distance. We had four girls run under 5:00, a statistician friend told me it was a US first, don't know if that is true. And all four of those girls are Redondo Beach residents who grew up in the RBUSD K-12 system. This was no pre=assembled all star team. Not one of the those girls ran competitively before high school. Dyestat ranked us the #1 distance team in the US.

17)  What advice would you give a young coach with aspirations on building a successful cross country program?
Go to clinics and develop a coaching philosophy that you truly believe. Build it as fast as you can and cut.

18)  Anything else you would like to add.
Sorry if I sound like some SoCal honk but it really is a blood bath down here. But that is the main reason there is so much depth.  Good luck the rest of the way and thank you for the many things you continue to do for the sport I love,

Thank you very much for your time Bob!  AJC

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great coach, better friend. Ran against Bob in high school, teammates at Camino and then against each in Big 8. It was the best part of running. Was one of those guys in the wedding. Shannon was one of the best coaches around and many of his athletes are the best coaches today. Some of the best programs in the State Redondo, Mira Costa, Torrance, Sagus, Torrance, South Torrance, Mission Prep... are coached by Camino grads. Coach Shannon is the reason for that.