Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Catching up with Castro Valley coach Peter Brewer...

Today's interview is with Castro Valley coach Peter Brewer. Peter is one of the most active coaches in the NCS (and perhaps the state) in terms of being involved in the logistics of how our sport is run and in the advancement of the education of coaches in Northern California through his summer clinic at Canyon Middle School. Peter's teams have also been very successful in both cross country and track and field. His girls' team last year won the NCS Division I title and as he would say, they return the whole kit and kaboodle ready to defend their crown. His boy's teams have consistently been one of the challengers for the state meet berths and last year's team boasted the top runner in NCS Division I, Jack Leng. His boys' track and field team last year won the NCS Bay Shore meet and then went on to finish in 2nd place at the NCS Meet of Champions behind De La Salle HS.

1) How did you get involved in Cross Country and Track and Field?

As a rookie teacher back in 1982 I had a cross country runner in one of my English classes. He kept me informed a bit on the team's progress. That next spring I wandered up to the track a few times and helped out with running the meets, mostly at the long jump and the high jump. Tim Bruder was head coach at Castro Valley that year.
That fall I asked the cross country coach, Tony Casillas, if I could jog along with the JV's once in a while because I wanted to quit smoking. It turned out that I was the only on-campus coach for both cross country and track the next two years, so I became the recruiter and a keeper of the stats. In 1986 both the track and cross country head positions became available and I've been at the helm ever since.

2) What was your sport experience in your youth?
I was a monumental klutz in all sports. High school was my first attempt at sports. I tried football and never got past the interior line because of my size and awkwardness. I did a little cross country but the JV's were my permanent home. In track I had a little success, but in those days 5-8 in the high jump was laughable.

3) How long have you been teaching and coaching at Castro Valley HS? What do you teach?
I am in my 27th year of teaching. My contract says I am supposed to be teaching English, but I end up teaching mostly manners.

4) Who are/were your mentors for you in terms of your coaching?
Tony Casillas showed me the absolute necessity of intensity in coaching. If it doesn't matter deeply, then whatever anyone attempts is less than a full effort.
Norm Guest quietly displayed a real sense of organizational structure. Having a framework of attention to the details adds immeasurably to coaching. No one really notices that part of the job particularly, since it is supposed to be the background against which the coaching takes place, but when the details are missing the whole coaching effectiveness is compromised.
I can only mention briefly the many top-flight national level coaches who write books and give clinics, but without the likes of Joe Vigil, Dr. Jack Daniels, Irv Ray and others I never would have had any real entry into the physiological realities of the sport. My high school peers who have achieved top level success are also very helpful resources, and I love to steal their ideas.
Peter Jensen and Tim Kuta gave me a running head start on the importance of archiving and sorting historical data to keep alive traditions and program continuity.
My long-time assistant, Raoul Perez, has shown me the patience necessary to effectively coach girls. I was a slow learner on that one, and he showed a real knack for anticipating group dynamic crises before they really developed.

5) When you first started coaching at CV, what runners (boys and girls) helped you grow the program into what it is today?
My very first cluster of talent came in 1986-1988, and those boys gave me my first taste of the State Meet when it started. We were able to grab 7th in Division II twice in 1987 and '88, all without a real star. That group bought into running hard and long and with competitive intensity. I still see them all somewhat regularly -- Matt Johanson (9:24 3200), Jason Atwood (4:18 1600, 15:50 5K), Paul Denzler (4:24 1600), Todd Saunders (1:58 800), Mark Wallace (10:15 3200 on an undiagnosed stress fracture), Tim Gravino, Brian Berry, Jimmy Martini.
It took a lot longer to get any momentum with the girls' program, as a few stars would come along (Elice Patterson 19:01 11th 1990 D-II State Meet, Jennie Ewing 1996 18:28 8th D-II State Meet) but no real consistency happened until about 2000. Then a very young group of girls came, the previous cluster of girls completely graduated, and the new ones brought a different level of commitment with them.

6) During your tenure as the CV coach, what has been the change you have implemented into your training program that has had the most positive impact with your team?
Well, it took long enough for me to realize what was really necessary, even though I had heard it dozens of times in clinics. I simply stopped putting up with excuses. I literally had to weed out the "cancers" of limited expectations, of partial commitments, of pre-disposed sloth and indolence, and of pure unadulterated teenage smarmy defensive oppositional crap. If I were to have smaller teams because of it, then so be it.
So, the first was girls' soccer. I stopped giving accommodations to soccer girls simply because they were fast. Once I did this, and the soccer girls went away, it turned out there was still considerable talent on the team and we are doing just fine.
Then it was homework. I challenged these excuses as most likely the product of procrastination (and possibly because we were doing intervals that day). Also, the phrase "student-athlete" is a single word, so they are expected to be able to do both. In addition, sports are considered Advanced Placement P.E., so the athlete is expected to do more.
Finally it was sloth. It a runner consistently worked out below expectations, he or she is dropped from the team. "Walk" is a four -letter word that ends in "k."
The result is now that I have 65 runners that show up every day, work hard every day, and are congratulated each day for it.
All this allowed for part two -- running harder. Once there were no more snivelers to gum up the works or cut short the workouts, I could implement longer, harder, faster and more consistent workouts. In just the past two years I have been able to ratchet up the intensity and the volume of workouts significantly. Of course, I have had to monitor the athletes much more closely and adjust for recovery and injury. We have instituted ice baths and fruit snacks after each workout to reduce those risks.

7) Your team does morning runs. Tell us a little about the benefits you have seen with your team and why you added them.
About 12 or so years ago I realized that my program had gotten "flat," and that my runners were not improving nor were there any real advances in overall consistency. I then identified all the coaches I could that had consistently superior programs and then made a point of taking a full year to go up to them at invitationals and championship meets and ask them what they did. The one response that was the same from the majority of the coaches was the morning run. So, in 1997 I tried it with my varsity boys only for 6 weeks. That year we won the NCS D-I title.
Since then we have gone through a few permutations -- classes start earlier, so we have to run earlier; administrators objected to the stadium lights so parents had to rally and protest; girls don't want to have to shorten their school preparation time; but generally the top athletes and a few other make 3-4 sessions a week.
The absolute benefit of morning workouts is to get the athlete to adapt to a shortened recovery period. Over a period of two months, as workouts increase in intensity, the athlete has to continually adjust to this two-a-day regimen. This is a simple matter of making the athlete stronger. I find that these athletes are tougher over the last mile of races, have more consistent races over a season, have fewer injuries, and are more ready for the next season of track.
Ironically, this year several factors limited attendance at the morning workouts, so we had to stop them much earlier than I had planned. However, since I made some substantial changes to the regular afternoon workouts we have been doing well regardless.

8) You are in charge of the CIF and can make any changes to cross country at the state level. What changes would you make? What has been your involvement with that level in the past?
With only a little boasting, I can say that I helped write policy on the current at-large process for advancing teams to the state meet from the sections. With some finagling I have been able to sit on the State Advisory Committee for several years and at least be present when recommendations are made.
If I had the magic wand, I would split up the Southern Section. It is far too unwieldy and represents a number of logistical accommodations. It is entirely true that yearly several truly qualified teams do not advance to the state meet. It is equally true that because of its size, the Southern Section at times gets too much press focus to the detriment of the rest of the state. At least two, if not three sections could easily be carved out of the current configuration.
I would also add the San Francisco Section to Central Coast, and tuck the Oakland Section into North Coast. This would be for cross country and track only. Let the original sections hassle over the other sports.

9) Tell us a little bit about the process to get the all weather track facility (and new football turf/field of course) at CV HS.
Well, I was advocating a new track for over a decade, but met a lot of opposition from all levels in even suggesting the possibility of planning for it. Then Martin Capron, a parent and track enthusiast, started up the Castro Valley Sports Foundation with the single purpose of raising enough money for a new track. Well, raising that amount of money is tough, but his website published several very unflattering pictures of how rundown the CVHS stadium was. He also posted pictures of the glittering new facilities at nearby schools, such as Amador Valley.
This did not please district administrators, but it did galvanize voters. So, when the district was able to float and get passed several bond issues, the track and stadium was added to the latest one. The last barrier was the sudden rise in construction costs just before the project went out to bid. Our district business manager, Jerry Macy, came to the rescue and was able to get project tweaked to fit available funds and get it done.
It really is a nice stadium and facility, and I am pleased that we got a steeplechase water barrier built as well.

10) Is it possible for you to single out a coaching highlight(s) when it comes to Cross Country?

No, not one definitive single moment. There are always highlights, but each year has highlights. I think that the real satisfaction that I allow myself is when the running alumni come to visit. This allows the current runners to see that they are a part of a long and proud tradition, and adds a level of validation to their own efforts.

11) Your summer clinics at Canyon Middle School have been a great resource for Northern California coaches. If you had to give your best advice to a new Cross Country coach, what would it be? (Peter, feel free to include information about the clinic next summer)
The first piece of advice I would give any new coach is to hang in there. Survive. The first few years may seem overwhelming, and coaching well takes time and energy. At times the odds may seem stacked against the coach, as athletes, parents, and even administrators may be resistant. However, it is always worth it. Any small increment of structure and consistency and improvement that we can add to the increasingly chaotic world that kids face is good. Coaches add more than they can realize to the good of society.
The next clinic is again in July, most likely after the USATF nationals in Eugene. This year I am trying to get a college coach on the panel, and I'd like to add again an athlete's section.

12) Anything else you would like to add.
We need more young coaches in profession. We need more on-campus coaches, or at least coaches who are close to the school community. Running is a growing sport, especially on the girls' side, and I'd like to see lots and lots of younger folks (younger than me, at least) get started.

Thank you very much for your time Peter. Continued success to your team!


Anonymous said...

lol nice interview. I always thought Peter Brewer was a good coach.

And good luck to Branson's Steven Iglehart and James Cliford tomorrow at the MCAL champs! You guys will own!

Anonymous said...

Interesting interview. Keep up the good work Peter and Albert.

Anonymous said...

Coach Brewer is one of the greatest coaches i have ever known. i competed against his teams for four years as a varsity athlete, yet he still took the time to talk to me and offer me advice, which occasionally led to me defeating one of his own runners. I can say that fear of disappointing Coach Brewer once resulted in me running one of the greatest races of my life. I often wish i had been able to train under him, but what little coaching he did give me helped me development as an athlete immensely. thanks for interviewing this legendary figure in the east bay.

Albert Caruana said...

That's a great comment. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Brewer is the best coach ever, he actually cares about the sport and the runners
im so pissed off that our stupid school doesnt allow him to coach track anymore...hopefully he can still coach XC

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