Friday, January 14, 2011

Catching up with Chabot College coach, Ken Grace...

Today we chat with Chabot College track and field coach Ken Grace (picture to the right courtesy of the Chabot College website).  He has coached cross country and track and field at the high school and community college level for 30 years.  You can read all about his coaching stop in the interview.  Several years ago, he coached at Dublin HS and his dynamic duo during cross country season (James Attarian and Jeremy Grace) finished 1st and 8th respectively at the '07 State Meet Division III race.    In 1991, he was awarded the California Community College Coach of the Year.

1)  What sports did you do before and during high school?

I played baseball - little league (not much-organized sports in those days) but every day, all the kids in the neighborhood would play pick up games in whatever sport was in season.  So for 10 weeks, it was football in the park,  then 8 weeks playing basketball on the 8.5-foot rims at the local elementary, then dirt biking on regular pedal bikes then back to baseball.  We would play track after watching it on TV.

In high school, I played football and ran track.  In track, I did the pole vault, long jump, triple jump, high jump and ran on the 4 x 100.  I did whatever event was needed so we could do well as a team. My senior year (due to a number of concussions in football.  I was a safety who tackled with his head) I did not play high school football so Jerry Metcalf  (still at Arroyo) talked me into running cross country for Arroyo High.  It was fun, I came out when school started and most of the time I was the number 3 guy.  I think I broke 17 minutes once in high school.

The thing I remember (compared to today) is track was set up to be more developmental. Lots of dual meets, few invitationals. Frosh and JV's ran 65-yard hurdles at a lower hurdle heights so they could learn to hurdle.  The Dual or Tri -meets were really important for developing kids and giving kids a sense of team.  There was even a North Coast Section (one meet) where Frosh/Soph kids got to run and jump after league championships.  We even had a league relay meet where half of the 4 person relay in the field or running had to be made up of frosh/soph kids.  That made the seniors coach up the freshmen! You got a ribbon for placing in the top three as a relay team.   Everyone wanted their kid to get 3rd because many times that one point was really important to winning the meet.

2)  What were some of your highlights during that time period?
So my answer to this ? was that I learned to do a lot of different events and had fun with my friends.  People were not all caught up in specializing in an event or a sport,  thinking they were going to get a scholarship in the sport.  Back in the 70's, there were some great athletes in high school and kids did a large variety of sports and events.  There was no such thing as specializing in say the 3200.  You ran everything at one time or another and over the long term you became a better runner or athlete across the board.

3)  Where did you go to college and what sports did you participate in during your college years?
Out of high school (after UCLA and USC did not call offering me a full ride. There's not a huge demand for 13' pole vaulters who long jump 20 feet and run the 100 yard dash in 10.5) I went to Chabot College because 1) I could continue to compete in track and 2) I could get a great two years of general education for free (yes it was FREE back then...even parking).  At the end of two years at Chabot ( A great experience and team...we had 4 guys at 15.0 or better in 110HH, 3 guys over 15 feet in the vault, 2 guys over 49 feet in the triple jump and if you could not long jump at least 22-6 find another event. And guess what? We were not even the best team in the conference. We were second to San Jose City). I decided to go to Cal State Hayward.  It was a tough decision between Cal State, San Jose State and Cal Poly SLO but I went to Hayward and learned a lot from Jim Santos, Don Chu, Dr. Harmon Brown and my vaulting buddy Bob Olsen.   It was a magical time at Hayward we won the Far Western Conference both years,  NCAA II title one year and finished third the next.  I got to learn from a lot of great people.  I left high school a 13 foot vaulter and 4 years later I got my butt over 16 feet and got to compete in NCAA II finals in the vault.

4)  What led you or who inspired you to teach and coach?
What inspired me to coach?  I had a large number of great coaches and people in my life. Parents can only do so much, and many times a coach would tell you the same thing your parents were but you would listen to your coach because well "He's a coach so he must know"  and" I am a teenager so my parents don't know anything".  I can truly say that I always had coaches who cared about me as a person first and an athlete second and a kid can sense if you truly care about their total well-being.  That's what inspired me. Plus I like science, but not the white lab coats and the lab but with track (or training in general) as a coach you are like a little scientist experimenting trying to get each person to develop to their true athletic potential.  Great coaches who inspired me...Jerry Metcalf, Tony Machutes, Pat Pohl, Glenn Malcolm, Jim Santos, Don Chu, Joe Vigil, Lou Vasquez, Chris Walsh, Ed Parker, Doc Brown, Bob Rush, Mike Lewis, Bill Campbell, Tanako Hagiwara, Willie Hector all of these people had a tremendous impact on me.

5)  You are currently at Chabot College.  How long have you been at Chabot College (in what roles?) and where else have you been a teacher, coach or administrator?
I was a track coach and teacher at City College of San Francisco with Sean Laughlin and Doug Owyang until July 1995.  In 1995 I was hired at Chabot College as the Dean of Athletics (AD) and Physical Education.  After three years in this role, the school was going through cost cutting administrative reorganization and I was approached to become the Dean of Athletics, Physical Education and Fine Arts so at that point in time I chose to  go back into the classroom (best decision I ever made!).  From 1999 to 2003 I was the head track/cross country coach at Chabot.  In 2003 I stepped down so I could watch my daughter play high school sports.  From 2003 to 2006 I volunteered helping out at Cal High between watching softball games. I coached cross country at Dublin High School during the Fall of 2007, my nephew Jeremy was in his senior year and the school needed a coach and I wasn't doing anything at the time. It was a great experience. My daughter decided to play softball in college so I continued to coach voluntarily for Chabot until 2010.    Steve DaPrato, the Chabot Head Track Coach from 2003 to 2010 is retiring in May so I am now back at the helm for Chabot.

6)  Who are or have been your coaching mentors and what have were the most important lessons you have learned from them?
Every one of the people I mentioned above, and many more, all taught me to how to teach people.  "Before you can coach or train someone you'd better learn what makes them tick".  What is important to them? and how can you get them to their true potential beyond track and field.  The other thing I learned from many of them was "Learn how to coach all the events, don't be a specialist"  If you have a kid that is interested in learning how to throw the discus you'd better learn how to teach the basics.  Most of the events in track and field have basically three major components to success, and if you know and can readily identify these three main ingredients you can figure out how to train or practice in order to improve one of these areas.  An improvement in any one of these main ingredients will bring about an improvement in performance.  Over time, you develop and eye and a feeling for what you are watching. You always have to remember while you have a team training plan, and program, you are working with individuals.  Everyone is slightly different...if we weren't we would all be wearing the same size shoes!

7)  When it comes to success on the track, how important is cross country to distance runners and other event athletes as well?
I think the most underdeveloped aspect of high school and community college athletes is their aerobic system and aerobic capacity.  The strength and improvement that comes from slowly building your aerobic base is highly under-rated.  I am big believer in the Lydiard system with some of the Bowerman system thrown in.  100 miles a week is not for everyone (In fact most people).  However, everyone can gradually bring their volume up and improve by following a basic logical progression in volume that loads and unloads on a daily and weekly basis.  I use heart rate monitors a lot to keep people from running too fast, too soon. When an athlete uses their pulse as a guide for feedback I find it keeps them under control so they can actually run farther and longer. Over time, this progressive increase in volume leads to more mitochondria in the exercised muscles, more capillary beds, greater stroke volume in the heart, lower resting heart rates and faster running. The three main components for success in distance running is a high aerobic capacity, a high anaerobic-lactate threshold and running efficiency,  participation in cross country works on every one of these aspects. Over the years I have had a large number of 2 flat half milers that after working on their aerobic capacity got down into the low 1:50's.  Lydiard said it best when he said, "How many guys can run under 50 flat for the 400 in world?  Too big a number to count...however, no one has ever put two 50 flats back to back, so running fast in the 800 is not about speed it is about strength".

8)  You have had success coaching different events on the track ranging from sprinters to hurdlers/jumpers and distance runners.  What do you feel are the common components for success on the track disregarding event?
I think it is knowing and being able to recognize the three main ingredients for success in each event and then looking at the kid and trying to figure where he is strong and where is he weak.  Now work on all three in a well-designed training plan but pay particular attention to improving his/her weak aspect.

9)  Who are some of the athletes that you have coached that stand out and what were some of their accomplishments?
Lisa Lopez was a stand out runner in high school for Balboa, then at CCSF and the at Cal. Lisa was a state champion and then All American at Cal. Kathy D'Onofrio, did very well at CCSF then went on to win the Western States 100 and I believe Leadville. Kathy qualified for the 1992 Olympic Trials in the Marathon.  Honor Fetherston, state champion at CCSF in the 3000 then went on to qualify for the Olympic Trials in the marathon. Honor was the 1996 Master's Athlete of Year for road racing.  Tom Wood, a senior men's open athlete finished 10th at National XC Champions and made a USA World Cross Country team.  Jescia Casimir, was a three time California State Champion in the hurdles for me at CCSF. Jescia went on to be an All American at Cal State Hayward. Stephanie Vannicola was a state champ for me at Chabot in 99 in the 3000, then went on to a lot of local success on the roads.  I had a small part in helping David Klech and Justin Miller while their were in high school at California High.  I worked with David in high jump and got Justin to come to out for track to try the pole vault.  Both guys are amazingly talented!  James Attarian, state high school champ and Footlocker National Qualifier and Jeremy Grace at Dublin High.  Both guys were great friends and willing to do whatever it took to improve.  Together they finished off a great Summer training program and then took off during the 2007 cross country season. The highlight was when they went 1-8 at the state XC meet.

10)  What have been some of the biggest changes in terms of training distance runners that you have seen during your time as a coach?
Getting people to buy in that you don't get good overnight, that it is a long term process, and you cannot short cut it by running faster (anaerobic).  Over the years the depth of performances and number of kids running has dropped dramatically.  The field events still have a couple of good guys or gals but again the marks drop off quickly after number 1 or 2 on the list.

11)  What resources are out there for coaches that want to continue their education in their field?
The USA Track Coaches Education series.  It is very well designed. If you can get through the time commitment for the Level 1 course people we really enjoy level 2.  I would also encourage coaches to read everything you can get your hands on.  After a while you will see that consistently successful coaches may use different terms but they are all saying the same thing in their own unique language.  Read Bowerman, Lydiard, Daniels, and Vigil and in the end, you will see more similarities than differences.

Thank you very much for your time Ken!  AJC


Anonymous said...

What ever happen to James Attarian? I heard he went to CAL, but like so many good runners from the CCS/NCS region that went there they seem to have fizzed out and never heard of again.

Albert Caruana said...

This is the only thing I could find on the Cal website:

I am not sure if he is participating now.

Anonymous said...

Heard through the grapevine that after redshirting in 2009, he quit the XC team. Not sure why or if he is still in school at CAL. I was told this at the end of August. All unconfirmed though!!

Anonymous said...

Heard through the grapevine that after redshirting in 2009, he quit the XC team. Not sure why or if he is still in school at CAL. I was told this at the end of August. All unconfirmed though!!

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