Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Catching up with Bella Vista coach, Brett Sargent

Today we chat with Bella Vista HS (SJS) coach Brett Sargent.  In three years, Brett has turned Bella Vista from an average cross country program with 16 athletes to a team that now has both boys and girls qualified for this year's California State meet in Division II.  His boys' team is currently ranked 10th  Brett did not grow up running but instead delved in other sports so it's interesting to hear how he has evolved into a distance running coach.  
1)  What sports did you participate in during your youth?  Highlights?I played football, basketball, and baseball through my youth years.  The highlights include two trips to the National tournament in basketball with a third place finish the summer before my senior year.  I played on a team with the Mayor of Sacramento, Kevin Johnson.  I also left my alma mater, Del Campo, being the third leading scorer in the history of the school in basketball.  Needless to say, with the invention of the three point line I am no longer number three… haha.
2)  Who were your high school coaches and tell us a little about their impact on you?
My varsity basketball coach was also my Precalculus teacher my junior year and he had a great influence on me.  He was so inspiring that I became a basketball coach and a math teacher, following in his footsteps.  My high school baseball coach also had a great impact on me because he taught me the value of hard work and that it would eventually pay off.
3)  From your own experiences as an athlete, what do you feel you learned then that help you as a coach today?I learned that hard work and perseverance are the most important traits to success.  A little talent never hurt either.. haha.  I learned how to be a leader by playing sports as a youngster.  There is no better way to learn how to lead than to play sports and be a captain of a team.  It taught me how to get along with people and how to motivate people, which are key components to being a good coach.  From my days of training in triathlon I learned that it is better to be 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained… that sometimes merely getting to the line for a race is better than being injured and missing the race altogether.  That was a hard lesson for me to learn... I am a bit of a type A personality and I tended to overtrain.  In coaching I tend to error on the cautious side so that my runners will be lifelong runners and not just good high school runners who burn out after they graduate.
4)  What led you into teaching and coaching?  What do you teach and what sports have you coached?My experiences in high school and college athletics led me into coaching.  I started coaching my second year in college. I coached high school basketball at the JV level at my alma mater, Del Campo.    Over the next five years I coached JV basketball, freshmen baseball, and Varsity girls and boys volleyball.  I eventually moved to the community college level where I coached a men’s volleyball team at American River College that finished third in the state in my second year at the school.  I “retired” from coaching when my son was born in order to spend more time with my family.  When my son turned six he started racing triathlon and it was time to come out of “retirement” and coach again.  Along with my close friend, Jack Powless, we started the first kid’s triathlon team here in the Sacramento area.  I have taught math for 22 years and have been a math teacher at BV for 18 of those years.  I am also the co-department chair of the math department at BV.  I am a math teacher first and a coach second… most of the time…
 5)  How did you get involved with the Bella Vista HS XC and track programs?When my son entered BV as a freshman (2009) he was forced to make a decision between running and playing soccer, and he chose to run.  At that point I felt like I needed to get involved in the program here at BV and try to make it the most positive experience that I could for the runners in the program.  There were 12 boys and 4 girls on the team when I first got involved with the program, and my goal was to build as big and as competitive of a program as I could.  We now have 35 boys and 20 girls on the team and we are hoping to grow even more next year. 
6)  From when you started coaching to now, who would you include on your list of mentors?In my 30’s I started racing triathlon and was fortunate enough to meet some great people who are experts in training.  As I mentioned before I spent a lot of time with Jack Powless who has competed in fifteen or so Ironman triathlons.  I also had the privilege of training and racing with TBF (Total Body Fitness) owned by Mark Shaw and Bill Driskill.  I learned a great deal about training and racing as well as cross training from these gurus of the multi-sport world.  When I got the job at BV I was able to wrangle Harold Kuphaldt into helping me with the program.  He was a great runner here at BV and at the University of Oregon.  His enthusiasm and positive energy helped me create a fun team atmosphere to build the program.  Two years ago I was lucky enough to begin working with a new girls coach, Melanie Cleland.  She came on board, and after a bit of an adjustment period we have been able to work really well together.  Melanie is a very accomplished runner in her own right and is a master at writing training programs.  She works really well with both the boys and girls and has been an invaluable resource for me.  I give her tons of credit for our success this year! 
7)  What do you feel are your strengths as a coach?I believe my strengths as a cross country coach are my organization and willingness to learn at all times.  I pride myself on having our program run as smoothly as possible.  I send out many (too many some of our parents would say) emails with information on all things cross country.  We have a great team camp in the summer that I am in charge of, and our annual trip to Southern California also falls on my shoulders to organize.  My second strength as a coach is that I am always looking for a better way to do things to make my program a better place for the runners.  I recently spent an hour or so talking with the Woodcreek coach (Terri) about how they have built such a strong team, and came away with some great ideas about some changes I can make in my own program to encourage success in my runners.  Whether it be teaching math or coaching cross country, I am always looking for a better way to make my runners/students more successful. 
8)  Your boys won the Division II Stanford race while your girls finished in 2nd place in their race.  What do you feel have been the keys to getting your teams to compete at this high level?We are lucky here at BV to have a great situation where we have 8 varsity runners who all have similar ability at the top level of our team.  These kids have been training together for three years now, and run every day together as a unit.  It’s much easier to push yourself if you have people around you that you have to keep up with.  The girls team has a similar situation with 5 of the varsity girls running together for the past three years.  We train the boys and girls teams together to utilize the number of runners we have been able to bring onto the team.  That, paired with the great workouts that Coach Cleland devises has helped make us a much better team in the last two years.
9)  What are your summer expectations for your runners? We expect our runners to run on their own in June.  When we start in July we expect everyone to make practices and run with the team.  We are very conservative with our mileage because we are still building the program.  If you look at our top seven runners they average about 125 pounds (soaking wet) so we are more concerned about injury than we might be if our runners were 150-160 pound kids. We averaged about 50 miles a week in our larger volume weeks this summer.  We also try to get as many of the kids to go to camp as possible.  Team camp is a blast and allows the coaches to bond with the kids and the kids to bond with each other.  The camp has grown “exponentially” over the past three years.  We had 23 runners the first year I took over the camp, 33 the next, and 44 runners last summer.

10)  What does a typical week look like for your team (with a mid-week league race)? (with a Saturday Invitational)?
We usually have two hard workouts during the week with a Saturday race.  Usually Monday is a strength workout involving hills and/or longer intervals.  The second hard workout is a shorter, faster interval workout to build speed.  These workouts vary depending on the time in the season but follow this pattern later in the year.  We also try to get in a long run sometime during the week.   If we have a mid-week race we count that as our strength workout and have only one interval workout that week.  Pretty conservative by most coaches standards, but it has seemed to work for us.  We are hoping our kids will peak in college and not be “tapped out” by the end of their high school career.
11)  Tell us a little about your experiences racing triathlon as well as your son's experience in the sport. As I said before, I started racing triathlon in my early 30’s.  I wasn’t coaching but still had the desire to compete.  I swam competitively as a kid, and was riding my bike a lot so triathlon seemed the most natural choice for competition.  I completed many triathlons with my longest being a Half Ironman.  After following me around and watching me race my son thought he would like to try one.  At the age of six Brynn raced his first triathlon.  It was hysterical to watch him swim one length of a pool, ride one mile, and run around the track one time for the total length of a triathlon!  At age seven, Brynn won the Ironkids National Championship and we realized that he might be pretty good at this.  We spent six more years traveling around the country watching him race triathlon.  It was a great time… and we were able to see the country!
12)  Anything else you would like to add.Thanks so much for allowing me this opportunity to introduce everyone to our program.  We are proud of what we have built here at BV.  A special thanks to the awesome parents that have supported our program and allow the coaches to work with their kids.  We have a great group of parents here at BV!
Thank you very much for your time Brett!  AJC


Andrew said...

wow, I've never met the guy, but that's pretty cool he's had such great success with a small, but growing team and his lack of background in running. I learn so much reading these, Albert.

Haha, I love his comment about the 3-point line.

Anonymous said...

Bella Vista has come a long way under Brett - especially their girls team. He is obviously doing something right. Great article. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Knowing his son's involvement in USATF, I'd love to hear Brett's perspective on USATF club programs and how he feels they work with athletes before and during their high school years-especially now as a high school coach.

hank said...

Say Brett, will Harold be at the State meet? If so, have him look up the Los Altos team (which will be there) where Charles Alexander (yup, the same one) will be there as the assistant coach. Would be great to get a pic of Charles & Harold together some 30 years later.



BV Coach said...

While I would say that I had a hand in getting the girls program started again, it has truly been Melanie who has gotten it to the level it's at now! She has been great for the girls and they really respond to her. She deserves most of the credit.

BV Coach said...

Anonymous: my son has been involved in USATF since he was around 8 and he had some great experiences in that program! He was lucky enough to get hooked up with some great clubs that had great coaches and he really enjoyed it. As far as high school goes, it has been much tougher keeping him in USATF. It's hard to do JO's in the summer when he is trying to get base mileage in for cross country. I know plenty of kids who do it, but he has chosen to focus on his high school running. He prefers to run with his high school buddies so he puts emphasis on that. USATF in general has given him many great memories and I would recommend it for anyone who is thinking about starting their kids in running. Just my humble opinion...

BV Coach said...

Hank... I will let Harold know. He will definitely be at Clovis for State Championships.

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