Friday, July 06, 2012

Catching up with Trabuco Hills coach, Liam Clemons...

Today we chat with Trabuco Hills HS coach, Liam Clemons (photo to the left courtesy of  During the fall, Liam's boys varsity team won their 2nd state meet title (also won in 2006) in the uber competitive Division I.  The previous week, they finished 4th in the Southern Section meet behind Arcadia, Rancho Cucamonga and Great Oak.  For his team's accomplishments, Liam was named CIF Southern Section 2011 fall boys cross country coach of the year by the California Coaches Association.  In high school, Liam ran at Del Campo HS for the legendary Bob King and was a team member on the 1995 state championship team.  

1)  What sports did you participate in before and during high school?
I have been an athlete most of my life. I started as a gymnast in the 2nd grade and competed in the all-around and rings until I started high school. I started running cross country in high school when Bob King recruited me from P.E.. I thought he meant skiing, but I stayed anyway. I was a varsity runner at Del Campo High School starting in my sophomore year. I have now been a competitive runner for over 20 years.

2)  Who were your most influential coaches for you and what did you learn from them that have helped you today as a coach?
Personally, I learned a great deal from Bob King. He taught me the value of hard work and showed me that anything is possible if I am willing to stay the course. King was tough, but he understood that we were all tougher than we thought we were. I try to show my runners the same thing. When everyone else seemed to be slamming high mileage in the 90's, we consistently put in over 80 mpw. I had several weeks in high school that were in the 95-mile range.

In college, I was largely influenced by Jean Snuggs and Rick Anderson at American River College. They both helped me gain confidence and improve my tactics. I still use workout that I learned from Rick and Jean was the first coach that really opened my eyes to mental training.

3)  What led you into teaching and coaching?
I never considered coaching until I started doing it. I had been a photojournalist for a newspaper in NorCal until I was laid off. I moved south to Orange County to live with my wife's family and was introduced to her high school coach, Jack Recla. He said he needed an assistant, I said I would give it a shot, and here we are. Once I started coaching, I found that I enjoyed working with teens and helping them reach their goals. I saw an opportunity at Trabuco Hills to start building a program that kids would want to be a part of. After my first year as a head coach in 2004, I was hooked and decided to get my teaching credential.

4)  Tell us a little about your first experience (year) coaching and what you learned from that experience?
My first year was very interesting. I was an assistant, charged with coaching the kids who had the least potential. I had never really considered how to motivate kids who were not already motivated, so I just started making up inspirational stories and having them play games every day at practice. I am a very competitive guy, so I set a goal of having my group of mostly the slower freshmen shake up the roster and do some damage at the end of the season. I was surprised how quickly the boys and girls bought into what we were trying to do and I think that is what really peaked my interest. By the end of the season kids from my group were scoring on the freshman teams and having a blast.

I think that season taught me that the word "talent" is pretty much worthless with respect to high school kids. When the athletes are motivated and having fun they will work hard and that is what really matters.

5)  During your coaching tenure, who have been your coaching mentors?
That is probably a long list. I think of myself as a sponge; I never stop absorbing new ideas from other coaches. I have learded a lot from reading the "classics": Daniels, Vigil, Bowerman and Dillinger, and of course Lydiard. I have also learned a great deal from reading what Hudson and McMillan discuss; their new-school approaches that combine a lot of aerobic training and supplementary spots-science.I have also had the opportunity to listen to some great coaches at the LA84 clinics, which really helped me organize things in the early going.

I spent time talking to Pat Tyson and I really identified with his playful spirit and enthusiasm. His organizational skills are great and I definitely took a lot from our conversations. I am fortunate to coach in a league with some great mentors. I get schooled every year by Tim Butler of Dana Hills and Rick Hagin of El Toro. Even when we have beaten them, I take note of how they operate. Both have had amazing success and have very different programs.

Lastly, I would be remiss to not mention Hartzell Alpizar. He has been assisting me for the last few years and has truly been a blessing. His experience running at UCLA in the 70's and his 30+ years of coaching in Long Beach have added a lot to my program. He is also probably the kindest person I have ever met and constantly reminds me what is really important in life.

6)  As for as summer training goes, what are your expectations for your runners?
I expect my runners to report to our summer practices on July 9 in shape. I run a year-round program and I expect my runners to train year round. Our first practice is a brutal 12-mile run through the local foothills. There are no water stops and no short cuts. It is usually 85+ degrees by the end of the run, so they know they need to be prepared. My goals for summer are pretty simple: build the team, build the base, build the knowledge base, and have fun.

Attendance is mandatory for all returning runners and, although there are vacations and what not, I think 90% of the team is there most of the summer.

7)  During the season, what does a typical week look like with a Saturday invitational?  Mid-week race?  Mileage for varsity runners?  Key workouts?
In-Season weeks are all pretty similar. IT depends on the point in the season, but milage is consistently around 70 mpw.

Monday - Long run 12-15 miles
Tuesday - Aerobic run of 8-10 miles with 200m repeats
Wednesday - Intervals, Fartlek or hills (4x1600m w/ 1 min rest or 8x1000m @ 2:45-3:10)
Thursday - Threshold Run: 20 min warm up, 20 min threshold, 20 min cool down
Friday - Recovery Run 6-10 miles
Saturday - Race (Total mileage of 12-15 miles)
Sunday - Optional 4-6 mile run

8)  With the rugged competition in the Southern Section, what do you feel are the keys to preparing your runners to race well over the final month of the season?  What changes in terms of training during that final month?
I think callousing is the most important factor. They need to be conditioned to race hard every week. We never take a race easy, but we might pack run in varying configurations. I do not change much over the last month with the exception of challenging the varsity guys to run faster in their intervals and increase the mental energy a little. I do not taper much, but we will drop to about 55 miles the week of the state meet. I also use down weeks once a month. That is a 15% reduction in volume to help the guys recover and adapt to the training.

9)  Your team finished 4th at the SS meet and then leapfrogged those 3 teams to claim the state championship the following week.  Was that a surprise or just a matter of running a better race at state?
Simply put, it was a matter of peaking and confidence. We ran almost an identical race at the Clovis Invitational. The difference was that some of our key guys were healthier at the State Meet and that helped our confidence. I figured some of the other teams would try to do too much too early in that race and that if we stayed tightly packed and weathered the fast early pace, we could pull away over the last mile. The guys bought into it and the rest is history. I think the other key factor is that I never stress the CIF SS meet. I just don't talk it up much and we train right through it.

10)  What have been some of your proudest achievements at Trabuco Hills HS?
Well, I think the two state titles are among my favorite achievements. I am most proud of those because of how we won, not just because we won. I have to say that what brings me the greatest sense of accomplishment is walking out to practice and seeing a team that is more like a big family than anything else. I know we are producing quality citizens who will make a difference in the world.

11)  Tell us a little about coaching Jantzen Oshier and what led to his spectacular senior season in track?
Coaching Jantzen was a blast at times and caused me to loose a lot of hair! He and I developed such a strong relationship over the four years that his senior season was really more of a culmination of all the work we did over our whole time together than just one amazing season. He and I were on the same page that year and we both knew what the other was expecting. I wanted him to be honest with me at all times and he wanted me to guide him to and through the big efforts we were peaking for.

His workouts were amazing and he did all the little things to prepare himself for each and every race. I don't think that people around the country really appreciated how hard he worked because he seemed to make it look easy on race day. He was unbeaten up to the Adidas Grad Prix and he accomplished every goal we had set for him that season. That doesn't happen by accident or luck.

In the end, we didn't even look at times anymore. We just focused on his timing and his effort. He wanted to race for something more than time and I was happy to help.

12)  If you could identify the key factors to leading a successful cross country program, what would those be?
That is an easy one. #1 is create a culture. It has to work with your personality and your demographics, but you have to do something to establish a culture at your school that your runners can identify with and participate in. #2 is service. I don't coach to make young men win me titles, I coach in service to young men who have decide to chase titles. #3 Be adaptable and learn from those who kick your butt. I think that one is self explanatory. #4 Don't sacrifice your principles to win. If a fast kid is a turd, treat him like a turd and not a fast kid. In the end, your program will benefit.

13)  What are the primary differences in training between cross country and track and field?
The biggest difference for me is the frequency of hard efforts. I will usually trade in the long run for an additional interval session in track. Is it ideal? No, but with two meets a week and a very competitive league, I figure that we can sacrifice some volume for intensity for at least part of the season. There is also a heavy focus on the individual and a diminished sense of team. In some ways that is good, but it can hurt a larger program like ours at times. I always tell the kids that Cross Country is where you learn to love running, but track is where you learn to race.

14)  Anything else you would like to add.
I think the best advice I can give any coach is to forget the word pride and have some fun. I want to mold and mentor young men who go on to do great things, but I also want them to realize that life should be enjoyed. I see so many coaches at meets who are taking themselves way to seriously. Lighten up, play a little frisbee and joke around with your athletes. Love your doing job more than winning.

Liam Clemons
Head Coach Boys' Cross Country / Track & Field
Boys' & Girls' Distance Coach
Biology Teacher
Trabuco Hills High School

Run to Live. Live to Run

1 comment:

Coach Small said...

Excellent interview Albert!

A few of my favorites:

"Don't sacrifice your principles to win. If a fast kid is a turd, treat him like a turd and not a fast kid. In the end, your program will benefit."

"Cross Country is where you learn to love running, but track is where you learn to race."

"Love doing your job more than winning."

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