Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Catching up with Harvard-Westlake HS coach, Tim Sharpe...

Today we chat with Harvard Westlake Cross Country and Track and Field coach, Tim Sharpe.  You may have first heard of HW during the Collins twins (Jason and Jarron) era before they headed to Stanford University and the pros.  Tim started to coach at HW in 2003 and his team and individual accomplishments have been most impressive.  Under his tutelage, Harvard-Westlake has won a girls' cross country state team championship (2009 in Division IV).  Cami Chapus was the individual state cross country champion in 2009 and 2010.  His teams have won two other XC state meet plaques with a 2nd place finish for the boys in 2010 and a 3rd place finish for the girls in 2011.  Amy Weissenbach was a three time state champion in the 800m. and recorded a California and NFHS record 2:02.04 in 2011.  Cami Chapus was a 1600m. state champion on the track and recorded PRs of 4:38.02 and 10:19.47.

1)  What was your own athletic experience in your youth/high school?
- I played a variety of sports growing up... Baseball, track, swimming, soccer, karate, football, hockey (I grew up in Michigan)... And ultimately settled on my best/favorites track and swimming throughout middle school and into high school, though. At some point, it was clear that I was more elite at swimming & was encouraged by my coaches to pursue it exclusively. It was a good decision as I was able to earn a full scholarship for swimming at Wayne State University. I heavily used running as extra cross training during my college career & my roommate/teammate was a former distance runner as well ;)
- I feel very strongly that the lessons I learned doing sports... commitment, delayed gratification, goal setting, perseverance, character... were largely cemented during those years. Great gifts indeed.
- looking back it seems I remember the friendships & camaraderie through tough practices more than anything (it seems like we were always sore!)... That said, it was the high school state meets that were the strongest memories. There is just a magic to a state meet & the sense of accomplishment with the team.

2)  Who were the coaches that really made a difference for you to this day?
- it's ironic, but the coach I feel most grateful for I didn't fully appreciate at the time. Coach Thornton was a tough son of a gun who constantly challenged & pushed us to our limits. There was no such thing as being late, undisciplined, unsportsmanlike, not giving your all, as the consequences were close to unbearable. But I will say this, we all improved... consistently. Every peak ended in huge personal bests. His way may not be the PC way of doing things now a days, but somehow we always knew that he cared for us, though he showed his softer side rarely. I know now that was his way of caring for us, by saving us from any season ending without the satisfaction of great personal improvement. I carry that same deep passion, but in my own way.
   There were a number of others over the years that made important contributions to the "tool box" that I use today... But, if I may, I would like to add Jonas Koolsbergen the head coach of our track & field program at Harvard Westlake, as I've learned a great deal from him as a coach, peer, and mentor... And of course Quincy Watts & Joanna Hayes who have helped me hone my eye for the finer details of sprint mechanics, elite sequencing of pieces for 400 training & laughing so hard I'm sore the next day.

3)  Did you compete in college?  
- As mentioned above, I went to college on a swimming scholarship. What can I say... I loved competing in college!

4)  What led you into teaching and coaching?
- A couple years after college, I moved to CA. Several years later, with my background in both swimming and running at some point, I began working with triathletes (among many things). Many of them encouraged me to try one. What a joy to merge the endurance sports I loved. To this day, I still wish I'd discovered triathlons right out of college. This would heavily influence my ideas about cross training benefits between endurance sports.  I can't say that coaching was the ultimate goal, but as I went further down the path there was an "aha" moment where I got it, and I felt a very real sense of calling.
What do you teach?
- I'm not employed as a teacher.

5)  What was your first coaching job?
- I actually co-founded a swim club in MI, that grew out of some swim lessons I was teaching.
What did you learn from that experience?
- There was a lot of learning, & I was blessed with some early success.  I think I learned that young athletes are quite unique and as such require varied approaches to help them get the most out of their work. It was this experience that began my journey to define what the coach-athlete relationship was... I think that it obviously evolves and changes over time, but at a very young age it is easy to fall into a place where you don't really listen to your athletes, and aren't sensitive enough to know how to alter the plan to suit the particular needs of the individual, while still moving the direction of the whole team forward.

6)  How long have you been at Harvard Westlake HS?
- I first started coaching for HW in 2003. There was a break of 3years after '06 & I returned in 2009. All told, this is the 7th year for me now. It'll be the beginning of my 8th yr this summer :)
 Have you coached anything else besides XC and TF?
- Swimming and triathlons.

7)  What was the state of the distance program when you took it over?
- When I first started... there was not much history of success at the CIF level, especially as a team. There had been a few standout individuals. The cross country team had never made it to the state meet.
What did you immediately change?
- When I arrived, there was not a belief that we could be successful at the CIF level and beyond, and there was no organized summer routine. So I began to try to alter what the athletes thought was possible. I came in and said it is possible to go to CIF and do well there... AND go to the state meet. I'm fairly certain several of them thought I was a nice fellow with lots of enthusiasm, but a crazy man just the same.  Little by little though, there were a few that believed & we began the transformation. I was fortunate enough to have athletes like Jared Bell, and Anna Farias-Eisner who embodied what we were striving for in those early years.

8)  What are your expectations for your runners in the summer?
- We have the runners to do a three week build up on their own before we begin meeting Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays & Saturdays following the 4th of July each year. They must keep detailed running logs so that we can better train them as individuals, and build their volume safely. Saturdays we always try to go somewhere fun, like the beach, a park, some new trail & follow the workouts with treats & games... So I would say we also expect some fun! We have a yearly training trip to Big Bear every August that is always a highlight & one of the best parts of every year.
How often do you meet with them?
- answered above ;)

9)  What does a typical week look like for your runners late September/early October with a Saturday Invitational?
- A typical week would be something like:
Monday- dedicated to technique and some speed.
Tuesday- LT
Wednesday- GC or tempo (General Conditioning is what we call aerobic).
Thursday- meet, race pace, or VO2max, or some other anaerobic/aerobic mix
Friday- pre-meet, GC or Rec. as required
Saturday- like Thursdays
Sundays are long runs on their own.
--- we encourage more experienced runners to do mornings 1-3 times per week (depending on ability) on their own or with a group that meets before school as an option.

10)  What do you change as you get closer to November and closer to the section and state meets?
- We cut back on the number of key workout days by one. There is some reduction in volume... More focused race paced work & sharpening.

11)  When it comes to coaching boys and girls, what do you differently training wise?
- Mostly how I communicate with them... I do find that girls seem to be able to train at a rate that is higher than would be suggested by their current race bests.  There is also a slight difference in recovery ability that I adjust for prior to starting a peak.

12)  Tell us a little about coaching Cami Chapus and Amy Weissenbach and their progression in high school.  What did you learn as a coach?
- Well now... How long do we want this article to be!  Let me start by simply saying that those were some exceptional girls in so many ways... Hard workers, team first attitudes, great character. I'm very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Cami and Amy.
   Amy's speed started showing sophomore year.  She still clearly had a large range and we worked to form a training plan that was balanced and made sense given her particular strengths.  Sometimes you have to let a young persons abilities evolve as they grow and then alter the plan accordingly. She became fantastic at executing specific race plans... one of my favorite strengths of hers. Another strength she developed was a terrific kick... that and evolving into a fierce & feared 4x400 anchor.
   Cami was mostly a soccer first girl when she started high school. So her progression involved discovering her passion for running the first couple years.  After that she kinda took off. She embraced the training and showed a tremendous range as well.  One of the most amazing strengths Cami developed was her ability to triple at a high level on often very short rest. This requires both a physical and mental toughness, and no one did it better.  For example. Her junior year at state, she had won the 1600, went gutsy 10:29 in the 3200 and 30min later split 55 on the relay. Still makes me go "wow".
  What did I learn... The sky is the limit. After outdoor nationals in North Carolina during the girls sophomore year was when I first started believing we could get the national record in the DMR. It's sort of a joke among my fellow coaches at HW to refer to me as the Mayor of Crazy Town. I'm a big believer in dreaming big, but you also have to be measured about it. It was only shared amongst us coaches at first, but as the time neared we all felt we had a shot and got all four ladies in on the deal.  Trust your instincts but never be afraid of seeking help. Always be learning, reading, and be on the cutting edge of the current research regarding training. And have a mentor that you trust.

13)  What is your advice for a young coach who is starting out with a new program and has his site on competing well at the state level?
- I think, going back to my own experience, just believe that greatness is possible. The kids pick up on our thoughts as coaches, so if we don't believe it, they won't either. Also, get to know each athlete.  It really helps to know what they love, what inspires them. And then they know you care about them. It is a group experience and, as much as possible, team & coach need to be aligned in the same direction.

14)  The XC state meet seems to get more competitive each year.  What do you think are the reasons for the increased depth of fast times?
- You know... I'm not entirely sure, but it feels like better competition breeds better competition I s'pose. It's the chicken or the egg type question I think. One thing that I feel is we are all part of this time, this movement where the overall quality of distance running in America is on the rise again & I love that I'm lucky enough to be coaching while its happening.

15)  Anything else you would like to add.
- Just thank you for inviting me to do this... I feel truly honored.

Thank you very much for your time Tim!  AJC

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