Thursday, November 29, 2018

Catching up with Vista del Lago coach, Robert Grove

Today we catch up with Division III state meet girls' team championship coach, Robert Grove (Vista del Lago).

1) What were your expectations before the meet? Where did you think your girls' could finish provided they ran well?
 We really tried to not concentrate on the outcome of the race as much as on our approach to the meet.  In any championship race, you need to have many things go right, and as few things go wrong as possible….and sprinkle in a little luck.  That said, our girls set a goal to win the State Championship right after getting second last year.  We knew we had a very strong returning team after last year’s second-place finish.  We also knew based on races from the season that we were going to be very competitive at the State Meet.  I had seen that Palos Verdes was ranked number one, and I knew they always are prepared for big meets.
So I felt strongly that if things went well, we could be on the podium, but I tried not to concentrate on winning.  I knew inside they were capable of winning if our 4, 5, 6, and 7 girls ran like they had been.  Our top three have been so strong, it would come down to what our next four did.  So I guess to answer the question, I believed we could win, but the girls had to really pull through….and they did.

2) How anxious were you considering the outdoor conditions in the past three weeks?
 I’m not going to lie, these last few weeks have been really stressful, and I lost a lot of sleep!  First, we lowered our volume going into our Section Meet only to find out the day before that the meet was moved one week.  So the week I planned to get in more volume, we had to balance with the fact that we still had to race the Section Championship.  We also had to move a couple of practices during the week to the school track at 5:45 am since our air quality was ok in the morning, then got worse in the afternoon.  There were a couple of days we could not run outside at all, so we sent the kids to the treadmills at their gym.  We also were very fortunate that a local gym, California Family Fitness, allowed our runners who did not have gym memberships to train there for free.  Then we didn’t even know if we were going to hold the meet until the morning of.  That was really stressful on our team as a whole since they were going to go to the Sub Section results to determine who would qualify for the State Meet, and our boys were fourth there.  I didn’t think that was fair to them.  So really, our training was less than ideal for the last three weeks, but our hearts go out to those affected by the fire.  It was hard to be upset that we couldn’t run when so many lost so much.

3) Where do you like to observe your runners at Woodward Park? What did you think as they went by (for boys and then girls)? Were you checking your phone for scoring updates?
 I have the same spots at Woodward that I have gone to for years.  I watch the start from behind the line.  Then I run across the bridge with the masses to just before the one-mile mark.  I watch them go out and then catch them as they come back.  Then I run to about 300 meters before the finish.  Not sure they even hear me with all the people, but I like to think they do.  The races go out so fast at State and there are so many great athletes that it is really hard to tell how the kids are doing within the race, other than how they are as compared to their teammates.  I tried to look at live splits, but I’m not sure if the cell coverage was bad, or what, but I didn’t get anything.  I’m also too far from the speaker to hear what is going on.  I could tell at just past two miles that all our kids, both boys, and girls, were running hard.  You could see the solid effort on their faces.  As a coach, that is all you can ask for.

4) What was the girl's team reaction when they found out they won? 
 When we finally found out the official results, they were beyond excited.  I’m not sure why, but it took a long time for the official results to come through.  Coaches were congratulating me, alumni were texting me that we had won, but I didn’t want to get excited until we heard the official results.  When I heard it was official, the girls were so happy….It is a moment they will never forget.

 5) Before we were unable to train outdoors, how did you feel about your season to date? What were some of the highlights?
We have had an incredible season.  Up and down the entire program from Frosh-Soph, JV, and Varsity.  I think one of the highlights for our team this season has to be the Pacific Tiger Invite in Stockton where we won every division.  Boy’s and Girls Frosh-Soph, JV, and Varsity races.  Six races and six team victories.  That one sticks out.  They all took pride in that as well.

6) Once your team was unable to train outdoors, what were you able to do? Were you able to do any running outdoors before the state meet aside from the section meet?
We were mostly lucky.  It could have been much worse.  We were able to run at 5:45 am before school a couple of mornings.  That took a lot of dedication from them.  They had to get up not knowing if we could practice and check their e-mails.  I woke up and checked air quality and made the decision if we could run outside or not.  Only a couple of days everyone had to run inside.  The morning practices didn’t give us a lot of time to talk with the kids, or for them to do any stretching or rolling after the run.  Many had to leave right away in order to get ready for school.  Plus they were up really early and running on some pretty cold mornings.  It showed their dedication….

7) How long have you been coaching at Vista del Lago (cross country and track and field)?
This is my 10th year coaching at Vista del Lago in both cross country and track and field.

8) What changes have you made to your training plan in the past few years that you feel has led to your team's recent success?
A few years back I began working with a coach for my own personal running, Tom “Tinman” Schwartz.  I still compete for the Hoka One One Aggies as a Masters/Senior runner.  He is well known due to the success he has had with so many athletes recently including Drew Hunter.  It is very similar to Loudoun Valley High School Coach Joann Hunter, who hired Tinman for her own running, and ended up changing the way she coaches high school kids.  He absolutely loves this sport and loves helping young athletes.  He really changed the way I looked at training and recovery.  We got away from too many high-intensity intervals.  We became more of a volume and stamina based program.  I believe it helps kids stay as healthy as possible, and is best for their long-term development.  To me, long-term development means beyond high school.

9) We know that head coaches can't get it all done alone. Who are the other adults that have also had an impact on your team's success?
 Yes, there is no way with the size of our team that I could do it alone.  We have two other coaches.  Brian Smith has been with us for 7 years.  He is there during our summer program since I work full time.  He also takes a  special interest in the young kids as they are learning about running.  But there is absolutely no way I could coach without my wife and Director of all Operations Liz Grove.  She handles all our paperwork.  She is a certified massage therapist and is our go to in terms of running-related injuries and prevention, and what to do when they occur.  I also feel that with a girls team, it is best to have a female presence.  There are just things that as a man I don’t understand at the level she does.  She is team Mom, team therapist, team organizer, and when things are too stressed, team prankster.  This team would not be what it is without her.  Not to mention it allows us to share something together that is really special.

10) Now that the season is finally over, how much of a break do you get before turning your attention to the track and field season? How important is it for cross country runners to race in the spring?
I began thinking about track season on the van ride home from the State Meet.  I have already written our winter training plan and had a general meeting with the team about it.  I’m also doing one on one meetings with some of our top kids in preparation for the winter training cycle.  I’m going to change a few things up this coming track season, and we will see how it goes.  To me, running is a year-round sport.  Each season leads into the next season.  When I was in high school, track was my favorite.  I love the team aspect of cross country, but it’s fun to have all that base work lead to personal records and accomplishments.  So to me, cross country is very important to have a good track season, and breakthroughs you have in track lead to better cross country seasons.

11) If you had some advice for other coaches, what would you say are the keys to coaching a successful cross country team?
The number one thing in my mind is that it has to be fun.  All coaches are fighting more and more distractions.  Distractions come from other sports, parents, friends, school administration, jobs, etc.  I have tried to make our program a safe and fun place to be.  Unless you love this sport, you are not going to do the work necessary to become better.  If you can create a safe, fun, family atmosphere, they will do just about anything for their teammates.

12) Anything else you would like to add.
One moment that will stay in my memory for a long time is a photo that was taken after the State Meet with our girls' team and the girls from Campolindo High School.  Since I have been coaching, we have gone to Humboldt Running Camp up at Humboldt State.  Some great teams are there every year.  Campolindo, Dublin, Monte Vista, North Lake Tahoe, etc.  So the kids get to know one another from being at camp together every year.  So in our D3 girls' race, we had two teams from camp on the podium.  The girls were all so excited for each other.  That photo to me really says a lot about this sport.  It really is about the relationships that are formed, and the friendships that will last a lifetime.
Thank you very much for your time Robert. AJC


Anonymous said...

Great to see good people who are good coaches have success, way to go Robert and all of the Vista staff and athletes!

Anonymous said...

Nice interview. How big is Vista Del Lago's girls team?

Albert Caruana said...

It looks like 23 girls.

Dan said...

I interviewed the team after their section win last year and it was the first time I ever spoke to Coach Grove. It was clear that he is absolutely in it for the right reasons and that the kids are very lucky to have him. I was also sitting there when they got the news they had one. I've got a few pics of their reactions and the one her referred to with Campo. I saw that again and again, teams coming together to congratulate each other after going to battle, one of the really cool aspects of our sport. Best of luck to the VDL team in the upcoming track season.

Albert Caruana said...

Dan, if you can email me that photo, I will be happy to add it to the interview.

Anonymous said...

Great article. Congrats VDL and Bobby Grove!!

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