The 800 And 1500 Meters: Racing Fast And Controlled

By Rick Kantola

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Coach: ask yourself the questions outlined in this report and see what your responses would be. Do you stand with the majority? Have your own ideas? In any event, these are familiar situations that confront every coach and must be handled effectively.

 

INTRODUCTION

    You're a high school coach. A new parent comes to you and says: "I've got great news for you. My son's the best hurdler in the state, and he's coming to your school. He trains with his private coach, so he won't be making practices, but he'll get to all your meets and earn a lot of points for you."
    A senior girl tells you, "I've been nominated for Senior Princess, so I'll miss practice on Tuesday to rehearse the ceremony, and I'll miss the meet on Saturday because I have an SAT to take. Then on Wednesday, I have community service at the Food Bank. And, oh yeah, I have an SAT prep classes on Monday and, actually, also on Thursday."
    Your fastest sprinter announces: "I don't like running 400s. If you put me in the 4x400, I won't run."

    Your athletic director says: "We have two swimming coaches and they have 90 swimmers. You only have 60 kids, and you tell me you need five coaches. How can I justify that?"
    Experienced high school coaches are familiar with these types of dilemmas and have developed policies for managing them. Newer coaches, even those who think they are clear in their own philosophies and expectations, are often caught by surprise by the nuances and complexity of team management issues.

Gymboss Timers


    In order to assess how experienced high school coaches manage their teams and the expectations they hold for their athletes, we conducted a survey of high school coach participants at the 2004 USATF Level II coaches school held in Starkville, Mississippi. In addition to requesting information about the size and staffing of each team, we asked each coach to respond to nine case studies exploring common problems in team management.

 

TEAM INFORMATION

SURVEY PARTICIPANTS
    Twenty-six coaches responded to the survey:

STAFFING

    On average, the teams in our survey have 5.2 full-time coaching equivalents per team (counting all part-time coaches as 1/2 of a full-time equivalent). The teams average 17.2 athletes per full-time coach. More than half of the teams (14) are coached by a combination of full- time and part-time coaches. Twelve teams have no part-time coaches.
Twenty-five of the 26 schools are co-ed. Teams are evenly split between those that have a single head coach for both genders (13) and schools that have separate head coaches (12). In all but three of the co-ed teams, event coaches work with both genders.

    Event coaching responsibilities are shared in a wide variety of patterns. Twenty-two of the 26 coaches provided descriptions of the responsibilities of each of their coaches.

    Several coaches noted the importance of getting firm time commitments from part-time coaches. Part-time coaches who are unable to attend practices at regular times or are unable to arrive on-time may hinder as much as help.

ATTENDANCE RULES

    Twenty-three schools describe themselves as expecting "every day" attendance, unless excused, yet one highly experienced coach admitted that "rules set in stone often turn to rubble." Consequences for unexcused absences include assigning managerial duties, suspension from meets, and being cut from the team. Suspension from meets on the week of an unexcused absence was the most common consequence.
    Six programs set specific limits on unexcused absences: one cuts athletes after the 2nd unexcused absence; four after the 3rd unexcused; one after the 4th unexcused.
    One coach allows three missed personal days, with no excuse required, and another has a 15% sick day/personal day allowance. The latter coach explains, "Athletes can have very good excuses for missing half of our practices. In the end, it doesn't matter if the excuse is good or not. If they're not getting there, they're not getting it done."

   

MULTI-SPORT ATHLETES

    Most coaches acknowledge difficulties with athletes who participate in other sports during the track season, whether they be other spring-season school sports or a club sports. Coaches noted problems both with scheduling and injury risk.

    In general, track coaches are more encouraging to multiple- sports athletes than are their peers from other sports. Twelve coaches reported that coaches of other sports at their schools encourage participation in track; 10 reported that other coaches do not encourage participation; three reported that "some" do. All 26 track coaches reported that they encourage their athletes to participate in other sports.

 

ADDITIONAL TEAM INFORMATION

CASE STUDIES

    Coaches on our panel were asked to answer questions concerning nine hypothetical cases. A summary of responses accompanies each case description.

 

CASE 1:

    A talented, freshman athlete is missing practice one to two times per week for a variety of reasons. You learn that on one occasion she has actually gone to the mall with friends, when she said she had a medical appointment. You would be most likely to:

    Please answer separately for a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd occurrence.

1) Allow her to continue to make her own choices.

2) Provide encouragement and motivation but take no disciplinary action.

3) Reprimand her but take no further disciplinary action

4) Require her to perform additional running/maintenance work/ calisthenics as punishment.

5) Give her a warning.

6) Suspend her from the team temporarily. (How long?)

7) Cut her from the team immediately.

8) Other. Please explain: Would your answers to the above questions be different if the girl were a junior? Would your answers be different if the girl was a below-average performer?

Summary of Case 1 responses:

CASE 2:

    You have a girl on your team who is 5'5" tall and weighs 87 pounds. She has a satisfactory athletic physical on file, but you suspect that she has an eating disorder. You would be most likely to:

1) Respect her privacy and allow her to continue to make her own choices.
2) Discuss the situation with her and allow her to make her own choices.
3) Discuss the situation with her parents and allow them to make their own decision.
4) Require that she provide a doctor's permission before continuing with track.
5) Require her to maintain her current weight. (If so, would you weigh her at practice yourself
6) Cut her from the team immediately.
7) Other. Please explain:

Summary of Case 2 responses:

    Without having observed the girl inducing vomiting:

    After having seen the girl induce vomiting:

CASE 3:

    You have a talented athlete who wishes to train exclusively with his private coach. You would be most likely to:

1) Allow him to practice exclusively with the private coach and still compete with your team.

2) Require that he attend some team practices in order to compete. (How many?)

3) Require that he attend all team practices in order to compete.

4) Other. Please explain

Summary of Case 3 responses:

CASE 4:

    You have an athlete who has refused to complete a workout. You would be most likely to: Please answer separately for a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd occurrence.

1) Allow her to continue to make her own choices.

2) Provide encouragement and motivation but take no disciplinary action.

3) Reprimand her but take no further disciplinary action.

4) Require her to perform additional running/maintenance work/ calisthenics as punishment.

5) Warn her that further refusals will result in her being removed from the team.

6) Suspend her from the team temporarily. (How long?)

7) Cut her from the team immediately.

8) Other. Please explain:

Summary of Case 4 responses:

CASE 5:
    A new coach in your league plans to require every athlete on his team to run at least one 4x400 relay during the season, including all jumpers, throwers, and distance runners. You consider this policy to be (check all that apply):

1) Cruel 1
2) Unrealistic 15
3) No big deal either way 5

4) Brave 0

5) Smart 3

6) Naive 6

7) Harmful 2

CASE 6:
    An incoming athlete on your team has a parent who wants to volunteer to help with coaching. You know that the parent was a successful track athlete in college, but you know nothing else about her. You would be most likely to:

1) Invite her to help coach. 1
2) Interview her to see how she would fit with the team before making a decision. 19
3) Allow her to help coach; but restrict her to working only with other athletes than her son. 1
4) I do not allow parents to volunteer coach. 1

CASE 7:
    You are nearing the end of a close meet that will be decided by the outcome of the 4x400 relay. A healthy athlete whom you need to win the race refuses to run. You would be most likely to: Please answer separately for a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd occurrence.

1) Allow him to continue to make his own choices.
2) Provide encouragement and motivation but take no disciplinary action.
3) Reprimand him but take no disciplinary action
4) Require him to perform additional running/maintenance work/ calisthenics as punishment.
5) Warn him that future refusals will result in his being cut from the team.
6) Suspend him from the team temporarily. (How long?)
7) Cut him from the team immediately.
8) Other. Please explain:

Summary of Case 7 responses:

CASE 8:

    You are a head coach, and you have a new sprint coach on your team. Six weeks into the season, he has the entire sprinters group run 3 sets of 3x200 meters with 5 minutes of rest between sets and a 200 meter walk between intervals, all at 90%+ speed (1800 meters total). Several parents and athletes complain that this workout is too hard. You would be most likely to:

1) Support the coach as the workout is not too hard. 9

2) Support the coach even though you agree the workout is too hard. 4

3) Support the coach as you do not know whether or not the workout is too hard. 0

4) Suggest to the coach that he reduce the yardage but leave it up to him. 8

Recommendations:

5) Fire the coach unless he agrees to make major changes, as the workout is much too hard. 0

CASE 9:
    One of your athletes has cursed at an official. You would be most likely to: Please answer separately for a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd occurrence.

1) Leave any discipline up to the official.
2) Reprimand the athlete but take no disciplinary action.
3) Withdraw the athlete from the meet.
4) Require the athlete to perform additional running/maintenance work/calisthenics as punishment.
5) Warn the athlete that additional incidents will result in his being cut from the team.
6) Suspend the athlete from the team.
7) Cut the athlete from the team immediately.
8) Other. Please explain:

Summary of Case 9 responses:

CONCLUSIONS

    All coaches want to help troubled athletes, especially those who are talented and who may find success and personal development from athletics. Coaches must also be aware that in making allowances or exceptions for individuals they may sacrifice team values concerning attendance, training intensity, willingness to sacrifice for team success, and personal conduct. Through the latter decades of the 20th century, the emphasis in many track programs shifted to development of the individual, often at the cost of weakening overall programs. The pendulum now seems to be swinging in the direction of requiring more conformity to team standards.
    Especially in an environment where rules and expectations are changing, it is especially important that coaches communicate clearly with athletes and tier the severity of consequences for rules violations. One coach noted that "even when you think they're listening, half your team won't be." Expectations must be communicated clearly and must be repeated.
    As one coach remarked: "Team rules require enforcement. Communicate expectations clearly each day. By the end of their freshman season, athletes decide if they are with us or not. Our traditions allow for fun, flexibility and an unparalleled standard of work."

FROM TRACK COACH 170


If you would like to receive more complete results of the survey or to present a different case study scenario to our panel of coaches, please email rick@kantola.com.

 

 

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