Leigh Daniel Cordes
College Coach, Wife and Mom
Leigh Daniel Cordes is the Head Cross Country and Track and Field Coach at Lubbock Christian University. She is also the mom of three children under the age of 6! She juggles coaching and parenting along with her husband Nick Cordes, director of Cross Country, and Track and Field at LCU. She began running as a senior in high school, later attending Texas Tech and becoming a 9-time All American in track and cross country. During her college career she won 7 Big 12 Conference titles, and was a 2-time NCAA Champion in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. In 1999 Leigh won the 10,000 meters at the World University Games in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Like many women, Leigh's journey has been about finding balance in her life. As a head coach, a mother of three, and a wife, her story is one of courage, commitment, love, and joy.
As a very successful high school and college athlete, how did you make the transition from athlete to coach? What did you bring from your running career into coaching?
I think the most important thing I brought from my own racing and training into my coaching is empathy. I have been through tough races, injuries, sickness, relationship issues, and other aspects of life that a college athlete may encounter. I know what I felt like as an athlete, trying to get the most out of my running while dealing with lots of different things. As a coach I can be empathetic towards my athletes and share with them how I was able to deal with all of these issues and help them learn from my experiences. My favorite part of coaching is helping college kids walk through a time that can be very stressful, and encouraging them to stay positive.
Your husband is the Lubbock Christian University's director of cross country and track, Nick Cordes. As coaches, how do you both handle the time demands and stress of coaching and raising your family?
Well, our life can be a bit crazy. We have a sitter that comes at 5:30 a.m. on the weekdays to watch our kids while we are at practice. Then after practice we divide and conquer getting them ready for school/day care. We have Carsyn(6), Drew(5), and Masyn(2). Their ages make for a lot of chaos. Luckily, we are able to spend most afternoon/evenings together as a family because of our schedule. Nick and I try to get all recruiting, meetings, and planning done while the kids are at school. We both have our roles, and I am blessed to have a very hands on husband. He does everything from laundry to getting the girls' hair done. We have to be teammates or it would not work. We have had to learn over the last 11 years of coaching together how to have a good work dynamic. We have to compromise quite a bit as we are both strong willed. I do not like being told what to do; so Nick learned early on that he needed to ask me to do something, and not tell me! We love what we do and could not feel more blessed to be able to work together and do what we are passionate about.
"Love yourself and be confident in who you are. I am so much more comfortable in my own skin at 40 than I was at 20. If I felt this way at 20, I would definitely have been happier and made better decisions. If something hurts, take 2 days off. I make my runners do this all the time and it usually saves you from taking 6 weeks off. "
What advice would you give your younger runner self?
So much advice!! Trust God! Always trust God. He will not let you down and has a plan for you. . . I promise! Love yourself and be confident in who you are. I am so much more comfortable in my own skin at 40 than I was at 20. If I felt this way at 20, I would definitely have been happier and made better decisions. If something hurts, take 2 days off. I make my runners do this all the time and it usually saves you from taking 6 weeks off. Eat more good food and don't compare yourself to others.
As a high school runner, you battled eating issues. What perspective does this bring to your coaching of young athletes? What advice and information can you give to other coaches who have athletes who have eating issues?
I think my own eating issues have helped me a lot in coaching young athletes. Luckily, I was able to over come an eating disorder before I became a college runner, but it was still hard to stay healthy on the college team. In the 90s, college runners were trying to be as skinny as possible. I didn't want to starve myself, but I was definitely aware of my weight. I know I was not eating enough to supplement my training. I learned so much after college when I joined a professional team. The best women in the country were eating a lot of calories and making sure that they fueled properly. It completely changed how I looked at food and training, and helped me to become much healthier. If they were the best, then I wanted to do what they were doing. I actually became so much leaner when I ate enough of the right foods. We know so much more now about how eating too little will affect runners long term (amenorrhea, osteoporosis, depression, stress fractures). I'm so glad that athletes are now taught to fuel properly to be strong and lean, not stick skinny. It didn't work for very long the old way. We have become smarter. I do try to instill healthy attitudes toward food and weight in my athletes. I can spot a problem a million miles away. If you catch it early, it is so much easier to help them make healthy decisions about weight loss. We have a dietician who comes and talks about a good runner's diet to make sure that they understand how to eat to prevent fatigue and injury.
"Well, our life can be a bit crazy. We have a sitter that comes at 5:30 a.m. on the weekdays to watch our kids while we are at practice. Then after practice we divide and conquer getting them ready for school/day care. We have Carsyn(6), Drew(5), and Masyn(2). Their ages make for a lot of chaos. Luckily, we are able to spend most afternoon/evenings together as a family because of our schedule. Nick and I try to get all recruiting, meetings, and planning done while the kids are at school. We both have our roles, and I am blessed to have a very hands on husband. He does everything from laundry to getting the girls' hair done. "
What are the personal traits that you feel made you a national class runner? Where they instilled in you by a coach, or where they personality traits that were internal? If your traits were motivated by a coach how do you convey them to your current athletes?
I do think I am genetically wired to be a good runner. Running always came easily for me as a kid. I tend to be the type of person that is motivated to do things on my own. I would shoot baskets in my driveway for hours, hit on the backboard in tennis all afternoon and never miss a run or workout once I started running cross country. So, I did not need a coach to motivate or push me. Probably needed a coach to hold me back a bit! I do my best with a coach that is encouraging and believes in me. Therefore, I naturally coach my athletes that way (Nick can give them a kick in the butt if they need one!). I went through some tough times with my family as a kid and I think those experiences helped to make me more mentally tough in races.
Who is a key coach from your running career, and what coaching advice of theirs do you still use
I have been blessed to have a few great coaches. I happened to run my fastest times under Dave Smith (coach at Oklahoma State University for the last 15 years). He is a very smart guy and I think his approach to training worked well for me. He did a good job of giving me the right mileage and workouts but most importantly he listened to me and made sure I did not over train. He was very laid back and encouraging. It was a good mix for my high strung runner self. I use some of the workouts that we did (even though they are very commonly used). I have a few that I think are key for good training. I definitely learned that it is better to be slightly under trained than to be over trained and exhausted.
What keeps you passionate about coaching?
It never feels like a job. I love all aspects of running and helping the athletes reach their goals. There is no better feeling than watching one of my athletes run a PR and the joy that comes with that. I don't love the administrative side of things (Nick is much better with that) but I love the relationships and the cheering for my athletes in workouts and races.
What advice, if any, do you have for women contemplating a coaching career?
I would say, go for it! It is such a rewarding job. It can be a little tough to juggle having children and coaching but you can make it work. You just have to manage your time wisely. We are very lucky at LCU to have our kids around at practice, if it is in the afternoon, and sometimes our kids will travel to meets with us. I think college women could always use more female role models and it is easier for girls to come to a female coach about certain issues. I know there were things I could not talk to my male coach about. I hope that we will continue to see more women in head college coaching positions in the near future.
"It never feels like a job. I love all aspects of running and helping the athletes reach their goals.There is no better feeling than watching one of my athletes run a PR and the joy that comes with that. I don't love the administrative side of things (Nick is much better with that) but I love the relationships and the cheering for my athletes in workouts and races."
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