The Women's Running Coaches Collective Talks Track and Field
@ the Nike NW HS Track and Field Clinic
Nike World Headquarters
January 12, 2019
L to R - Moderator Helene Hutchinson, Coaches Christi Smith-Ryan, Kathy Mills Parker, Christina Whitney, Nikki Rafie, Charlotte Lettis Richardson,
Robyn McGillis, Melissa Hill (taking photo!)
Part 2 - WRCC Panel Discussion @ the Nike NW Track and Field Clinic
The WOMEN'S RUNNING COACHES COLLECTIVE proudly presented "Women Coaches Talk Track and Field" - a panel of women coaches at the Nike NW HS Track and Field Clinic held at the Nike World Headquarters on January 12th, 2019. This incredible panel of women coaches came from all areas of track and field, and running. They included a former World Record holder, a NCAA Hepthalon Champion, one of the foremost hurdle coaches in the state of Oregon, a coaching veteran of 45 years, a marathon coaching specialist, a young and successful HS XC Coach, and a creator of Runner2Runner. Each shared their experiences, knowledge, and wisdom of being a female coach in a sport that is dominated by male coaches. They shared information about coaching and mentoring young athletes. Below is part 2 of the panel discussion. The topics range from competition anxiety, two sport athletes, coaching when you have small children, training plans for groups and individuals, engaging and getting athletes committed, finding the perfect 800 runner, and creating memorable moments with your team.
Coach Melissa Hill hurdling at Texas Tech c. 1980
What kind of advice could you give coaches for athletes who are doing a second sport during track and field, and cross country?
Communication between both sets of coaches and the athlete is key to making a successful two sport athlete. Coaches need to be diligent to communicate and work with the other coach and athlete to coordinate workouts. The last thing you want to do is overwork (leading to possible injury) an athlete. Make sure your athlete has an easy day after a hard effort. Checking daily morning heart rate is an easy way to check an athlete’s readiness for hard efforts.
We all want these kids to be healthy. This is high school. We want it to be fun! If there is a problem, address it with the athletes, parents and coaches. Keep them all involved! - Melissa Hill, Youth and Club Coach in Cross Country, Track and Distance Running
Coach Robyn McGillis
How involved should you be with the middle school programs in both track and field and cross country?
Being in touch with those middle school groups can greatly impact your program. Coming from a private school, Central Catholic on the east side of Portland, we are not as connected to some of those programs. We don’t have a feeder system directly to us. So it is actually a challenge. But just having the kids aware of your program, by word of mouth, is important. I have a youngster in the CYO program and I have been around those meets more and more. That’s been helpful because people see me. My daughter runs and so her friends know that I am a coach. So that gives me a purview into the world of middle school coaching and connections.
Schools that have middle school programs –
It helps introduce kids to the sport of track and field and cross country a little earlier, and it helps develop a love for it. You see what a more robust program at the middle school level can do. They are doing things like the Dynamic Warm Up.You are seeing kids that are a little better prepared, a little stronger, more ready for the rigors of the sport, ready for more mileage.They are more prepared athletically.
On coaching when you have small children –
When I started coaching, my kids were 4 and 7 years old. I really hesitated when I was approached to apply for a coaching position. I wasn’t sure I could balance it. My husband was integral in that. He said he grew up on the ice. His parents were ice hockey coaches in Canada. He said he would love it if our kids grew up being on the track or on the ice.
My first year was definitely challenging. I would bring the kids to practice with me. Trying to balancing that, and trying to learn to run a practice. Feeling I wasn’t 100% to what I was doing to any one thing. But that was the first year, and I got feedback from a parent saying she was so glad her daughter was seeing me out there, doing what I loved. So whenever I am having a hard time, I go back to that, take a deep breath, and remember why I am doing it. That it is important, not just for what you are doing for the moment, but for what young girls AND boys are seeing. - Robyn McGillis, Head Girls Cross Country Coach and Girls Track and Field Distance Coach, Central Catholic HS, Portland, Oregon
Coach Kathy Mills Parker
How do you help a runner with competition anxiety?
We all get nervous. I tell some of my athletes I had my best races when I was nervous. Use those nerves. They can be your power, your strength. They can push you.
I also say, “You are lucky to get to race. It is a great opportunity to test yourself and to see what you have got. So you should look at it and get excited. Make your nerves work for you. Feed off of that excitement because nervousness is excitement. Look at it as a good thing. Look at it as energy and strength. It will back you up.
What have you used in the past to create a confident team with less pre-performance nerves?
The example about qualifying for States as a team goal applies to Cross Country or perhaps a relay, where a team is working together toward this goal.They need to rely on each other to achieve this, by supporting each other in practices to perform at their best and push each other. By pushing each other, I mean challenging each other to train to their best ability, to believe and trust in each other.
Sometimes, teammates are not friends at first and building trust is challenging. I handle that issue by telling them that while they might not agree on details, the bigger goal should be clear and respected by all. And they need to work together toward that common goal, which is their bond.
As far as the pre race anxiety, teammates have the power and choice to bring out the best in each other, the pressure is spread evenly—each member contributes, and sometimes one or another has to pull more weight.
One exercise that can help a team prepare for a race is to have the team members talk together about the strengths of each member. Affirmation by and for each other builds confidence and ownership.
- Coach Kathy Parker, Cross Country and Track and Field Coach, Lincoln HS, Portland, Oregon
Coach Nikki Rafie
As a coach, how do you deal with a broad spectrum of athletes?
This is most relevant when I was coaching Team Athena, a club that had all abilities of women runners. I actually do a lot of planning behind the scenes, and bring in some discipline of progressive goal setting and measuring as we go. That’s what really helped behind the scenes. And something that is super important, especially if you coach a team or club, is you have to get to know everyone. Maybe it’s really difficult, but you somehow have to create a system that you get to know everyone and their goals.
I use an Excel program and I ask everyone to put in their names, and I create a little cheat sheet for myself. Sometimes I time them and jump in with them if I’m lucky and I can run with them! Getting them to say how they feel when they are running fast. Are they struggling or are they just not working hard enough? So making notes, not just time notes, but qualitative notes. Form and function and how they are feeling. Talk with them during a cool down or warm up. Connect with them and deal with them as human beings. You get to learn about them, understand them, empathize with them. You have to learn what motivates them.
On educating an athlete on their training plan –
“Because of social media everyone knows what everyone else is doing. And they think there is a better workout for them. You really have to educate them on why this is a customized plan for them. An educated and informed athlete is ultimately a more powerful athlete.
My approach to coaching has always been holistic--always quality not quantity. They don’t get into comparing mileage, workouts. They need to respect that the plan was made for them, and why it is working for them.
Coaching is an art and a science. What I have found is you have to be direct, open and honest with your athlete. An athlete, at the end of the day, makes themselves. We as coaches just guide them, but they must trust in the training. - Coach Nikki Rafie, Distance and Marathon Coach, Portland, Oregon
Coach Christina Whitney
As both a high school team coach and a club coach, what have you seen that works to get athletes engaged and committed to the sport of track and field?
I call it “buy in”. I’m all about getting to know more than the surface of an athlete. They have to buy into to what they are doing. If you are around kids or have kids, you know you can’t force them to do anything. You have to get them to buy in. I ask my kids “What is the plan? What are you here for? What do you want?" I’ve had kids say they want a state championship. I say, “Are you sure about that because if so we are going to go for it!” And some days they show up to practice and say, “I don’t want to do that.” And I say, “Well have your goals changed? Do you no longer want to win?” “Well no, Coach. I still want to be a state champion.” And I say, “Ok! Let’s go!” And it works. It’s amazing how these kids have strength and confidence and the commitment they put in when it is their goals and their story to tell. We are just people walking along side of them, guiding them.You are not their boss. You are just their mentor that helps them. You are the educated partner to help get them to where they want to go. - Christina Whitney, Top Oregon HS Hurdle Coach and Co Owner of the SGU Track Club
Coach Charlotte Lettis Richardson c. 1972
On loving to coach the 800m and what makes a great 800m runner -
Anytime the 800m is run, at a track meet, at the state meet, on TV, I drop everything to watch it. To me it is the most fascinating and strategic race in the whole track world. Nothing is more exciting than to see an 800m race unfold.
In looking for an 800m runner of course they have to have good speed and decent endurance. But I believe the biggest attribute needs to be courage.The 800 is not an easy event.You can get long sprinters, 200m and 400m athletes, to run a solid first lap. After that, they mentally need to be able to run that second lap hard, and its not just physical. They need to be brave.
You need to have athletes with race smarts, race intelligence and good instincts. Some runners just know what to do when the gun goes off. Some naturally assess what is going on in a race, and adjust. Look for that in a runner. Find those runners who know when to move, and when to stay. Find runners who can actually feel the condition of the other runners, and adjust their own races accordingly. You can coach this in a runner, but she or he needs to be willing to be coached. Try and find those naturals, those who have that extra sense that guides them in a race--those runners who have courage and natural race instincts. You can find that in runners of all levels, JV and varsity. - Charlotte Lettis Richardson, 45-year coaching veteran and former Lincoln HS Head Coach in Portland, Oregon, for 11 years
Coach Christi Smith-Ryan
What traits from being a former national caliber heptathlete do you think has helped you as a coach?
I'm really trying to build memorable moments with my team. When I go back to think about all the championships I’ve won, probably the most memorable moment was coming back into Hayward Field after my championship performance, and having my coach then take me to the ocean for the very first time. He took me to Cannon Beach and for me it created a memorable moment.
I actually don’t talk to my team about winning at all. I try to not use the “W” word. There are a lot of things in order to get there that the kids have to work on at this level. When a kid says he wants to win, I say, “Ok you need to give me 30 minutes of your time for a realistic chat. You need to be clear of what that means (winning a championship).
My expectations are really high. I don’t sugar coat anything. I think my parents, my staff, my kids know it is all about the synergy, the positive working environment, the focus when we are on the track. Everyone stays till the end of the 4 X 400m!
Camaraderie needs to be built on the bus. I try to ride the bus every chance I get just so I can talk to my kids! I try to check in with each and everyone of my kids. I want them to know they have access to me, that parents have access to me. Don’t email me! Contact me directly. Call me.
It’s important they can feel your passion (as a coach).They all know how successful you are.They have all read your bio.They know how fortunate they are BUT in the end if you can create those memorable moments they are going to recruit others. The water will find its own level. - Coach Christi Smith-Ryan, Head Track and Field Coach, Central Catholic HS, Portland, Oregon
Thanks to our Great Moderator - Helene Hutchinson