What makes someone a Master in their field? In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says mastery in a field takes roughly 10,000 hours. Over the many years as a competitor and then a coach, Laura has accumulated more than the prerequisite 10,000 hours. Coaching middle and distance runners at the high school, college, and professional level, Laura has become a Master Coach in the coaching world. Her style ranges from the brilliant to the common sense. She knows the science of running, but excels in the art. To spend a season under the leadership of Coach Caldwell, you would be doing a Masters in Elite Coaching. Season planning, writing and executing workouts, the psychology of runners, goal setting, organization and administration would be your curriculum. Coach Laura Caldwell has the experience, the knowledge, and the grace of a Master.
As a runner, Laura ran at the college and professional levels, achieving both national and international recognition. When at Florida State, Laura Ledbetter Caldwell held the 800 meter school record. In her post collegiate career she ran as a professional distance runner, competing for NIKE. Among her many running accomplishments, Laura placed 8th in the 1987 USA Women's Marathon Championships, won the 1992 Seattle Marathon, won the USA Masters 5,000 Track Championship, and was the 1993 USA Masters Cross Country Champion. At age 43, she ran 1:15:52 for a half marathon. Her incredible talent as a runner allowed her success in events ranging from the 800 to the marathon!
Coach Laura Caldwell has been successful at the high school, college, and elite levels. She was a founding member of the Portland, OR, women's running club, Team Athena, and was their first president. As the cross country and track coach of the girls team at Lake Oswego HS, Oregon, her runners consistently qualified for the Oregon 6A State Meet, and reached the podium in 2007. In the 1980's she was the editor of the successful publication, Racing South Magazine. In 2010 she joined the coaching staff at Furman University, along with her husband Mike Caldwell. She currently coaches with the Greenville Track Club Elite.
In the interview below we get to glimpse into the world of running and coaching, as Coach Caldwell shares her insights, experiences, and knowledge.
Laura Ledbetter Caldwell - Runner
Running has been one of the loves of your life. Can you tell us why you have competed, coached, managed, written about and supported runners and running over the years? Why has it been such a passion of yours?
Growing up pre-title IX, I really didn’t have the opportunity to explore different sports and find one that I was attracted to. In high school, you could play golf or tennis (girl sports) or be a cheerleader—that was it! However, I was always a bit of a tomboy, playing sports with the neighborhood kids and generally running around all day long. So unbeknownst to me, I was actually setting myself up to gravitating to some organized sport. When I got to Florida State University, I accidently found running by enrolling in a track and field class run by Dr. Kenneth Miller, who was the former coach of the men’s track program. At the time he was coaching the women’s track club (not an official school team because title IX wouldn’t start for another year). It was here under his coaching that I discovered my love of running and I was “off to the races” after that. Title IX was enacted and FSU started a women’s track and field team my sophomore year. I walked on and became one of the first women to get an athletic scholarship at the school. During this time I found that I loved running and competing but also a sense that I had been offered this wonderful opportunity to compete and get an education. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was instilling in me this desire to help bring others into our sport and all it has to offer.
How did your journey as a woman runner to a women’s coach evolve? Did being an elite runner help your coaching? How did you get started in coaching?
As with how I sort of fell into running personally, my evolving into becoming a coach happened much the same way. After undergrad, I entered the masters counseling program at FSU—a two-year program—and was offered a grad-assistant position to help with the women’s track and field and cross country programs my first year. I found I loved being involved with helping the women on the team train and compete, and it allowed me to continue running as well. My second year I was hired to be an assistant coach at Florida High School (FSU’s educational school). Here I coached girls in the 400m on up. This was even more rewarding to me because I was helping new athletes who had never experienced track and field before. As I started coaching, I took what I was doing as an athlete and tried to adapt it to how I coached my runners. So I have to admit there was some early trial and error, which helped me come to a major realization that less is more training-wise!
You have been a coach for a long time. What are the changes you have seen in the acceptance and respect for women coaches?
I think when Title IX first came into being men rushed in to fill positions that were available because there were just not that many women participants, club coaches, etc.—men had been doing sport for a long time, women not so much! Now you have many women coaching other women, but just a few women coaching men. However, that would have been unheard of years ago. So things are changing, slowly, but they’re changing! The other thing I’ve noticed is women’s voices are given more weight than just 20 years ago. I still had to deal with a few bubbas when I coached at Lake Oswego High School just ten years ago. Luckily, I had a great head coach there in Eric Lider (since retired) who treated me with respect and kindness, while having my back if I needed him.
Coach Laura Ledbetter Caldwell
"I think when Title IX first came into being men rushed in to fill positions that were available because there were just not that many women participants, club coaches, etc.—men had been doing sport for a long time, women not so much! Now you have many women coaching other women, but just a few women coaching men. However, that would have been unheard of years ago. So things are changing, slowly, but they’re changing!"
Could you recommend running resources to other women coaches? Books, research, websites?
I read a lot of articles on training, nutrition, recovery, etc. and then try to find other articles to back up the ones I’m reading. This is so I can get an idea of where the information is coming from (thank you Goggle!). However, if you need one resource on training that I think is the best for giving you ideas on how to train distance athletes (800m on up), that would be Dr. Jack Daniels’ Running Formula. I’ve found myself referring to it often for help. Then, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my greatest resource—my husband Mike, who majored in exercise physiology and is relentless in keeping up with the latest research!
You have coached men and women, boys and girls. What are the similarities and differences (if any) in coaching two genders?
I would like to say there are no differences—I have found both to be incredibly competitive and hard workers. However, what I have observed is that girls and women are a little easier to coach as far as the process goes. They listen and usually do what is asked. Boys and men tend to pay attention more to the sport, read up on everyone’s training, and know all of their competitors (thanks social media!). This can be a blessing and a curse. I often hear, “so and so did this workout” or “this runner ran x-amount of miles per week” from the guys. So you do get some that need to learn to stay in their lane! The other issue that can arise with women is a need to pay attention to menstrual cycles. For most women and girls this is not an issue, but for the ones that it is, I like to keep up with where they are in their cycle as it can impact their effort for that particular workout or race. So these are my own personal observations during my many years of coaching both sexes.
Do you goal set with your athletes for the season? And do you goal set prior to a race or competition?
Goal setting is an integral part of our Greenville Track Club-Elite program. After all, if your athletes don’t know what they are trying to accomplish, training can become tiresome and even a “grind”. I’ve used goal setting for every athlete I’ve ever coached—from high school to the elite level. Anyone should be able to state what they want to do. The important thing as a coach is helping them to verbalize and then follow through on the training needed to reach those goals. In sitting down with an athlete to discuss goals, I like them to have thought before hand what these are. Then together in our meeting we discuss long term goals, short term goals, pie-in-the-sky goals, small goals and the minimum that would make them feel successful. I even had one young lady who broke her goals down into 3-6 months, 6-12 months, 12-24 months and included every day goals like getting enough sleep and making every run intentional and fun! As for individual races, I like my athletes to own what they want to get out of a competition, but in a realistic way. Then, we can do a visualization exercise so they see themselves performing the way they want, usually the day before a competition.
"I’ve used goal setting for every athlete I’ve ever coached—from high school to the elite level. Anyone should be able to state what they want to do. The important thing as a coach is helping them to verbalize and then follow through on the training needed to reach those goals."
How do you work with different abilities on a team? Do you individualize or customize workouts? Could you give us an example of how you create workouts in a team situation?
When I coached high school, I found you have to be creative and adaptive in your workout creations. At Lake Oswego HS we had almost 100 kids on our cross country team, from new runners to seasoned veterans. I was also fortunate that we were able to combine the boys’ and girls’ workouts and break down into 4-5 different training groups by ability. At the beginning of the season we would run a 3000m cross country race that would give us an idea of where each runner fell on our training grid. Then we’d break them down into comparable groups for each workout. I would re-evaluate everyone after each meet. This worked out well and I never had any problems, fortunately, with egos.
What is a “signature” Laura Caldwell workout for cross country you could share with other coaches? What part of the season would the athletes do this workout?
I’m a big believer in the 1000m distance as a standard for interval work. At Lake Oswego HS, I liked to measure a 1000m distance in a park across the street from the high school (our home course for XC and very hilly) with each 200m marked. At the beginning of the season, I’d start the stronger kids on 3-5 x 1k at threshold pace with 2:30 minutes rest. These are the runners who trained over the summer break and are ready to build back up quickly. For my other training groups I could customize the workout to be more to their abilities, such as fewer and slower 1000m’s or shorter distances anywhere from 400m-800m. Everyone enjoyed getting off the track and taking a run through the woods. However, if no trails available, you could easily do this on the track as well.
In having coached many young women over the years, how have you handled the young ladies who struggle as they go through puberty? How do you keep them involved and supported?
I’ve seen this happen enough times to young ladies over the years and it tugs at my heart each time. Puberty is harder for some than others. This is such a personal matter with each athlete—some handle it and some don’t. I found that letting them know that other young women have been in the same place helps, along with recalibrating their goals for where they are now and recognizing how much they mean to the team. When dealing with my high school athletes, I always let them know I was available whenever they needed to talk about anything. I tried to be intuitive as well and step in to remind them that I’m available if it looked as though they needed some support and encouragement. We also had team building activities throughout the season to help create a sense of community and bond between our athletes.
On athletes going through puberty -
Melissa Hill talks with Adrienne Langelier, Sport Psychology Consultant, about competitive anxiety, fear of failure or success, overly involved parents, goal setting and much more...
Adrienne Langelier, Sport Psychology Consultant
"There are a few things I suggest coaches implement in their interactions with athletes re: race anxiety: First and most basic - remind them that what they’re experiencing is completely normal. Even the world’s best deal with pre-race nerves or anxiety - I know this first hand because a pro runner once told me this at a major marathon!"
We've all been there, as performers and coaches of performers; you've got a big competition coming up and you've got to strike the right balance between nervous energy vs. nerves. How do you channel your performer to excellence?
One of my most vivid memories from college is standing at the start line, thinking that I would keel over from anxiety. Once the gun went off, I was ok, but before that, not so much!
Can we help our performers find a way to channel nerves and find focus and calmness prior to competition? We went to an expert to help us answer a few of the questions on the challenges we face on a daily basis. - Melissa Hill
Adrienne Langelier, MA, LPC, is a counselor and sport psychology consultant with offices in The Woodlands and College Station, TX. She has served as a counselor on the Houston Methodist Willowbrook Sports Medicine and Performance Fellowship and has extensive experience working with adolescents and adults along the continuum of mental health through peak performance. She works with clients of all backgrounds and interests and enjoys working with athletes dealing with anything from off the field difficulties to peak performance.
She holds a Bachelor of Science with Honors Degree from Texas A&M University and a Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology from Sam Houston State University. Adrienne has nearly a decade of experience using a host of research-based and effective techniques to move those she works with toward their goals, but emphasizes forming a unique partnership with every individual she works with.
She has contributed to and been featured in top publications including The Huffington and The Washington Posts and is a featured contributor in Olympian Kara Goucher’s book ‘Strong: A Confidence Journal’. Adrienne also enjoys speaking to organizations and groups on athlete mental health awareness and intervention and has experience assisting in mental health continuing education curriculum development for the Board of Certification of Athletic Trainers. A lifelong athlete, Adrienne pairs her experience with her work to help each individual become the best version of themselves. When not working with clients, writing, or presenting, she regularly trains and competes as a distance runner in the Greater Houston area. Adrienne is a 3x Boston Marathon Qualifier and has experience racing at the USA Cross Country Championships and Half Marathon Championships.
For more info, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
On the web: langelierspc.com
There is a fine line between anxiety or nervousness that enhances OR inhibits performance; how do we as coaches help our athletes find the balance for a successful outcome?
This is such a common issue and it can even vary much from athlete to athlete depending on context: how big the race, perceived quality of training, etc. There are a few things I suggest coaches implement in their interactions with athletes re. race anxiety: First and most basic - remind them that what they’re experiencing is completely normal. Even the world’s best deal with pre-race nerves or anxiety - I know this first hand because a pro runner once told me this at a major marathon! Once they know they are not alone in their experience, I recommend helping the athlete shift their perspective towards the event; framing it as something challenging versus something threatening. The rationale behind that is that when humans are typically approached with a challenge, they are likely to move toward it. When something is seen as threatening or beyond their capacity, we often see hesitation.
Coaches often work with athletes who have a fear of failure; what can coaches do to help athletes overcome this fear?
The first thing I would recommend is to help them clearly define what success means to them. Another mechanism coaches can use is to help the athlete set a range of goals, such as a range of finish times (ex. A 3:30-3:40 Marathon, etc.) and incorporate ‘process goals’ for races and big workouts. Some examples of process goals are: starting on pace or finish on empty, use positive self-talk, etc. Giving athletes helpful reminders to set who they are apart from what they do is also a good thing for coaches to remind athletes of. Lastly, helping an athlete understand that failure is part of becoming a better athlete and an opportunity to learn cannot be emphasized enough. When an athlete comes into my office after an unsatisfactory performance, I encourage them to reframe failure into something they can use instead of a way to judge oneself and their abilities.
Additionally, how do you help athletes who have a fear of success?
This is a trickier one! Setting shorter term goals for these athletes to help them experience “little wins” along the way and get used to the way it feels to make progress. Asking an athlete about past achievements and positive experiences may help foster a more favorable response. One thing I find in runners is the belief that they can only run “so fast”, and tend to get fearful if they push to certain paces they are actually capable of running. Getting them to see paces as just numbers or if you suspect someone isn’t performing to their potential, perhaps experiment or have them experiment training without a watch and by effort. Just like dealing with fear of failure, a coach can never reinforce enough that running in the big picture does not define the athlete.
I think every coach has encountered an involved parent who simply wants the best for his/her athlete but ends up hindering them, either through competitive anxiety (wanting to please parents with outcome) or unrealistic expectations of the athlete’s ability or outcome. Do you have any advice for coaches in balancing a parent’s expectations with realistic goals for said athletes?
The first thing that pops into my head is to build it into team policy and what I mean by that is to set the expectation and clearly define the roles of the athlete, coach, and parent in the youth sport context. Parents are a support role, providing the basics of transportation, etc. and have the opportunity to encourage their athlete. Good coaches communicate some guidelines for dealing with success and failure, such as not discussing for an amount of time or praising effort and ‘showing up’ over results. Coaches provide the structure, instruction, and feedback. They also are in a great position to make a difference by encouraging their athletes, regardless of their talent or standing on the team. The athletes, it’s ultimately up to them how hard they choose to work. When all three entities are at least in some degree of congruence, good things can happen. Notice how the emphasis on effort on all fronts and enjoying the sport no matter what the level rings true here. Back to the guidelines or expectations, this can be done in meeting or letter format, and I recommend regularly checking in with athletes to determine if any levels of pressure exist. Also, I like to tell coaches that at the end of the day, they can only control so much - it is ultimately up to the athlete and their family to draw boundaries.
Do you have suggestions on how to help an athlete who is “burned out” or athlete who has past success but currently struggling?
If possible, find a way to help them find or reconnect with their “why” for doing the sport and remind the athlete that ups and downs are common and may help them grow. De-emphasizing results (see a theme here?!) and setting some short-term, realistic goals is often helpful. I encourage athletes who are dealing with setbacks or lack of success to “be where their feet are” and work from there, not past results. To be honest, I’ve experienced both burnout and being “victimized by past success” in my own running and found to take where I currently am and make steps from there. If necessary, discussing the option of time off or changing events/races/distances to spice things up may also be helpful, as is investing in other parts of themselves outside of running.
How do you manage a group of athletes who have different motivations, fears, and hopes?
Good question! First, the coach needs to realize that everyone has a different story and a different ‘why’ for what they do. If it is a team situation, I suggest having a talk early in the season to work towards a common goal or objective. Typically, if discussed collaboratively, groups of athletes can find ways to come together. Keeping open communication and listening to athletes is important as well - remind them that they are free to discuss concerns and ideas and acknowledge them accordingly, and initiate consideration to an athlete’s viewpoint. Communication and building relationships are key to understanding whom you’re working with and creates some cohesion in settings even when not everyone’s viewpoints completely align. Realize as a coach, you have the ability to set guidelines you think are best for the team and trust your training, experience, and instincts - if athletes feel that they are at least ‘heard’, the likelihood of buy-in to a program typically increases.
"De-emphasizing results and setting some short-term, realistic goals is often helpful. I encourage athletes who are dealing with setbacks or lack of success to “be where their feet are” and work from there, not past results."