What follows are two excerpts from John’s full interview, available to Season 2 members, of HSRC. You can listen here or on the Run Faster Podcast. The transcription of the interview is below.
Jay Johnson: Can you give me two or three things you do in your program that you think you would see in all successful cross country and track programs. Could be from a coaching standpoint, or from a team standpoint, like “here’s what our team is doing or what I personally do as a coach.” It could be something like – the importance of consistency in training. We’ve had other coaches say hey you really need to get kids you know out for our sport that that if you’ve got 20 kids on your team versus 80 kids and your team you’re going to have a much better shot of being successful if you’ve got 80.
John O’Malley: Yeah. It’s really cool hearing those answers and the question didn’t even occur to me until ask if it’s just a coaching question or team questions and I have I’ve asked it in that way. So that’s really clear that you segmented it that way.
I think some things that we do that is simply learning from other programs and getting exposure to other great programs. I think first of all every great program has a plan. The plan can work differently but there’s plans in place and there’s organization well before you your first moment of action, your first practice and I think great coaches do that. I think great programs have had that kind of a plan that doesn’t mean necessarily if they stick to it 100 percent and I think that would be counterproductive if it did.
But there is a plan in place and there is a plan in place for racing and training and mental/psychological training and things like that and cultural things with your program and how you’re going to develop the program. So I think there’s there’s a lot of planning involved in any great program. The best coaches I’ve seen are the ones who are constantly learning and have constant dialogue whether it’s with their own staff, if they have a staff, or other coaches around them and are just perpetually learning and really work hard.
You know I think sometimes people forget that to build a program, to build great runners and to be a great coach you really have to work hard. It’s not like you get to a certain level and then that’s just going to perpetuate itself. You’ve got to work hard all the time. I think that the best programs have a balance of of having accountability and being tough and rigorous and challenging and also have the human factor. You know the fact that they’re teenagers and they’re developing and growing and they often come to us as freshmen will know no background in running or very little background or running or something like that. And we balance that with you know those things and what it means to be a part of a team and what it means to grow from freshman year to senior year and as a person. And those those elements are clearly a part of a great program.
JSo those are the first things that certainly came to my head that things great program to do that we certainly tried to do at Sandburg. I could probably go on forever about that because I’d try to immerse myself in great programs and learn from them as much as possible.
Jay Johnson: At what point in a coach’s career do you think they can kind of deviate from the schedule that they maybe wrote out, or instance, over the winter break for outdoor track, or the schedule that they wrote out in June for all of the cross-country training? And then go from that type of coach to a coach who’s saying, “Hey, if my kids were tired on a Monday and if they do the workout we had planned for Wednesday just is going to be watered down or it might not happen happen at all. It might just be an easy day.”
John O’Malley: That’s a great question because early on in my career you know I’ve developed the training calendars. And at some point I dropped the training counters and went to daily plan with an overall plan dictating it. But I literally do it day to day training plan. I write up a document on a daily basis. But I didn’t have the confidence or maybe the observational ability to do that really early on. I think you know after several years of doing it and just kind of seeing patterning, patterns with with how runners adapt and don’t adapt, and fall flat and you know bounce back and run while some of that became intuitive some of it became systematic of how you change it and why you change it.
But I think if I were to go back to my first year self I would say “Have enough confidence that when you feel like something is wrong or see something that – you know, an adaptation is not occurring – that you think should be occurring where it’s been going on too long, they’ve been struggling for too long, make the change.” You know that when you write up at training program on a sheet of paper on a computer screen, that’s not a human body and it’s not going to work that way. So sticking to that I think you could you could do that their first year. You may make some mistakes, you probably will, we all do. But having the willingness to know your kids, even when they are struggling, even when you want to be struggling, and be OK with that and and see that you need to make changes individually sometimes and sometimes collectively, but I think you can do that right away.
And my kind of formula for that is that if I’m planning them to feel a certain way and then they’re not then I need to look at what we’re doing there and change, you know, that they’re feeling too good or feel they’re not feeling how I expected, whatever it may be. If I’m noticing that – like an overload it’s taking place unexpectedly – or there’s a prolonged drop in performance, then that’s when you change. That’s the basic formula for that. And I know that that’s a little gray area for sure. If I could go back to my first year coaching self and that’s one of the first things that I would tell myself.