7 Career Lessons I Learned from Coaching High School Cross Country

We all have dreams.  When I was younger, I wanted to run college cross country and run in the Olympics just like my heroes – Roger Bannister and Sebastian Coe, but that was not to be.  I was enthralled by Roger Bannister and his perserverance to run under four minutes for a mile.

In the book, The Four Minute Mile, Bannister talks about his epic journey to fulfill his life long dream and with each turn of the page, I wanted to be him. The history breaking run is captured in the video below and it must have been quite an experience to witness such greatness.

Roger Bannister Running 4 min Mile (Video)

Somewhere along the way, I lost interest, burned out or realized that wasn't the path for me, but what I found was a love for coaching runners that still is buried deep within me today.

Do I Regret Not Pushing Harder?

Nope, not for a second. You might find that hard to believe, but the best thing that ever happened to me was not getting a scholarship or running in college. I fell in love with coaching cross country and track & field, and to this day, i miss that more than any running career.

As a coach, I had a chance to help someone realize their potential, chase their dreams and I met a lot of really great people along the way.

[Tweet “Planning only takes you so far…you have to execute the plan. – Dave Anthold”]

My Coaching Highlights

I coached Boys and Girls Cross Country at L.A. Baptist High School (now Heritage Christian) for seven seasons (five as Head Coach of the Girls team).  During my tenure, we won three League Titles (1997, 1999, 2000), made the CIF Prelims & Finals for four season (1996, 1997, 1999, 2000) and I had one CIF CA State Finalist (1997).

During the spring season, I was the Long & Triple Jump coach.  I had numerous League Champions during my tenure and one (1) CIF Champion in the Long Jump.  I was also USATF Level 1 Certified Coach.

But that is enough about me…

What Coaching Taught Me About My Career

During my coaching days, I learned a few life lessons that still serve me well in my day job.  Here's what I learned…

  1. Presentation Skills – I gave numerous presentations and parent orientations about cross country and taught them how to score a cross country meet so they were educated when they came to watch their child.
  1. Leading Up – As a coach, I had several bosses that I reported to including school administrators and athletic directors. I worked hand-in-hand with the teachers and parents and that required me to communicate with them on a daily or weekly basis especially if an athlete was falling behind on their studies. How you approach each group is different and you must be able to adapt your approach for the audience (the same is true in business).
  1. Goal Development and Tracking – Every summer, I took a few hours to develop goals for the team based on what I thought they could achieve and what would stretch them. At the beginning of the school year, we would take an afternoon out of practice to write these goals down on a whiteboard, review them, change them and solidify them. I would then give the team a 3×5 notecard and ask them to write down two season goals – (1) realistic and (1) stretch goal. Each week we would track their progress and evaluate how they were doing – we did this at the team level and individual level – much like we do in business.
  1. Planning – Each summer during my nine seasons as a head coach, I would craft a plan for the next three months. I would plan out every detail of the workouts for the coming season. I would highlight our target meets, where we would want to peak and how we were going to get there. You can check out one of my seasonal plans here.  In your career, if you don't have a plan of where you want to go, you could miss out on great opportunities.
  1. Execution – Planning only takes you so far…you have to execute the plan; however, you cannot execute without a plan. You could probably survive for a few weeks, but after that, your fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants plan will not work. For me, I would keep detailed records of workouts and see how close we came to plan. Part of executing a plan is knowing them well-enough to adapt the plan if something changes or doesn’t quite feel right.  As a coach, I could read my athletes very well. If we did a hard work the day before and were scheduled for a moderate workout and they appeared to be dragging, I would adapt the plan and rest. Some days, I would stick to the script because I needed to push the bounds of what their minds were telling them. This helped them persevere when things got tough. They had been there before and they could overcome.Sometimes we need to persevere through the hard times to reach our goals, even when we do not feel like it, because our best may be just around the corner.
  1. Preparation – Preparing for a race is pretty close to preparing for a presentation…you practice, practice and practice until you can deliver it. The same is true for racing. You review the plan, the strategy, the goals and then you visualize it. When my athletes came to race day, they knew all the names of their opponents, the terrain of the course, the best places to attack and the places where they would need to be mentally tough. In business, we pracice and prepare for our chance to deliver a winning pitch or project.
  1. Celebrate the WinsEach race, each pitch, each presentation, each team project should be celebrated upon completion. We must take time to celebrate our achievements – big and small – and it should be appropriate for the milestone. The bigger the accomplishment…the bigger the celebration. When we work hard and achieve success, take a few minutes to celebrate before beginning the next one.

Today, in business these very same concepts are still being taught. No one taught me these things explicitly, but rather through observation, reading and an inherent inner clock, I was able to deduce these things and they have served me well in my career.

Just because you follow these items, doesn’t mean that it will be easy or that you won’t lose your way occasionally. The truth is…I do and I have lost my way more than I can count, but I remember to go back to the plan, review it, prepare and execute the plan.

Question: Which of these career tips do you need to focus on right now? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

(Fun Fact: I am buried somewhere in the picture featured at the top of this post.  I was a freshman in high school.)

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I help facilities manager and planner create spaces that are backed by research, engage employees of all generations, and drive business objectives. I am also the founder of Dave's Book Club – a once per month reading experience designed to help professionals grow their influence.

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