Meet Director Dave Milner: on Competing for Jack Daniels, College and Pro Coaching, and Letsrun Notoriety

Dave Milner is a well known figure in the world of track and field for his work with the Music City Distance Carnival and other professional track meets for emerging elite athletes. We cover his experience as an athlete of the legendary Jack Daniels, his journey into (and out of) college coaching, Letsrun notoriety, and how he found himself coaching his first national qualifier in track and field.

In 1995, Dave Milner moved from his home in London, England to sunny Nashville, Tennessee to run for Belmont University. He would not graduate from this program, however, as he followed a young woman to SUNY Cortland. By absolute chance, his coach was the legendary Jack Daniels. Milner loved hanging out in Daniels’ office to talk about running – even if these conversations bled into his class time.

“I was less than average at running, but pretty great at drinking,” Milner admitted. Nevertheless, Daniels was the one who suggested that Milner, who was an avid student of the sport and a Psychology and Exercise Physiology double major, take up coaching. “At the time, I was fairly dismissive of it,” Milner remembers.

After graduation, however, he found himself managing a chain of three running stores. He was quickly pulled into leading the stores’ marathon training plan, and he had no idea where to start. “They told me, ‘you’re a smart guy, figure it out.’ So the first thing I did was sign up for a USATF Coaching Clinic… and a marathon, so I wouldn’t feel like a fraud.”

Twenty-five miles of his first marathon went well, but he received a crash course on “the wall” in the last half mile. Nevertheless, he found his niche helping adult marathoners qualify for big races: from the Olympic Trials to the age-graded Boston standards. Soon, he was leading Tuesday morning and night group workouts with a wide variety of committed runners of varying skill levels.

Milner laughs with some of his coaching clients

“Most of the runners I take on are relatively experienced, self-motivated, and thick-skinned. I don’t treat the woman who runs a 3:30 marathon much differently than I would a professional runner,” Milner explained. “Obviously the training is very different, but the same physiological principles usually apply, and the way I interact with the athlete and deliver their training is very similar. I wouldn’t take them on unless I thought they could handle it.”

Despite his “blunt as a hammer” approach to on-the-ground conditioning, Milner took a more subtle approach to planning the athletes’ training. As a new coach, “Jack Daniels’ Running Formula book was my Bible,” Milner shared. “Now, the concepts of that book are hardwired and memorized. I have a pretty good idea how to recreate Jack Daniels’ formula, but now, how do I put my own spin on it?”

Milner gleans as much information as possible from other coaches with the intention of melding their wisdom into his own unique training system. For example, Milner’s coaching is influenced by Peter Thompson and his system of “New Interval Training”. Peter is a fan of “floats” during interval workouts, wherein, rather than jogging your recoveries at a glacial pace, you just let your foot off the gas and cover the recovery jogs (say 200m) at your regular easy run pace.

He would also periodically bounce ideas off coaches like Danny Mackey and Pete Rea when he had the chance to hang out with them.

“I’m probably not doing anything that someone else isn’t doing,” Milner admitted, “But it’s always flattering when I share workouts with other coaches and they say ‘hey, that’s a good one.’ It helps me know I’m on the right track.”

The ability to adjust training cycles comes in handy when Milner is working with, for example, a mom who can only run significant mileage on the weekends.

When setting up a program, “I use a few basic tenets that Peter Thompson instilled in me,” Milner explains. For example, “Working backwards from your target event when planning the program, using 3-week cycles with a down week at the end of each cycle, and never doing a long run the day after a race. Some of his rules like that I still use.”

A foray into collegiate coaching

Some of the adult athletes that he was coaching were high school cross country coaches, and they convinced him to get into the field. Soon, he was coaching both high schoolers and marathoners. In 2002, he was invited on as a Graduate Assistant Coach at Belmont University. He pursued his Master’s in Sports Administration while working with the middle distance runners and doing recruiting.

After finishing this program, he returned to high school coaching and worked in a running store again. He led the school’s previously struggling distance program to significantly contribute to three state championships. He connected especially well with one exceptional athlete who ran 4:09 and 8:52 as a junior: the top returner in the nation going into 2007. This young man generated some buzz in the coaching community, and soon Milner found himself the recipient of a full-time, paid offer to return to Belmont University. Milner inquired if the position could wait until this high school athlete graduated, and the Belmont coach acquiesced. This gave him an opportunity to finish what he had started.

Milner began coaching full-time at Belmont in the summer of 2008. “I recruited and worked with middle distance. Plus, I led strength and conditioning, which was essentially glorified core,” Milner joked.

After over four years coaching a Belmont, Milner learned of an opening at another NCAA DI school that had, in his eyes, enormous potential. “It was kind of a dream job for me. I felt like they were a sleeping giant,” Milner recalled. “I felt like if the right person came in and could recruit effectively, they could turn the program around… Plus they had an indoor track. Seems like everyone does now, but eight years ago that wasn’t the case.”

“So this is a valuable lesson for aspiring coaches,” Milner mused. “I moved there on nothing more than a golden handshake and promise. I coached there basically on a volunteer basis at first… Things were going great, though.” Within the first year, everything fell apart. The new head coach was forced to resign. “I was just collateral damage. I realized it wasn’t going to work out.”

Milner then had a brief stint at NCAA DII King College, where the cross country team qualified for nationals for the first time. “They had the budget to pay for cross country, but not track,” Milner shared. In Spring of 2013, he had no way to make money. At this point, he knew it was time for a pivot.

Backwards and upwards

He took a job in the Running Specialty industry as an independent sales rep, and has worked with companies like Pearl Izumi, Nuun, Picky Bars, and Under Armour, while continuing to coach on the side.

Photo from Jobie Williams

Milner had always had a dream of creating a new kind of professional track meet in America, so he decided to throw his energy towards growing the Music City Distance Carnival.

After years of the hard work of bringing his vision to fruition, Milner laughs about a little notoriety he picked up. “I managed to get an F-bomb on the front of Letsrun.com,” he said, referring to an article on a professional track meet that he put on in South Carolina, funded out of his own pocket.

“I kind of saw the sport just dying a slow and gradual death just because of the way it was presented. If you go to an average college meet, nobody in the crowd knows what the f*** is going on,” he told Letsrun.com. The quote made it to the front page of the site.

Since then, he’s been able to distill his vision for how the sport of Track & Field could gain relevance to the general public: “gambling, beer, better meet programs, and team competition: that’s what it boils down to.”

“When I started MCDC back in 2003, there really was nothing like it, except for some post-collegiate meets in Indianapolis, which disappeared about six or seven years ago. It is great that now there are other meets that are similar, like the Sir Walter Mile in Raleigh, Festival of Miles in St Louis, and Portland Track Festival. Indoors, there is the Camel City Classic. These meets cater to up and coming post-collegiate runners too, rather than just the high-profile elites that can get into meets like Pre or Millrose.”

Milner, like the directors of the these meets, considers himself an advocate for the sport as he seeks ways to implement these strategies. He tries to stay in conversation with the elite East-coast track clubs to make sure that the meets that he puts on are working for their athletes, and, indeed, they have cooked up a 6-meet series called the Eastern Track League (website coming in the next 48 hours) that will be announced this week.

The elite Women’s 800m field at the Music City Distance Carnival, photo from Runnerspace.com

The making of a track star

It was at the Music City Distance Carnival that Milner first connected with his most well-known coaching client, Quamel Prince. Prince was in high school at the time. As a collegiate athlete at Tennessee State University, Prince ran only 1:48 for 800m and missed out on the national meet, but Milner recognized greater potential. “After he graduated, I knew he didn’t have anything in place,” Milner said. “I hated for him to quit just because he didn’t have anyone to coach him anymore.”

Most of Milner’s clients were road-racers and age-group placers, but he decided to take on the training of Prince. “This kid had massive potential,” Milner shared. “Coaching someone with Quamel’s talent level was exciting!”

The duo found success, and Prince qualified for his first USA Track & Field championship in 2017, clocking 1:46.76 at MCDC.

Seven months later, he qualified for the 2018 U.S Indoor Championships. Citius Magazine named the relatively unknown middle-distance athlete as “the unsponsored underdog you should root for at USA’s”. He made the 800m final and placed 5th.

Four months later, he lowered his 800m PB to 1:46.30, again at MCDC. And at the U.S Outdoor Championships in Des Moines, he missed making the 800m final by just 0.04 seconds.


Prince and Milner at the USATF Indoor Championships, where Prince missed the final by just 0.04 seconds. Photo courtesy of Dave Albo, Lane1 Photos

“In 2017-18 I carefully doubled Quamel’s college weekly mileage – from about 25 miles per week to 50-55. He is only 5’9 and about 135lbs and is really built more like a miler than a typical half-miler. I felt like he could be very dangerous at 1500m, with his finishing speed (21.74 FAT 200m), so put in place a strong aerobic foundation with a view to running 800 and 1500 equally in 2019 and 2020.”

Last fall, Prince joined District Track Club, a professional group based in the nation’s capital. He is in great hands now with Tom Brumlik, who heads up DTC. Although Milner no longer coaches Prince, he certainly played a pivotal role in his rise through the ranks of American middle distance running.

For more in-depth content from this interview with Dave Milner, stay tuned! We will be offering an inside look at what it’s like to coach an athlete at nationals, from the perspectives of several coaches who have done just that.

Coaching Pros: the Origins of GTC-Elite

I met the Caldwell coaches in person for the first time at an indoor track meet at Clemson University. Mike had on his ASICS GTC-Elite cap, and I decided to introduce myself as we waited for our athletes to line up for the 5k.

A few weeks before that, I had joined a phone call with the Women’s Running Coaches Collective to discuss hosting their rich archive of newsletters on School of Track’s website. Laura Caldwell was on the call as a founding member of the WRCC. That morning at Clemson, I hoped that Mike would be able to make the introduction. He obliged with incredible warmth.

Later, they generously agreed to talk with me further about their journey into professional coaching. Although the pair is officially retired, they show no signs of slowing down: together, they founded Asics GTC-elite in 2012, a professional group located in Greenville, South Carolina that Laura and Mike coach full-time.

Laura Caldwell

Laura Caldwell’s competitive running career didn’t start until she was at Florida State University, but she certainly made up for lost time, earning her spot as the school record holder over 800m for a year. Not only a successful runner, Laura found herself to be an inspiring coach as well; after graduating, she took on the GA position at FSU, where she studied social work and counseling. “I enjoyed working with people through that position,” she remembered. “Coaching was a culmination of that counseling education melded with my athletic background.”

Michael Caldwell, in contrast, was a serious runner in high school. He won a state championship and earned a scholarship at Furman University. As a graduate student at the University of Florida, he also competed with the prolific Florida Track Club. He placed as high as 3rd at Atlanta Track Club’s Peachtree Road Race.

“At first, I was more interested in coaching myself,” Mike shared. He studied exercise physiology and the science background allowed him to practice new theories with himself.

Mike Caldwell

The pair met when Mike was a doctoral candidate at Florida State University. He felt ready to move into coaching, and decided to create his own post-collegiate group that was sponsored by “Racing South” running magazine. He had over twenty elite athletes who were competitive at the national scene, including a World Championship Qualifier and several 1988 Olympic Marathon Trails Qualifiers. Throughout this time, he kept up a 30 year daily running streak!

Professional Lives

Mike embarked on an incredibly successful career at ASICS, where he held many impactful positions, including as the lead designer and product-line manager for the ASICS Gel-Lyte shoe.

Eventually, he transitioned into work with Nike, where he had the opportunity to observe both Alberto Salazar and Jerry Schumacher in action. “I was fortunate to watch Salazar coach at Nike, and to have discussions with him. He shared information with me. I thought that this is what I would do when I retired.”

Laura continued to compete well into her mid-40’s, qualifying twice to the Olympic Trials in the marathon. At age 44, she ran 1:15 in the half marathon; an incredibly impressive performance that Mike proudly reminded her to share with me. While Mike worked at Nike in Oregon, Laura began coaching at a local high school, as well as doing personal coaching for her friends on the side. “We just like that lifestyle – reading and studying every day and passing on the information that we learned,” Mike shared.

After retiring from the shoe & apparel industry in 2009, the pair moved to Greenville. Mike coached at Furman University for a few years before deciding to start an Olympic Development group. “When I was working in corporate, I didn’t have enough time to coach. My philosophy is that you really need to be around the athlete, not just see their training online.”

“When I was working in corporate, I didn’t have enough time to coach. My philosophy is that you really need to be around the athlete, not just see their training online.”

Vision for GTC-Elite

“What we found when we coached college was that there were a good number of students graduating with nowhere to go run,” Mike explains on their decision to start GTC-Elite. “They weren’t good enough to get a shoe contract, so their career was basically done. We wanted to provide an opportunity.”

At that time, Mike estimates that there were about 10-11 post-collegiate clubs for serious distance runners. Plus, there were very few opportunities for women to run competitively. Now, he guesses that there are closer to 30 groups.

“We went to the board of directors at Greenville Track Club with a goal: we want to have people qualify for the Olympic Trials.” Now, Mike serves on the Board, although he steps out if a vote is taken on anything regarding his elite team. Already, that goal has begun to be fulfilled; in 2016, the group had four athletes at the Olympic Trials marathon.

The president of the board has been very good at going into the community and soliciting contributions to support the club’s athletes. Revenue can be a significant challenge for clubs like GTC-Elite.

“We are retired and we’re at a place where we don’t need the money,” Laura explained on their coaching. “It’s more of a volunteer opportunity for us. We are a nonprofit so we go out and talk to people and get the community involved. We have sponsors who have worked with us since we started. ASICS has been very helpful to us, and we couldn’t have done it without them because equipment is so important.”

Mike credited Atlanta Track Club as “the best of the best at what they do.” Like Atlanta Track Club, Greenville Track Club recently started a youth program. “Our elite athletes are running that program, so they’re giving back to the community.” This helps the elite team gain support.

Unique challenges to professional coaching

“In college, we pretty much knew what was going on – if something happened the night before – whether we wanted to or not,” Mike joked after I asked him how coaching a post-collegiate group differs from his experience at Furman.

“The hardest thing is to keep them engaged and communicating,” Laura agreed. “You really need to know what’s going on in their lives so you can adapt to that. A lot of times they look at it as ‘Well I’m an adult, why do I have to tell you all that?’ But I just need to know all the pieces that go into the puzzle.”

Their group uses FinalSurge, which allows them to see their athletes workout data as soon as their watches sync to the computer. Then, both athletes and coaches are able to add comments. “One young lady, one hour after that workout, she would be done logging,” Laura said. “That’s one way to tell that they are really engaged and ready to do the workout. If it takes a few days to finish logging, maybe it’s not that important in your life. Running – being an athlete – it takes a lot of your time.”

GTC is very open with their training philosophy – even going so far as to share their training plans. Mike explains that there isn’t really a secret to running. “These people are always looking for the magic workout. We just look for consistency. You can get from A to B in myriad different ways, but if you apply it in the wrong way, it won’t work.”

“Anyone can get a workout book and follow the schedule, but it’s really about the timing,” Mike said. With Mike’s science background and Laura’s athletic background, the two have learned about moving beyond what’s on the page. “The artist has to come out of every coach.”

Advice for the journey

“If you’ve got a coaching position, grow where you’re planted,” offered Mike. “Don’t always be looking to go somewhere else. Opportunities will come up. Most people are looking for opportunities before they’ve had success.”

Laura laughed, “We’ve been married for 30-something years, so we pretty much think alike! I love that advice. Grow where you’re planted. I understand wanting to get ahead, but take some time to learn before you move on to the next big thing.”

Both coaches cited athlete development as an incredibly compelling reason to be a coach. Mike shared a story about one of his all-favorite athletes: a walk-on at Furman University. “His father dropped him off at my office and said ‘make something of him!’ By the end of the year – he must have been in the 3rd or 4th heat of the 5000 – but he had taken a minute off of his PR. He came afterwards and gave me a huge hug. He didn’t go on to run after college, but his desire has stayed with us. We still talk.”

“It’s really rewarding in itself to be able to work with someone and see them improve,” Laura adds. “To come up with goals that they want to go for, accomplish them, and move to the next. That’s very rewarding for me.”

To learn more about Mike and Laura, visit their website where they have shared about their training philosophy and regularly post blogs.

FinalSurge also has some awesome podcasts for coaches and athletes!

Reaching the Next Level: RunCCG’s Chris Catton

Chris Catton, perhaps best known as the coach of high school phenom Craig Engels, talks with School of Track about getting high school kids to the next level, starting a personal coaching service, and the state of professional running in the USA.

Coach Chris Catton

Like most others growing up in Grand Blanc, Michigan, Chris Catton rooted for University of Michigan athletics. Ever since he was a kid, he knew that he wanted to be a coach… he just wasn’t sure in which sport! His family was in education, and coaching was a gig that fit with that job.

“My dad was a track coach when I was very little and he always talked about how great the sport was and how all the best athletes are involved with it.” His family could pick up the Canadian Broadcasting Channel from their house, so he grew up watching Kevin Sullivan race for Canada.

He continued to be captivated by track and field; as a college athlete at Wake Forest, Catton ran just under 1:50 for 800m: certainly a respectable performance. “If someone shares that with an athlete like Donavan Brazier or Clayton Murphy, though, that wouldn’t sound too great,” he admits.

High-level high schoolers

After graduation, when he was ready to move into coaching, he got lucky: “a local coach just happened to be stepping down from coaching to spend more time with his kids so everything kind of lined up.”

Pretty quickly, Catton began developing high-level talent at the high school level. Perhaps the most well-known of these athletes was Craig Engels, who was one of only 6 high schoolers ever to break both 1:50 over 800m and 9:00 over 3200m. Engels went on to have an illustrious career at Ole Miss, before joining the Nike Oregon Project.

Craig Engels, photo from medium.com

“Craig was likely the fastest, but [I also had] others like Jake Hurysz and Scott Morgan, who were both sub-9 3200m runners and Footlocker Finalists.” Morgan had a very successful collegiate career at UNC-Chapel Hill. Hurysz went on to break the Colorado school record in the mile (3:58) and earn 3 NCAA DI All-American medals. He ran professionally for NJNY track club and now serves as the Operations Assistant for Men’s XC at Florida State University.

5 Questions with Jake Hurysz
Jake Hurysz ran for Colorado, photo from the dailyrelay

These front-runners helped him get the momentum moving for the rest of his high-school athletes. How did he move these runners into the next level? Catton says that it’s different for everyone. “Jake needed structure in his training above anything, Scott just needed someone to run with, and Craig needed to focus.”

“With each kid came experience and also a team of high level runners and a culture that enabled the bar to keep rising.”

Most high school coaches “know that the training, workouts, and “x’s and o’s” are only about 5% of the job,” observes Catton. “There’s SO much time, organization, and commitment that goes into coaching high school.” He suggests re-evaluating your coaching goals if you’re just in it for the training aspect of the job.

A tough landscape for professional runners… and coaches!

“Unless you’re a top 3 athlete at the NCAA meet, it is very hard to get a contract to support yourself,” Coach Catton mused.

He’s right; it’s hard to be a professional runner. According to Sports Management Degree Hub, only about 20% of USA top-10 track & field athletes make over $50k annually, even when you include sponsorships, grants, and prize money. Shockingly, 50% of these nationally-ranked athletes actually make less than $15k per year from all of these sources.

It’s easy to imagine how difficult it can be to compensate a personal coach when you are living below the poverty line. Even for our country’s top post-collegiate athletes, it can be incredibly hard to find and fund quality coaching and a nurturing training environment.

“There’s only a few ways to coach in our sport,” Catton shared. At the high-school level, most coaches are also teachers. “It’s hard to have a job outside education and coach high school.” Private running coaches, on the other hand, sometimes offer their services as a “side hustle”, outside of their day jobs.

The origins of RunCCG

Unless you’re an Olympic-level athlete, it is unlikely that you will just “fall” into collegiate coaching. “In order to be a college coach, you really need to get a start VERY early after college and make tons of sacrifices, both personally and financially, for a few years in order to get your position.”

Catton and good friend Tim Goldsack developed another idea that would maintain their friendship and keep them involved with the sport that they love. “We decided that we could do some outside coaching”.

The hardest challenge for them has been exposure: “How do people know you’re available, qualified, and willing to coach them?”

So far, they’ve had fun coaching all types of runners, whether professional, amateur, or not yet sure. “I like coaching the willing 6-minute miler as much as the record-holder or Olympic Trials Qualifier.”

Learning from the best

The best coaches are always learning from each other. Goldsack and Catton bounce ideas off each other on a regular basis.

Catton also notes that his relationship with Ole Miss distance coach Ryan Vanhoy has impacted his development as a coach. “Ryan and I have been friends for a long time, since he was a student at North Carolina,” Catton shared. “He’s one of the best coaches in the NCAA and the World, and I probably speak to him about training every single day.”

For those who do aspire to break into collegiate coaching, Catton offers: “start right after college and be willing to do anything, volunteer, go to grad school, and be willing to make a huge sacrifice.”

Coach Ryan Vanhoy: photo from medium.com

Follow RunCCG on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/runccg/

Emma Abrahamson – From Athlete to Influencer to Coach

Emma Abrahamson was a star miler and member of the University of Oregon team that won the 2016 NCAA DI XC Championships. She may have retired from her running career, but she’s just getting started with her next adventure: transitioning her coaching/social media side hustle into full-time self employment!

The product? “Get After Fit” Coaching! Now, she lives in San Diego and she’s on a journey from athlete to social media influencer to coach/entrepreneur!

Read more about her journey below, or check out the full audio interview!

Abrahamson_NCAAXC_KLEmma Abrahamson got her start in swimming and triathlons. She was a precocious runner and was soon recruited by a club coach. At age 11, she quit swimming and went all-in with track & field. She remembers her personal trainer assigning intense workouts when she was as young as 12.

IMG_6497“I was running times that most middle schoolers can’t run. I dedicate that to her. She pushed me very hard.” The trainer, Suzanna Davis, was also a professional triathlete. “She helped set me up for a good high school career.”

After high school, Emma became a member of the University of Oregon team. Here, she was on the squad that won the NCAA DI Championships in 2016. The middle distance specialist ran a personal best of 4:39 in the mile!

Throughout her running career at Oregon, Emma began cultivating her personal social media brand through Youtube videos.

DfFnPhlUcAA3TgHAfter graduating, she moved to Atlanta for work. Here, she trained post-collegiately for a short time with Atlanta Track Club Elite (AJC Peachtree Road Race, anyone?).

“A combination of everything led me to where I am today.”

A (YouTube) Star is Born

Her YouTube channel got its start when she was in Eugene, Oregon for an internship with Run Gum. On a day with too much free time, she decided to film “a day in the life”. Her videos began gaining traction among young runners. Soon, she even had a catchphrase: “What’s up fellows?”

She calls her YouTube channel “probably the best thing I did in college”. She clarifies that “it’s brought a lot of opportunities work-wise that I never thought I’d have.”

Young athletes who follow her on social media often ask for advice. Although it’s hard for her to keep up with all the comments and questions, Emma finds it very rewarding to hear from the athletes who look up to her and are motivated by her work.

This was a big inspiration for her to start her own training program to help people reach their goals. She already had some coaching experience — during breaks from college, she helped out with a youth club called Junior Mavericks. Seeing them succeed and run personal bests energized her.

Abrahamson2_Dellinger_EE“Coaching was always on the back of my mind,” Emma mused. “I looked up to my coach [University of Oregon Coach Maurica Powell]–especially seeing her and the inspiration she provides for her team.”

Coach Powell changed Emma’s outlook on how good she could really be as a runner. Emma dedicates her 1500m PR of 4:18 to Coach Powell (as well as her teammates), noting that she probably would have been satisfied with just breaking 4:25.

Now, Emma is ready: she is NFHS certified and has her USATF Level 1 certification class scheduled. She’ll be offering individualized training plans, weekly evaluations through Training Peaks, one-on-one phone calls, nutrition advice, and supplementary weight training. Her target athlete: everyone!

“This is a really cool opportunity. It’s so rewarding to see people accomplish their goals.”

On Starting a Business

Emma has some sage advice: “in the process of starting your own business, don’t be too hard on yourself.”

Emma admits that she didn’t know where to begin. After lots of research and conversations with mentors, she finally realized that there’s only one way to proceed: trail and error.

“It is pretty frustrating if you don’t know what you’re doing, but there’s never really a right time to get started so you might as well start now with doing your research.”

emma 1But struggling through this process has paid off big time for Emma.

“I didn’t think of myself as an entrepreneur until I started my personal brand on social media,” she observed. “I’m still in the beginning so I have a long ways to go, but it’s been fun!”

One last thing: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help from people who have [started a business] before you because it is hard but it’s definitely a rewarding endeavor.”

Listen to the full audio interview here:

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Pictures from goducks.com and emmaabrahamson.com

Creating a Culture of Valuing Women Coaches: Ten Ideas for Young Coaches

How does your alma mater stack up against others in your conference when it comes to hiring and retaining women coaches?

aRSKKtiF_400x400Each year, the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center assigns grades to college athletic departments based on the percentage of women head coaches of women’s teams. In 2017-18, Cincinnati and UCF rose to the top of schools in seven select NCAA DI conferences. Nine schools, however, received an “F” for having a truly dismal number of female head women’s coaches.

This summer, the Tucker Center went one (big) step further, and released a report funded by the NCAA to explore the best practices for recruiting, hiring, and retaining women collegiate coaches. Extensive interviews were conducted with 21 Athletic Directors (AD’s) from NCAA DI, DII, and DIII schools that received a grade of “A” or “B”.

Grades 17-18

Why was this needed?

Women coaches matter. First, girls and young women deserve to see themselves in their coaches; being able to do so elevates their self-perceptions and helps them see coaching as a viable career option.

Second, “diversity in the workforce is a business imperative, and athletic departments should not be the exception” (1). Our priority is serving our student-athletes, and having a diverse staff will help us to do this better.

The percentage of women’s teams that are coached by women has dropped precipitously since the 1970’s… Why?

“It is simply not possible that as each new generation of females comes increasingly involved in and shaped by their sport experiences, they simultaneously become less qualified to enter the coaching profession” (1).

What’s in the report?

AD’s spoke candidly and anonymously on the (very real) barriers to hiring and retaining female coaches. Many of the AD’s felt a strong personal conviction that “women should be coached by women”, but felt unable to express this desire during the hiring process.

Tucker Center Report

One AD points out “the paradox of wanting to hire women to coach women, but not being able to explicitly state it… as AD’s do not want to make themselves or their institutions vulnerable to litigation” (7). This AD goes on to explain that this barrier is unique to women, because the ingrained expectation that men’s teams will be coached by men is so strong that gender won’t even be a part of the conversation.

The challenge, then, is to “create a consistent and strong culture of valuing women without crossing the legal line” (7). The report sets out to help your athletic department do just that.

While this report is designed as a resource for AD’s and Senior Women Administrators (SWA’s), there are nuggets of wisdom that can guide any coach in their pursuit of an equitable work environment. Plus, this is an amazing resource to have in your pocket if you will one day be interested in pursuing a career athletic administration.

 

What can young, female coaches take away from this research?

ONE: Barriers do exist

In order to begin to combat the barriers that exist, we must understand them. There is a helpful figure on page 3 of the report of an Intersectional-Ecological Systems Model of potential barriers (Don’t worry: you don’t have to understand those words to understand the graph!)

TWO: You deserve the “three-C’s”

“If athletic administrators create a workplace climate where essential needs of care, competence, and choice of women coaches are met, the department will likely attract women” (5). A good workplace will demonstrate that they care about you, trust you, and give you autonomy. Learn more on page 5!

THREE: Be unapologetic

Do not be embarrassed to tout the benefits of women coaching women. Be confident that you have unique gifts that a man in the same role would not. See Appendix A for strategies to approach athletes who are not yet convinced.

FOUR: Find the veterans

Look within your program for highly successful, strong women. Reach out to her. Support her. Learn from her. Page 12 expands.

FIVE: Take on an unexpected role

Find a space where you are untested, and have the courage to ask for a chance. One day, when you are a head coach, these skills will be invaluable. This is especially true for women of color (see pages 12-14).

SIX: Bomb an interview? Don’t sweat… learn!

One AD promises that “the experience of explaining and knowing what questions are going to come is helpful for future interviews” (19). Keep moving forward.

SEVEN: “Draw a map, find a path, take a breath and run.”

“He is We” might as well have been singing about creating a career-development plan. Know where you’re headed. Share it with your AD or SWA.

EIGHT: Develop as a professional

Find and join relevant organizations. Be a student of the sport.

(Side note, read this article about The loss of the Black Coaches Association. Now, even their successor has gone out of business. Can any of you awesome young entrepreneurs re-start the movement?)

NINE: Be realistic about your resources

Be aware of whether your AD’s performance expectations for your program are possible considering the resources you are given. If they are not, do not immediately blame your own coaching. Work with your mentors to change your strategy or expectations. If this does not work, do not be afraid to move on to a program that can offer better support (like is described on page 15).

TEN: You have more leverage than you perceive

Don’t forget — If you demonstrate excellence at your craft, you WILL be highly sought after. See Appendix C for the Women Coaches’ Playbook for Being Hired and Retained (attached below).

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Networking: Know Yourself to Lead Yourself

1200x630bbWhen you think of a networking guru, what qualities do you imagine that they possess?

More than likely, you conjured up images of someone who is charismatic and chatty; confident and charming. BUT we have all met someone who fits this description on paper, but comes off as scripted or inauthentic… or downright aggressive.

The reality is, effective networking (and coaching) is about building relationships–and you don’t have to be extroverted to do that well.

Podcast Review: Sports Leadership Podcast #26 – Networking

My favorite part about exploring new podcasts is discovering hosts who display an unexpected combination of vulnerability and wisdom.

This episode focuses on the importance of the Delphic maxim, “know thyself” or, as hosts Kevin Deshazo and Mark Hodskin offer, “know yourself to lead yourself.” Deshazo is an extrovert and Hodgkin an introvert. Together, they compare experiences to offer a deeper exploration of effective, personalized networking in the world of athletic leadership.

The most unique networking tip offered in this episode was to spend some time seeking connection with those on the outskirts of the event. If someone looks shy or uncomfortable, approach them with a friendly question. Get them talking, and show them that their presence is valuable to you. You don’t have to spend an hour with them, but be willing to engage them for at least a few minutes.

It’s easy to get so caught up in seeking out the “big-wigs” that you forget to truly connect with those around you. It’s not hard to spot someone who is just looking to climb the ladder–at networking events and in life. Don’t be that person.

Deshazo and Hodskin might have different styles when it comes to networking, but they both agree on one thing: “Networking is crucial for growing your career, whether it comes naturally or not.”

Below are some of the tips that they offered for networking at conference events:

  1. Recognize that it’s exhausting!
  2. Recharge during the day — take a break to exercise, nap, breathe
  3. Ask questions: If you’re an introvert, it keeps you from having to talk! If you’re an extrovert, it keeps you from talking too much!
  4. Don’t feel sad if it doesn’t feel like it’s “working” — people are busy and conferences are crazy.
  5. Focus on relationships. DON’T talk business/sales.
  6. Make the networking event a good experience for others — help those on the outskirts feel valued.
  7. Be a “lobby person” — after a session, be available for conversation
  8. Don’t try to be something you’re not — just be the healthiest & best version of yourself.

If this list is intriguing to you, give this podcast a listen. You are bound to identify with some of the experiences of the hosts , and whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you will walk away from this podcast feeling both affirmed and challenged.

Also, check out Episode 25 (The Dangers of Comparison) and 24 (Leading Up) for more great leadership and self-care advice.

Find this podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud. Released July 25, 2018.

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Reviewed by: Hannah Chappell-Dick on August 29, 2018

Hannah Chappell-Dick is a volunteer assistant coach at Georgia Tech and run for Atlanta Track Club Elite in Atlanta, GA. She grew up in Bluffton, Ohio.

Read more here.

Book Review: Coaching for the Inner Edge

51VECP5QDCL._SX381_BO1,204,203,200_Coaching for the Inner Edge is a comprehensive text resource for coaches to better prepare athletes for success in competitive environments.

I became interested in sport psychology after several seasons of inconsistent performance from my teams.  We were doing good training and seeing improvement, but the athletes would often have difficulty in the biggest meets.  I wanted to improve my ability to prepare them mentally for competitions.

I was first recommended this text by Dr. Gloria Balague.  She is a former professor at the University of Illinois and has worked as a sport psychologist with the Chicago Bears, USA Gymnastics and USA Track and Field.  Dr. Balague was teaching the USTFCCCA 405 course on sport psychology and mentioned this text as a great resource.  When such a prominent figure recommends a book, I always try to pick up a copy.

Coaching for the Inner Edge is written by Dr. Vealey a professor at Miami University of Ohio, and a former collegiate basketball player and coach.  She has dedicated her professional career to understanding the mental side of athletic competition.

The book explains how sport psychology functions to improve performance. There is a focus on practical implementation techniques like goal mapping, imagery, and relaxation.

The book is separated into four parts.  The first part talks about foundational elements of sport psychology.  The second part takes the reader through the different types of mental training tools.  The third part addresses the primary mental skills the tools seek to improve, and the fourth part is about putting it all together.

I love that Dr. Vealey includes templates and exemplars in the text to help coaches and athletes actually apply the information in meaningful ways.

One example that I use with my athletes is the goal mapping template. Dr. Vealey differentiates object from process goals, and then provides a form to use with athletes to record and track goals. This format for providing concrete useful tools is repeated throughout the book.  There are many additional forms and tools provided in the Appendix, as well as numerous quotes and example scenarios to provide insight and guidance.

I have found her suggested reading at the end of the book under coaches resources, as well as her complete references list, to be a fantastic springboard into a larger wealth of knowledge within topics of sport psychology.  I highly recommend the book as a valuable addition to any coaching library.

 

You can purchase “Coaching for the Inner Edge” by Robin S. Vealy at Fit Publishing or Amazon. This book is out of print, but copies are available online. There is also a 2nd edition in the works!

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Reviewer: Kevin O’Grattan

Coach O’Grattan is the Assistant Head Cross Country and Distance Track Coach at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Kansas. He is currently working on his Masters Certification in Cross Country from USTFCCCA.

You can read more about Coach O’Grattan here in his coaching profile.