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.