By Tony Holler
What is the correlation between speed and coaching? At the risk of painting with a broad brush, it seems our best coaches were slow athletes. Yes, slow may be a coaching prerequisite. In my experience, the best athletes don’t make the best coaches.
Let me clarify. When I speak of athletes, I speak of athleticism. By athleticism I’m speaking of sprinting, jumping, and explosion. Athletic basketball players dunk. Athletic football players are fast and explosive. Athletic baseball players combine home runs and stolen bases. “Athletes” are well-defined, lean, and symmetrical. Several years ago I had a friend who was a scout for the New York Mets. I asked Terry Tripp what he looked for in a prospect. He said nothing about courage, determination, or work ethic. Terry Tripp told me he looks for a “high butt.” Hmm. The glutes are the most important muscles of sprinting, jumping, and power. I get it. The Mets were recruiting athleticism, not skills. In 1995 I was speaking to a college basketball coach, Mark Coomes, about a player who was averaging over 25 points per game. Mark asked one question, “Is he explosive?” In basketball talk, explosive is code for dunking. The ability to dunk indicates athleticism. Non-dunkers are usually slow and can’t guard their position. Basketball coaches don’t recruit hard workers and good shooters, they recruit athletes. Football recruits athleticism to the extreme. Size, speed, and power is the holy trinity of modern gladiators. And the people doing the recruiting are usually slow white guys.
Think about it. Who coaches baseball? Catchers. Catchers are the slowest athletes on a baseball team. Last season, 10 of the 28 major league managers were catchers. 36% of baseball managers are catchers despite the fact that catchers make up only one-ninth of a team. Outfielders are baseball’s elite athletes. Despite making up 33% of a baseball team, only 14% of major league teams are coached by former outfielders. Slow guys make better coaches.
Who coaches basketball? Shooters are the most likely candidates. Tall, graceful, long-armed dunk contest winners are not your typical basketball coaches. How many windmill dunks did Tom Thibodeau execute as a player? Was Coach Krzyzewski a high-flying shot blocker? Coach K and I discussed West Point in the Oswego High School weight room back in 1976. Coach K was in his first year as West Point’s head coach (All I could think about was his awful haircut … no way could I go to West Point). Did Jim Calipari record any dunks as point guard at Clarion University? The Michael Jordans of the world generally don’t coach. Basketball coaches are shooters, not dunkers.
Who coaches football? When I think of football coaches I think Bill Belichick. Belichick played center at tiny Wesleyan University in Connecticut. How many wide receivers are head football coaches? Nick Saban was a defensive back at Kent State. Urban Meyer was a defensive back at Cincinnati. Gus Malzahn was a receiver at Henderson State University. Jimbo Fisher was a quarterback at Salem College. I’ve observed the same pattern in high school football. It is rare to find a head football coach who was a gifted athlete. The coaching fraternity rewards those who had to work for it.
Track and field is the only sport coached by athletic fast guys. Actually that’s not the case. At the risk of losing friends, most head track coaches are slow guys. Distance runners are the skinny guys who couldn’t make the sprint relays, couldn’t jump, and definitely couldn’t throw shot or discus. Distance runners never wore helmets and shoulder pads. I like and respect distance coaches. They set their own alarm, make lists, remember birthdays, read books, and are as loyal as the family dog. However, distance guys lack athleticism. Remember, my definition of athleticism is sprinting, jumping, and explosion. Distance guys are aerobic, not anaerobic. Distance coaches don’t understand “cats.” Fast-twitch sprinters drive joggers crazy. Like catchers in baseball, shooters in basketball, and generic white guys in football, most head track coaches are slow.
Converting the Infidels
It’s hard to explain speed to slow guys. It’s tough to teach slow-twitch guys how to train fast-twitch athletes. The majority of coaches at all levels of sport were not gifted athletes. They achieved limited success as a participant by out-working their competition. Generally speaking, coaches are workaholics who live by a litany of motivational quotes. As you would expect, coaches identify with athletes who have similar traits. The coach’s “favorite” will always be the scrappy guy that hustles, not the prima donna with all that God-given talent. I’ve been around hundreds of coaches. I am a 2nd generation coach. I went everywhere with my dad. I lived in locker rooms, coach’s offices, and gymnasiums. Elite athletes may win games, but coaches love the underdog.
My most recent article, “10 Reasons to Join the Track Team” was the most popular article I’ve ever written. I said things that track coaches wanted to hear. However, I may have been preaching to the choir. Of course my ten reasons were right on target. Of course football players should run track. Of course, specialization is like a cancer. But, did my words reach those who needed to hear it?
It’s fun to rally the base, but consensus is the goal. We must convert the infidels. Slow guys must learn the value of training sprinters, jumpers, and throwers. Coaches must stop worshiping the gods of courage, toughness, dedication, loyalty, perseverance, determination, hard work, and discipline. If I hear a coach talk about “playing hard” one more time, I think I will vomit. Why is it that so many coaches resort to simple-minded nonsense? Once, my son’s basketball coach addressed his losing team after a game by writing “courage” on the board with his left-handed illegible penmanship. The 25 point loss had nothing to do with being out-manned at every position? Courage? Deep down, coaches know that athleticism is the key to success. If these coaches could detach themselves from themselves, maybe they could be converted.
As I explained in “10 Reasons to Join the Track Team”, baseball and basketball have succumbed to specialization. I’ve also received feedback that volleyball, wrestling, and soccer are just as bad. As track promoters, we might as well give up on those kids. Parent-driven athletes don’t think for themselves. Basically a track team will be a diverse conglomeration of cross-country runners and football players. Once in a while I find a rare gem walking the hallway. I call it “panning for gold.”
Athletes Win Football Games
We must set our focus on changing football coaches’ attitudes towards track. We must break the belief, faith, and worship of the weight room as football’s ticket to the big time. The job will be exasperating for some of you, especially in Illinois. Many football programs totally boycott track. Some track programs get no football players to join the team. This sickens me.
As a disclaimer, I work closely with our head football coach, Tim Kane. I serve as his freshmen coach. I have known Tim for over 40 years. Our fastest football players run track if they don’t play baseball. I wish more of our big guys would throw, but all things are a work in progress. When I speak of Neanderthal football coaches, I am not speaking about my friend, Tim Kane.
Too many football coaches have a testosterone-driven ego that makes them impossible to work with. Football coaches are the emperors of high school athletics. Some have more power than the bosses. Head football coaches are the hardest working coaches I know, but most of them are tightly-wound and hard-headed. How can a track coach change the culture ? How can a track coach break the cycle of bigger, fatter, slower? How can a football coach learn to embrace athleticism and denounce specialization? Can you teach the value of a wheel to a caveman?
Here is the deal. College and professional coaches are looking for track & field athletes. The NCAA and NFL recruits athletes, not football players. Athletes … guys that can sprint, jump, and explode. Size combined with track and field excellence is the ticket to the big time. High school stats are basically ignored. High school MVPs often go unrecruited. Oh, you say that scholarships shouldn’t be the goal of high school athletics? I agree. I think we should help every kid become the best they can be. Maximizing athleticism fits into the most under-rated aspect of high school sports, winning. Yes, winning is under-rated. When you put participation above winning, sports become recreation. Nope, sports are about excellence. Excellence includes winning.
The best way to win is through athleticism. Scrappy guys who “play hard” will get beat by bigger, faster, more powerful teams. Why are class 8A football teams better than class 1A teams? Is it the coaching? Is it the strategy? Is it specialization? Is it a commitment to the weight room? Is it courage, toughness, dedication, loyalty, perseverance, determination, hard work, and discipline? No way. If these intangibles were responsible for winning, small schools would routinely beat big schools. The difference is athleticism. Big schools have more athletes. This is indisputable. Even science-denying Republicans will accept the fact that the best athletes will win games. All else is tangential (hardly touching the matter, peripheral).
Here’s another fact that needs to be considered. Weight room strength numbers do not measure athleticism. “Hey coach, can you send me the bench and squat numbers for your running back?” … said no coach ever. Jadeveon Clowney was picked #1 in the NFL draft despite an embarrassing bench press. Clowney managed only 21 reps at 225 pounds (Chicago Bears’ punter Pat O’Donnell did 23 reps). 300-pound Hall of Famer Warren Sapp only managed 16 reps in 1995. No problem. Weight lifting is over-rated.
Once your football coach converts to weight lifting agnosticism, maybe he will go to track meets. Oh, yeah, this article is titled “13 Things That Confuse Slow People”, I will get to that soon.
Scientific Law and Crimson Tide
Some of my most popular articles have addressed football. The five articles included: last year’s “Speed Kills” and “Kapri’s Quest For Speed“, last summer’s “Sprint-Based Football“, last week’s “10 Reasons to Join the Track Team“, and the sequel, “Baylor Recruits Multi-Sport Athletes.” The Baylor article was 90% written by Baylor’s Director of Athletic Performance, Chris Ruf. When Aaron Hunter of TrackingFootball.com read the Baylor article, he sent me an incredible spreadsheet with every Baylor athlete going back to RG III. When I studied the spreadsheet, I had an epiphany. The link between football and track is not just an argument to be debated, it is scientific law. The quantified ability to sprint, jump, and explode is the core of football athleticism. There is no debating where football players should spend their spring.
But Baylor is just one school. Scientists don’t cherry pick their facts. Baylor is just anecdotal evidence. Well, I am a scientist. When I learn something, the answer leads to more questions. It’s a never-ending cycle. How about other schools? How about Alabama? Alabama does it the old-fashioned way, right? Alabama wins because of their HUGE offensive line. Their players must live in the weight room. Muscles burst out of their uniforms. Alabama is Paul “Bear” Bryant country. Alabama is old-school, not that new-wave track and field bullshit.
First of all, don’t discount Bear Bryant. He once said, “A good quick team can beat a big slow team anytime.” Bear Bryant’s teams were slow compared to today’s standards, but that wasn’t his fault. The tipping point came on September 12, 1970. For the first time, Alabama hosted a fully integrated football team, USC. After losing 41-21 to a faster, stronger, more athletic team, Alabama featured their first African-American athlete in 1971.
The three biggest football states are Florida, Texas, and California. Aaron Hunter of Tracking Football told me, “When we see a football player coming out of Florida, Texas, or California, we immediately assume they ran track.” But how about old-school Alabama? Aaron Hunter sent me a data base of 95 athletes entering Alabama’s football program from 2009-2014. 76/95 (80%) were track athletes. When I saw that star wide-receiver Amari Cooper was NOT a track athlete, I was disappointed. However, Cooper did play basketball, a breeding ground for athleticism. Amazingly 16/19 Alabama football players who did not run track played basketball. Picture this. Coach Saban is addressing 95 players. “Everyone who played basketball or track in high school take three steps forward.” Only 3 would remain. I repeat, only three guys in the data base from 2009-2014 did not run track or play basketball. Seven of the 95 at Alabama played high school baseball. Only three wrestled.
So, Alabama is like every other football school in the NCAA, they recruit football players who run track (or play basketball). If track athletes make great football players, then football coaches (generic slow white guys) need to start attending track meets. In addition, football coaches need to learn track & field. Back in Franklin, TN, I was on the football staff of former Vandy star, Tim Johnson. Johnson later starred in the Kenny Chesney music video, “Boys of Fall.” Anyway, after our Great-Eight meet at Vanderbilt I told Tim that his 5’8″ wide receiver, John Hewitt, ran the 400 in 47.99. Tim Johnson asked me, “Is that pretty good for a junior?”
How can football coaches embrace a foreign sport? Can football coaches learn the complex relativity of times and distances? I think they need help. We need to keep them informed. We need to supply football coaches with event rankings from the state, the area, and the track team. We need to ask them to follow us on twitter. Then we need to tweet track information with football in mind. We need to stop bitching about football coaches and bring them on board. If your track team does not have a football guy as a throws coach, I wonder why. If your track team does not have a football guy as your sprint coach, I don’t understand. Track needs to infiltrate football. Football needs to infiltrate track.
Track coaches are in the business of developing athletes. Remember, athletes are sprinters, jumpers, and throwers. Please don’t get angry, but distance events do not fit my definition of “athleticism.” I have competed in four marathons, and I respect endurance. However, my athleticism at age-55 is about a 1 on a scale of 10. I will run two miles today and lift weights tonight, but I’m slow, can’t jump and have no explosive power. And, even though the best pole vaulters are marvelous athletes, they are seldom football players. The vault is a strange event of specialists.
Thirteen of the eighteen track events are athlete-developers. We need to make sprint, jump, and throw performances understandable to slow people. Just because a football coach never ran 100 meters in 10.55 should not keep them from attending meets. Last year I had three juniors and sophomore run 42.22 in the 4×1. We were 10th best in the state. Three of those relay guys were football players. I would hope, someday that football coaches would recognize 42.22 as a pretty good time.
The 13 Events that Quantify Athleticism
100 METER DASH … The 100 may be the best quantifier of speed. The NFL Combine tests the 40 yard dash. While I have found the 40 yard dash to be a perfect tool for training sprinters, 40 times are often misleading. My best sprinters run 4.4, but there are some imposters than also run 4.4. For example, when considering the spreadsheet of those 95 players at Alabama, ten guys were rated at 4.4 in the 40. However, the 100 meter dash times of those 4.4 forties varied from 10.18 to 11.67. I have nothing against the 40; I time close to 10,000 40s every year. However, given a choice between someone who runs 10.18 and 11.67 in the 100, I would recruit the 10.18. Ha.
What is fast in the 100 meters? First of all, only consider times with two decimal places. Two decimal places indicates Fully Automated Timing (FAT). Hand-held 100 meter times are bogus and should never be passed around as factual data. I’ve had three guys run 10.4 in the 100. All three involved unreliable timers and with substantial wind. With that being said, if a freshmen in high school runs 11.50, he is probably the fastest guy on the football field in every freshmen game. If a varsity athlete ran under 11.00, he will never get caught from behind. Our FAT school record is 10.97, and we are known for our speed. The Illinois State Champion, Cole Henderson ran 10.53. Alabama has four guys who, in high school, ran 10.18, 10.37, 10.48, and 10.50. 36 guys at Alabama (2009-2014) ran the 100 in high school. 17 of Alabama’s football players would have set the Plainfield North school record. I watched Baylor destroy Oklahoma last week with their three incredible wide receivers, K.D. Cannon 10.32 (TX state champ), Antwan Goodley 21.40 in 200 (and basketball), and Corey Coleman 10.83 in 100. Coleman also high jumped 6’7″ and long jumped 22’1″. Corey Coleman caught 15 passes for 224 yards.
If you don’t have automated timing, just watch for muscular guys who win the 100, then ask them what football offers they’ve received. None of these guys ever slip between the cracks.
200 METER DASH … The 200 is usually won by the same guys that win the 100. I do believe that wide receivers may be better in the 200, while running backs and DBs are better in the 100. Stride length and efficiency are at more of a premium in the 200. FAT timing and wind are also factors in 200 times. By the way, to convert hand-held times to FAT, simply round-up to the tenth, then add 0.24. For example, if you time someone at 22.33, round-up to 22.40 then add 0.24 to get 22.64.
What is fast in the 200 meters? If a freshmen in high school runs under 23.0, he is elite. If a varsity athlete runs under 22.00, he is also a freak in football. Our FAT school record is 22.00. Our state meet was won by a young phenom, Kahmari Montgomery, from nearby Plainfield Central. His time was a blazing 21.25. Alabama’s roster includes a 21.18, 21.25, and 21.51. Eight guys on the Alabama roster would be 200 meter record holders at Plainfield North.
400 METER DASH … The 400 is a long sprint and a test of speed, efficiency, and a top-flight training program. Unlike the 100, the 400 is not as popular with football players. 38% of Alabama’s players ran the 100 in high school, only 10% ran the 400. If a freshmen in high school runs under 52.00, he is a star. If a varsity athlete runs under 49.00, he is elite. Our school record is 48.44. Kahmari Montgomery, the 200 champ in Illinois, also won the 400 (46.82). 2014 Alabama recruit Marlon Humphrey ran 47.30.
4×1 RELAY … The 4×1 is the greatest race in track and field. Football players own this one. My hope every year would be a freshmen team under 45.00 (last year 44.99), a sophomore group under 44.00 (last year 43.82), and a varsity team under 42.50 (last year 42.22). The state meet was won by Edwardsville at 41.46. Landon Collins of Alabama ran on a 4×1 team blazing 41.10. 26 guys on Alabama’s roster ran the 4×1 in high school. As I mentioned in my last article, TCU had six guys in last year’s recruiting class who ran on sub-42 teams. No wonder TCU leads the nation in scoring.
4×2 RELAY … Like comparing the 100 to the 200, the 4×2 sprinters are usually the same as the 4×1. However, the event conflicts with the 400, so your 47.50 400 meter runner never gets to run the 4×2. In addition, the 4×2 is less than 20 minutes from the running of the 300 hurdles, so those terrific athletes are often absent from the 4×2. The 4×1 always has an A-team event, the top four sprinters from every school. The 4×2 is not. Football players are everywhere here. My 4×2 last year was anchored by Quintin Hoosman, who led the state of Illinois this year in rushing (2400 yards and 32 touchdowns in 10 games). My hope every year would be a freshmen team under 1:36.00 (last year 1:35.02), a sophomore group under 1:33.0 (last year 1:31.84), and a varsity group under 1:28.0 (last year 1:28.61). The Plainfied North school record is 1:27.14. The Illinois state meet was won by Schaumburg at 1:26.13. Nine guys on Alabama’s roster ran the 4×2 in high school, Landon Collins ran on a team that went 1:26.55. Baylor has three guys who ran on high school teams running 1:25.45, 1:25.84, and 1:26.02.
4×4 RELAY … This should be the football coaches’ favorite. No other race resembles a backyard brawl. In this race, you can apply all of those words football coaches love … courage, toughness, dedication, loyalty, perseverance, determination, hard work, and discipline. Four guys at the end of a meet, beaten and battered from earlier races, courageously put it all on the line. No one feels good, but there is something inherently “manly” about the race. Four warriors are racing one last time. This gives me goose bumps just thinking about it. Yes, I was a 4×4 guy. My hope every year would be a freshmen team under 3:40.0 (PN Fr record 3:39.71), a sophomore team under 3:32.00 (PN Soph record 3:30.84), and a varsity team under 3:20 (PN Var record 3:19.30). The Illinois state meet was won by East St. Louis running 3:16.59.
Only four guys from the Crimson Tide ran on their high school’s 4×4 team. This is not typical. Baylor’s roster has 16 guys who ran on their high school 4×4 team. Five of those guys ran on teams going sub-3:20. After watching both Alabama and Baylor last week, I think Nick Saban needs more 4×4 guys. How many football players at your school run the 4×4?
110 HIGH HURDLES … This is the only event that competes with the 100 as the ultimate race of athleticism for football players. See Derek Hanson’s article “Why Do Hurdlers Make Great Football Players?.” My son, Alec, is a terrific hurdle coach. When asked to describe the qualities of elite hurdlers, he said, “Speed, coordination, rhythm, power, and coachability.” College football coaches like those kinds of players. Plainfield North has been blessed with great hurdlers. Much of that credit goes to my three sons. In 2009, Alec was my hurdle coach, Troy was a senior hurdler, and Quinn was a freshmen hurdler. They got it all started in the early days of Plainfield North. My hope every year is to have a freshmen under 17.00 (last year 17.00), and a couple of varsity guys under 15.00 (last year 14.55 and 15.04). The 2014 Illinois state champ was Antonio Shenault of Lake Park running 14.14.
Even though 14.14 is a great time for the Lake Park junior, the Crimson Tide has two hurdlers who would have made Shenault look slow. Marlon Humphrey ran 13.24, and Tony Brown ran 13.38. These guys are future Olympians. Baylor’s football hurdlers aren’t quite as good. Ishmael Zamora ran 13.68, Chance Casey ran 13.80, and Austin Jupe ran 14.14.
300 INTERMEDIATE HURDLES … Like 100/200 stars, almost all hurdlers do both events well. I have coached three 300 Intermediate state champions. Every year I want one freshman under 45.00 (PN freshmen record 42. 77) and one varsity guy under 40.00 (last year 38.90). The Illinois state champ was Conor Dunham of St. Ignatius running 36.90. Humphrey and Brown of Alabama ran 35.60 and 37.32. Baylor’s guys aren’t bad either, three guys under 38.00.
LONG JUMP … The long jump may be one of the most under-rated tests of athleticism. When I coached 6’3″ 215-pound Braden Jones, I would tell him “run fast and jump high.” Braden went 23’4″ and later played for the Minnesota Vikings. Running fast and jumping high is a dynamic combination. Every year I want a freshmen jumping 20’0 (last year 20’0) and a varsity athlete going 22’0 (last year we had a junior who went 21’0″). The 2014 Illinois state champ went 23’1″.
The Crimson Tide has thirteen players who long jumped over 21’0″. Anthony Averette went 25’2″ and DeAndrew White went 24’0″. Baylor’s football team has four guys who would have been Illinois state champions in the long jump (24’10”, 24’02”, 24’01, and 23’10”).
TRIPLE JUMP … It’s hard to get kids to triple jump. Without proper technique, the triple jump is a nightmare. When guys do it well, it is impressive. The triple jump has been an embarrassment for my track teams. Hopefully that will change. We had a 40’0″ freshmen last year. The 2014 Illinois state champ was Marcus Jegede of Lake Park at 48’5″.
DeAndrew White (the guy making the one-handed catch in the earlier picture) of Alabama went 48’0″ in high school. Darius Jones of Baylor went 49’6″.
HIGH JUMP … The NFL Combine tests vertical jump, but I’d rather have a high jumper. Last year I had a 220-pound high jumper who went 6’7″. Everyone wanted to know where he would play football. However, Manny Bofah was from Ghana and chose to play the other type of football, soccer. I’d be happy every year with a freshmen going 5’10” (last year 6’0) and a varsity guy going 6’4″ (last year 6’7″). The 2014 Illinois state champ, Jonathon Wells of Fox Lake Grant, jumped 7’0″.
Alabama has a 6’6″ high jumper. Baylor has a 6’11” high jumper.
SHOT PUT … There is no test of explosive power better than the shot put. Athletes must combine size with speed, coordination, and explosion. I’ve never met an elite shot putter who did not have NFL potential. When I’m looking for shot putter, I want big guys who can grab the rim. If I was a varsity football coach, every big kid in my program would be a shot putter. Our freshman standard is 40’0. Our sophomore standard is 45’0″. We had two varsity guys who were decent, 50’11 and 49’10”. These numbers pale in comparison to our state’s best. Martinus Mitchell of Collinsville threw 61’01” to win the state. Mitchell is 6’6″ 240, with a 7’1″ wing span.
32 guys on Alabama’s roster threw the shot put in high school. At Plainfield North we can’t get our biggest and strongest freshmen football players to throw the shot, and I’m the freshmen football coach. Where is the disconnect? I don’t know, but if one-third of Alabama’s football roster were high school shot putters, maybe ALL big & powerful high school football players should take note. Two offensive lineman for the Crimson Tide were elite in the shot put, Grant Hill threw 58’10” and Anthony Steen threw 58’9″. Baylor’s LaQuan McGowan threw 62’1″.
DISCUS … Most guys good at the shot put are good at the discus. However, elite discus athletes remind me of power forwards in basketball. I want freshmen who throw 120 and varsity guys who throw 150. The Illinois state champ, Stephen Hubona of Benet, threw 185’1″.
The Crimson Tide’s Grant Hill threw the discus 203’07”, 59-feet further than my best thrower last year. Baylor has guys at 184’02”, 182’10”, and 178’06”. How do discus throwers train? They sprint, they jump, and they lift. Strength and quickness are keys to success. Big guys need track and field. Track and field needs big guys.
Time for the Pitchforks and Torches
How much more information do we need? Elite football are not specialists. Galileo was put on house arrest because he said the planets rotated around the sun. When this article is published, the authorities may come knocking at my door.
Why do Athletic Directors fail as leaders? They shrug their shoulders and consistently allow coaches to directly or indirectly encourage specialization at the cost of kids. When will we put kids first? High school athletes are being recruited by sports entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs want the parents’ money. Parents make the wrong choice for their kids. Elite football players run track or play basketball.
If I was a principal, a superintendent, or a board member, I would speak against specialization. No educated person speaks for it. No one. I would want my entire athletic program to be terrific. Sports may be only 5% of the pie, but the athletic program is the “window to the school.” Great schools have winning athletic programs. Not just football, all programs. A rising tide floats all boats. Specialization is the cancer of high school athletics.
The thirteen events listed above are measuring sticks of athleticism. Understanding the numbers may seem impossible for speed-challenged people who never participated in track and field. Becoming a fan may seem impossible for a football-centric single-minded coach. That is why Tracking Football is becoming such a valuable service to college football coaches. The PAI (Player Athletic Index) is a proprietary “height, weight, speed, and power ratio” designed for football players at each individual position. The PAI makes it easy for college football coaches to rate players, no track PhD needed. Aaron Hunter of Tracking Football is in constant discussions with NCAA football coaches. The most recent meetings have been with the Stanford football program. College coaches recruit athletes and athletes run track.
I will leave you with this phone conversation that may or may not have ever occurred:
NCAA Coach: So tell me about your linebacker.
HS Coach: He is 6’0″, 230, and led our team in tackles. He lives in the weight room and can squat 500 pounds.
NCAA Coach: Does he run track?
HS Coach: No, none of our guys run track.
NCAA Coach: Coach, all three of our starting linebackers threw the shot over 55-feet, one guy threw 58-feet.
HS Coach: Is that good?
Please share this article so others may benefit.
You may also enjoy reading Tony Holler’s, “10 Reasons to Join the Track Team”.
Love the Articles.
However I want to throw this out to you because some of us coach distance runners to be athletes first and slow plodders never.
Since 2010 at Kaneland we have had 1600 relay teams run under 3:21 4 times
With thirteen different athletes. Seven of the thirteen have been cross country distance runners
The fastest split we have had was 48.3 by a cross country distance runner (6th race in the state meet over 400 meters over the two days)
My top 6 split times all came from cross country runners all under 49.5
I know this is unusual. Our team believes speed kills.
We use many of the same principles that you have shared for our entire team.
Our Cross country guys have scored 104 points since 2010 in the state meet with zero points in the 1600 or 3200!
Our school has no indoor facility so our outdoor training is short and fast!
We train our distance runners to be fast first and slow running happens very little in our program.
I believe the best distance runners are also great athletes too.
Keep up the great writing!!!
Thanks for taking the time to comment on my article.
Some of my writing is edgy on purpose to get people riled up … defensive, self-reflecting, or even pissed-off. Too many cross coaches don’t buy into track … they continue to run cross-country workouts during track, disrespecting the anaerobic work necessary to run the 400, 800, etc. My Harrisburg teams ran distance guys in the 400 and 800. Patton Segraves was a state champ in the 800 and the 4×1 relay. Brian Weiss, Clint Simpson, and Antwan Garnett were stars in the 800 and 4×4. Cool.
In addition, I am very football-focused. Football is the mother lode of sprinters, jumpers, and throwers. Despite the fact that 80% of Alabama and Baylor’s football roster ran track, distance runners were non-existent. Football players do the 13 events listed above.
Sounds like you have some great athletes who have been taught to run any distance.
Thanks again. You are a credit to coaching.
Excellent article and laid out beautifully. Here in the Northern California Bay Area it is becoming more and more adversarial between track and football coaches. The result, both sports lose. Coaches should wake up and share the talent on campus all sports will rise and in the end the most important thing is the athlete wins.
Since discovering this site I have learned so much from you and Carl.
My question may be a bit off topic, but where do you stand on swimming?
How does one train on land to enhance swim performance?
Thanks for any help and keep up the great work!
Thanks for reading!
I am totally unqualified to advise swimming coaches. However, just for fun, I will try to apply general coaching concepts to swimming. Remember, some of my ideas may be laughed at by swimming experts.
* I believe in multi-sport athletes. Swimmers who spend 12 months a year in the water will burn out and fade away.
* The best way to swim faster is to swim fast. Racing is an under-rated speed drill. Keep practices short. Quality over quantity. Less is more.
*The best way to train endurance swimmers is to push volume limits, similar to cross-country training.
*Injured runners swim, so maybe running would be valuable to swimmers. However, nothing improves running as much as actual running. Cross training is over-rated.
*To improve speed, consider data-driven training. Work at improving maximum speed. Record, rank, and publish swim times. Sprinters who have the fastest max-speed also have the same sub-max speed. You can’t maintain a speed you’ve never achieved.
*Rest, recovery, and growth is more important than any workout. Intense caffeinated workouts at super-max speeds followed intense rest allows for growth. Data-driven training can help you monitor rest. If an athlete practices every day, they are probably regressing. Sore broken-down bodies should rest, not train. Toughness is not the goal, speed is the goal.
Thank you for your enlightening and informative reply!
I became curious about an alternative way to train after speaking with former high level swimmers at my pool.
They all quit due to burnout.
I felt there had to be a better way.
Thank you again and keep up the good work!
Great article – great points.
As a high school coach, the most neglected aspect is that of “developing talent.”
Too many guys think that all the success lies in “recruiting.”
But I am more than familiar at high school football coaches who recruit “8th grade all-stars” who are then the only guys they work with on the freshman level. Then when sophomore year rolls around, if the kid wasn’t a star in 8th grade, and didn’t play much as a freshman … well, they think, how good could that kid be.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – the only ones who are good are those who started last year – and those are the only guys I’m going to work with.
Of course, somewhere along the line, one of their precious recruits rolls an ankle and they’re strapped to have anyone fill that role because they’ve hardly bothered to learn the names of the backups.
So I disagree with you to some extent.
I think the best coaches are those that create an environment of self-improvement, including always working the backups into games – and not with a platoon of backups only when the game is at hand.
That said, I consider you top-tier among the coaches. Keep up the fight for multi-sport athletes.
I distinctly remember the moment that brought my attention to your program. I was aware of Plainfield North’s success before but it was the 2012 4×400 finals. I won’t even try to deny that it was athleticism that put your boys in position for that moment. But talent had nothing to do with the All-State relay your boys brought home that day. Derrick Suss showed the stuff us distance guys live for. It was guts, courage, and hard work that got him around the blue oval not his speed.
You’ve got strong evidence for your case. However, I can’t help but wonder if these collegiate and professional coaches took those character traits into consideration as well if we’d have the legal issues that are widespread throughout Division 1 and professional athletics. Talent won’t help you handle being diagnosed with a terminal illness, talent won’t help you overcome the loss of a loved one, and talent won’t build you a home if you don’t have one. Talent won’t help you get up after being knocked down by whatever life throws at you.
Is our goal as coaches to produce winners in sport or winners in life? I’d hazard to guess that if we asked your athletes what role you’ve played in their lives we wouldn’t have many use the word “faster”, “higher”, or “stronger” but we’d hear most say “inspire”, “belief”, “trust”, “care”, “commitment”, etc. Psychology without physiology might not get you to the podium but physiology without psychology won’t keep you there for long. I still consider myself a young pup as far as coaching is concerned but I’ve been around long enough to see less talented athletes win because a kid didn’t have the character to make the most of his talent.
I still have the note you sent me three years ago following the emotional 4×4 from 2012.
“I wanted to make sure that I took the effort to contact you regarding the young man from your program who ran the third leg for your 4×400 relay. His effort in this afternoon’s race is easily one of the most beautiful races I have ever witnessed since I became involved with the sport as an athlete nearly 17 years ago. The courage, bravery, and tenacity he displayed as he made his way the 350 meters that remained after his fall literally brought tears to my eyes. To see someone so intent on giving nothing less than his best is the epitome of what athletics should stand for. You should all be quite proud of the quality of character the young man displayed. In addition, please thank him for giving me a memory that will last a lifetime.”
The 4×4 of 2012 is my #1 favorite moment of my 34-year career.
I think, if you re-read the article, I never question the fact that coaches should be mentors. We teach character. We demand reliability. We preach togetherness. We value and encourage toughness. Without these things track is just throwing, jumping, and running in circles.
My goal here was to write an article to crush an entire subset of high school football coaches who encourage a year-round commitment to their sport. I call these football coaches Neanderthals. They value the weight room and despise track & field. They preach weight gain. They believe toughness wins games. They see track coaches as nerds.
My article does not dismiss the idea that coaches should inspire kids to be winners in life. I coach over 100 kids every year. 98% of them lack elite talent. All of my athletes are coached to be “winners in life”.
Here are the bullet points of the article:
1. If you are not athletic (sprint, jump, & explosion), you will never play football at the scholarship level.
2. Track & field improves athleticism and is a quantifiable showcase for elite athletes
3. Elite college football teams are collections of track & field stars
4. Any high school football coach who preaches weight-gain, glorifies the weight room, and worships militaristic toughness while demanding specialization is an ignorant tyrant and should be fired yesterday.
I think people like you and I coach at the high school level because we love coaching all kids, not just the elites. We “teach” our sport and we make relationships that last forever. Multimillion-dollar college football coaches are in the entertainment business. We are educators. We are teachers who coach.
Keep reading, keep commenting, and have a great season.
Ok I was reading it as though these are the type of guys you’re looking for when you are recruiting for your program. And, based on what I’ve seen and heard you’re definitely a character coach not just the x’s and o’s. Reading it through the lens of telling high school football coaches how to get their athletes onto D I programs definitely changes the perspective.
I am a junior track & cross country runner at Valparaiso HS (enrollment 2100) in Northwest Indiana. I really enjoy and respect your writing. At Valpo HS, our track team went 26-3 in the regular season, that is if you include the invite meet records. What we lacked and still lack as a program is football players, especially the fast ones, many of whom are football specialized or play baseball. I try to encourage many football guys to join track & field, but I have little success. I don’t know every detail, but I can tell you that it seems football players at VHS aren’t encouraged to run track or do field by the football staff. None of our current football coaching staff is part of the track & field coaching staff. Thus, our field and sprints have been solid, but have little depth on varsity. (Our distance crew is pretty strong every year, helping the whole team) What do you think I should do as a student athlete to further sell the track and field program to not only football players, but also athletic soccer and basketball players? Good luck this season Coach and thanks!
Sorry to say, your situation is repeated in about 50% of all high schools.
How can you convince greedy, simple-minded, football-obsessed coaches that a balanced approach is best?
My writing tries to give football coaches the facts, and the facts are clear … elite college football teams are track & field all-stars.
Texas is the top football state in the nation. This year Texas had an amazing 417 D-1 recruits. (Oregon had less than 20). Of the 417 Texas football recruits, 311 ran track. 74%.
The first two recruiting classes of Urban Meyer at Ohio State? 33 of 47 ran track. 70%
I am not cherry picking facts. Great football players run track. Period. No argument. (And, those that don’t run track, play basketball.)
I strongly urge all track programs to have a football coach as their sprint coach & another as their throws coach. If this doesn’t happen, your track team will be a conglomeration of cross country runners, single-sport track athletes, and nerds.
Pass along my articles to football coaches who read. I could comment the reading skills of football coaches but I won’t. Ha.
Good luck to you!
Thanks Coach! I agree with all of your points. We need more speed at Valparaiso. I really respect all of the things that your program is doing and I hope you guys win a track state title in Illinois soon. We’ll see what happens with my team’s program. It is a struggle, a work in progress, but apparently our AD told all the coaches at the last coaches’ meeting to encourage their athletes to do multiple sports. Don’t know if that will help though. Specialization is a killer. Can’t wait for the season to start! (Our indoor starts Tuesday) Good luck Coach, thanks again!
I am an old guy, so things have changed a lot since I ran HS track (’70,’71). I went out for track because I had moved two states to a new school and got short shrift from the BBall coach and did not letter as a junior. The track coach also was the gym teacher and I respected the way he conducted himself. (I learned a lot about bad coaching as I grew up, beginning in Little League at age 7, but never even knew the lessons I was incorporating in my book of knowledge, but Coach Tissot passed my unspoken test.)
He asked me what I could do and I suggested long jump, because I was always good at clearing the creek in the woods when being chased. He said good, try the high jump too. Ended up intuitively teaching my self the Fosberry (sic) in the middle of my first meet, as the roll was not getting it for me. (turns out I was taking off the wrong foot for the side I was approaching from) A couple of meets in, one of the sprinters got hurt and a spot for a third (120 Highs) hurdler opened up. I advised the coach I would like to try it and he said to practice my starts and I could compete the next day. What a miracle. I never lost a dual meet, ever. I eventually ran the lows as well, running the second fastest time in school history in my first race. Never had even a lick of coaching and tried to run for the U of Michigan, but they weren’t interested because 15 flat was my best time (but with no coaching at all).
You are right about track if you are an athlete. First, the time, distance or height decides who “plays”, not the coach. Second, if you have good feet, you will find something you can do well.
I think there are intangibles that can be measured only by reading a person, but the indicators that track provides are good predictors of the physical skill set.
(I eventually played many sports, including pick up soccer with South Americans and Europeans, beginning at age 39 and they being way younger, but the foot work from track and the spacing from basketball allowed me to surprise many of them – on defense. I had no dribbling ability, but I could get to a spot that was needed quicker than most.)
One last thought: If you do a field event, with the psychology of the dance as you go, then wait and watch, then go again, along with the body language read, and projection, really gave me an intuitive gift that I still use in negotiating around the world.
One last thought, again, brought on by articulating that: Have you ever analysed the differential between the intuitive learner and the rote learner? I have discovered a value in practicing fundamental methodologies in teaching, depending upon the audience’s proclivity for a particular trait.
Well, thanks for sharing, hope you don’t mind the mini rant.
Thanks for commenting on the article.
I love to hear track stories from the “old-timers”. I graduated from high school in 1977, so you were just barely before me. Metrics was introduced when I was in school. I never ran the 220 or the 440 in high school, but I did in middle school. I was only 6 when Dick Fosbury revolutionized the high jump.
I also love the fact that you were an “athlete” not a damn specialist like parents force their kids to be these days.
I have a fast kid who wants to run track but his mom is going to make him play Lacrosse. Geez.
Keep reading and keep commenting!
Kind of glad the above isn’t applied to swimming. The swimmer pulling himself faster through the water than anyone else (the “explosive” one) winds up last if he can’t manage a flip turn or can’t manage his breathing. Power alone doesn’t cut it.
Hello. I’m a 16 year old basketball player and I read your article and it is my life summed up into an article. I’ve always been the slow hardworking underdog. Never the prima donna, I don’t knkw if it’s genetics or what. And my school’s training system is complete garbage for developing athleticism, and O got cut from the team last year for saying that the workouts didn’t work. They said that meant that I wasn’t coachable. It was only until a couple years ago that I found the “secret” to athleticism, high levels of force and high ability to express force quickly. Combined with movement efficiency.
But I’m still lost when it comes to displaying strength rapidly. I am 6 foot 1 inch and 180lbs and I have been deep squatting ass to grass for years. Yesterday I squatted 330lbs for 3 sets of 6 ass to grass. I’ve built this enormous reservoir of strength, yet I still don’t come close to the athleticism of athletes heavier and far weaker than me because I’m slow. I don’t want to be a coach I want to be an athlete. But I don’t know what to do.