ES/MS XC Coaching questions (Read 418 times)

    Hi all.  I'm volunteering to help coach my son's combined elementary and middle school XC team this fall, and I have a couple of questions for folks who've done this before.  


    First, I don't know how to manage behavior, set expectation and discipline kids.  I'm working with an oddly mixed group of ES kids who can and want to run and MS kids who are new to the team and out of shape.  It's tough --- we ran about 3.8 miles yesterday, with the ES kids (mostly 3 sport athletes, travel team players etc. --- way more focused and athletic than I was until high school) running at an easy pace the whole time and the MS kids occasionally running but mostly walking and socializing. I know the ES kids and their parents, they all listen to me, want to be on the team and want to get better.  I don't know the middle school kids, they don't seem to want to run and I can't figure out why they are on the team.  In general they are nice, well behaved kids, but they have no willingness to work --- and I'm sure they are embarrassed by being smoked by kids 3 and 4 years younger.  Also, one of these kids was playing on a cell phone during practice, and when I told him to give it to me, he refused although he did put it away.  I'm not sure how to handle that.  Coaches I had as a kid would have screamed and assigned laps, but that's not really me.  Also, I've seen so many teachers and coaches get angry, overreact and then have to walk it back, and I don't want to do that.   The other coaches (who are teachers) seem to talk softly and kids --- even the middle schoolers --- listen, which I guess is one of the skills you learn being a teacher, but I don't have it.  Other people have suggested daily briefings to cover expectations, team building, etc., and that might be a good idea, but I wonder how it would be received.  Any suggestions would be great. 


    Second, we want to do time trials for the kids every two weeks or so, but we have a huge group (almost 50 kids), only 3 adults and no track.  We typically run on trails near the school.  I'd like to do time trials on about a mile course and track the kids times, but I am having trouble imagining the logistics -- how we would time all the kids and record the times with that many kids and only 3 adults to manage it. Particularly since many of these kids would shortcut an out-and-back course, so we need to have a point to point course, which makes coordinating the start times tricky.


    Any ideas would be welcome.

      I'm currently coaching grades 4th through 8th at my son's school.

      There's a huge difference of ability and desire between the kids and it makes it a real challenge to handle.


      I'm not a big believer in "playing games" to disguise running. I was convinced this is the right thinking when I heard one of the more athletic 5th grade boys say to another kid that didn't want to run, "This is Cross Country. It's running!"


      What I do is divide the kids into up to 5 different groups based on ability and desire.


      Group 1 is the kids that can handle the most and care the most.

      Group 2 are those that athletic, have ability, but don't have any summer running to build on.

      Group 3 are the kids that are athletic, have ability, but aren't really into it.

      Group 4 is those kids that are just beginning but have a lot of desire

      Group 5 are those kids that can barely shuffle across the field w/out gasping for air.


      The intensity and volume for each of these groups vary.  Group 5 kids get mostly easy running, and running about 1/4 mile at a time. After a 1/4, they rest a bit and go again. The plan is increase the segment length gradually, but the problem is they don't always show up. So, every day is on-the-fly adjustment of my plan for the day. 


      Group 1 kids will do what ever is asked of them.

      The other groups require constant encouraging to keep them from walking.  It either hurts or they don't care (again, why are they out there???)


      It's hard to coach this vast difference in talent and ability, all by myself, but it's rewarding. It also teaches me lots of patience.


      Good luck!

        Does your team compete with other teams? If not, you might consider dividing the squad into 3 or 4 groups and have them compete with each other, as teams, in these time trials.


        It sounds to me like many of your kids need to feel like they are involved in and responsible for the success of the program. This feeling of responsibility is the best form of "discipline." Work hard to make sure even the slowest knows that they are contributing in some way.


        It's hard to give more exact advice over the internet, but I would also speak with other coaches at the school, learn as much as you can from them.


        That's hard work you are doing -- but it's good work!

          I dont have any experience but I would say to keep it fun and as much as possible get the kids to work to their individual ability and encourage them to keep running but emphasize team and fun........group runs would be tough because you have such a difference in ability......smaller group runs/training tailored as best as possible to people within a category of runners would probably benefit more of them...if you have the resources to tailor training...


          I think most kids will adapt to training as long as they are enjoying it and encouraged.......

          Champions are made when no one is watching

          One day at a time

            I know our middle school coach struggles with a lot of the same issues.  He has taken the approach of some serious running, some games.  My daughter is now a HS freshman.  In MS, she got very frustrated at the number of kids who didn't take practices seriously (walked a lot on runs), but then would do well at meets.  Most of those kids have jettisoned running in favor of soccer or other team sports.  The kids who joined the HS team take it much more seriously.


            From my experience, I'm not surprised that the younger kids try harder and have better attitudes.  When kids get to middle school, socializing and relationships seem to trump academics and athletics AS A RULE.  Of course, there are exceptions.


            One event that helped motivate the kids was when they got to compete against parents and teachers! They ran hard then!


            Can you get any more assistants?  The MS coach was able to get a few HS kids to help him keep track of the rugrats.  Parents also volunteered to help out.


            I really think the best course is to be encouraging and provide the opportunity for them to run.  Some of the kids WILL take a liking to it and continue to compete when they're older.  My son was one of them - he was a mediocre runner at best in MS, then went on to do quite well in HS.

              Thanks everyone for your thoughts.


              Jeff, they do have meets --it's amazing to me the options for athletic participation for DC public elementary school kids --- my son has done interscholastic XC, track and basketball starting last year in 4th grade.  Still --- I like the idea of making time trials more like a meet by making teams.  Could make it more interesting for the kids.


              Tom, very impressed that you do it all by yourself.  We've got three adults and I feel overwhelmed.  I think you are right --- getting the groups right will be key.  How do you have different groups running if you are only adult?  Do you run with the kids?  We have nowhere to run on-campus, and being at an urban school we've got to keep a close eye on the kids, particularly the elementary kids who will run in front of cars given a chance.  So, we have three groups, and even with that we need more adults.


              Teresa, yes, I'm trying to recruit more helpers, especially if we are going to do time trials we will need more help.  I really like the idea of competing with parents.  I'll have to try to get that organized.



                I thought I'd be able to run with the kids, but other than the warm up, where I insist we all stay together, I don't. 


                For the better kids, those that have proved they can run without walking (and won't stop for milkshakes), I let them run "off campus" but never far away. I show them a 1 or 1.5 mile loop and tell them to run it a certain number of times. After each loop they can stop and drink something if they chose. We're in a pretty safe area so I'm not too worried, but in general I also don't let kids run alone. My son does run alone most of the time, but he's use to it. 


                For the kids that are really struggling, I have them run short loops on our CC course. Some as short as 0.2 miles, some a little longer. They let me know when they want to do more.   


                It isn't ideal not having more adults to run with the kids.


                Good luck!