3 Things I Learned at the Wisconsin Track Coaches’ Clinic

Posted by Latif Thomas


Two weekends ago I had the opportunity to speak at the Wisconsin State Track Coaches’ Clinic. With over 1000 coaches in attendance and in doing 6 presentations over the course of 2 days, I left with my head spinning.

Before I jump in, I’d like to take a moment to thank the WISTCA staff. They put on an incredible event , provided everything I could have asked for and are a testament to all that is right in our sport. So I think a public commendation is in order for the people I was most directly involved with from invitation through execution: Mark Maas, Keith Klestinski and Chris Herriot. You guys are awesome.

I’d also like to quickly thank Brad Meixner for telling the greatest Triathlon story of all time and for summoning the ghost of Chris Farley/Matt Foley. I’m still laughing as I think about the ride to the restaurant on Saturday night…

1. Pareto’s Law (aka the 80/20 Principle) applies.

I stand firm behind the idea that 80% of developmental (high school and younger) track coaches don’t know what they’re doing. And I’ve never heard a good coach dispute this number. As I’ve said many times – It doesn’t make them bad people, just bad coaches.

This (entirely anecdotal) number becomes even more pronounced when you attend a large conference/seminar. Some of the best information gets shared during ‘adult beverage time’ after the day’s sessions are over. As one of the featured clinicians it was fascinating to sit and picks the brains of coaches who, just a couple hours earlier, were sitting in the audience taking notes on my information.

We have some really good coaches here at the high school level. I think you can employ Pareto’s Law which states that, generally speaking, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In this instance, if you look, over time, at the best teams and coaches in your state/region, you’ll find that 80% of the points/champions come from 20% of the programs.

Because these coaches go to conferences, invest in resources and continuously learn new stuff. This is why the rich get richer. There isn’t something in the water over at the dominant program. It’s not because their school is so big. It’s not because the coaches recruit athletes or trick them into running track year round. These are just excuses made by the masses to find scapegoats for their lack of ambition and success. I call it ‘The Herber Effect’. And it will suck the life out of a program…

Don't let 'The Herber Effect' ruin your kids' experience

Success begets success. If you want to know if your coach (or kid’s coach) works as hard as they expect you (or your kids) to work, ask them which conferences they’ve attended in the last 12 months. Or which certifications they plan to get (or have). Or which resources they’ve most recently invested in. If they get excited and start rattling off a list of conferences they went to, coaches they study and programs they use, they’re in the top 20%. If they start stammering and backpedaling and telling sad stories about small budgets, well, I’m sorry. You’re screwed.

2. Don’t stop learning

I’m hypercompetitive. Possibly to a fault. That’s why I was up until 3am this morning reading training articles. Because despite having a very successful season, all I can see are the performances by the team that won both the boys and girls State Championship this winter. I look at their success as my personal failure to prepare my athletes to compete at that level.

This is the mindset of the coaches you’re going to have to beat if you want your athletes or program to compete for titles. I like this quote from Stephen King:

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”

On Friday night of the clinic I was sitting with Mark Maas, Chris Herriot and Tony Holler and I thought to myself, “Damn. These guys know their stuff. I need to go home and study.”

If you’re the type of person who does not make excuses or settle for mediocrity, you can’t take a break from learning. Just maintaining the pace we’re at won’t keep us in the top 20%. Times are getting faster because coaches are getting smarter. Staying the same is equal to falling behind. Go to a conference and get around the top 20% and you’ll see where you stand. I’m a huge track nerd and wonder if I’m making up the stagger.

If you do to, click here to see our list of coaching resources.

3. Let’s hear it for the high school coaches

I love elite coaches. They’re geniuses. And I constantly study their stuff even though I can’t use 75% of it. Why? Because I coach high school kids. And the stuff they talk about, for the most part, just doesn’t apply.

As soon as I hear a coach start talking about ‘preseason training’ my eyes glaze over. There is no preseason at the HS level. This winter we had our first meet less than a week after practice started. 12 weeks later was our State Championship. So, Mr. Coach with a doctorate in kinesiology, please don’t  make fall training a prerequisite for applying your information.

And that’s my point.

There is no organization in the sport of track and field that is good at promoting and marketing coaching information for high school coaches. (Or anyone for that matter.) This contempt for ‘selling’ and ‘marketing’ is part of the reason we have so many bad high school coaches. And defensive collegiate/post collegiate coaches.

But if there was an organization that had any semblance of an entrepreneurial spirit, they should spend more time creating information and materials aimed at the developmental market. That’s where the vast majority of coaches are and if you want to get collegiate athletes to show up to your programs with a higher training age and work capacity, you need to educate their coaches at the lower levels.

If we’re going to get back our title as ‘World’s Fastest Country’ from Jamaica, with it’s population of 4 million people, it starts at the grass roots aka developmental level.

If there was one pattern of conversation I heard from coaches who attended my sessions, it was some variation of:

“It’s great to hear from a high school coach because you’re one of us. You have the same problems we have, deal with the same talent levels, team sizes and facility limitations. I love listening to the professional coaches, but we just can’t apply the things they’re talking about to our athletes. Thank you for the practical advice that I feel I can actually use with my team.”

If ‘big time’ coaches really want to help the sport, they’ll stop complaining about ‘marketer’ coaches and one upping each other with $6 words on fancy track forums and set their sights on the coaches who still think sending 200m runners out for a 3 mile run is an effective way to ‘get in shape’.

That’s why I’m a big fan of guys like Marc Mangiacotti. Last year his men’s 4×100 *and* 4×400 team won Division III National Championships. When you’re getting it done at the D3 level, it shows you’re not just getting freaks and keeping them where they are. You’re doing work.

A great article by Coach Mangiacotti on testing your sprinters to measure progress: Testing

That’s why I try to pick his brain as much as he can stand. And why I have him working on our next Master Class – ‘Building the Perfect 100m Sprinter – From Start to Finish’, due out in just a couple of weeks. I’ve seen the PowerPoint slides and he’s filming it at my office tomorrow. It’s pretty bad ass, so keep an eye out if you coach 100m runners. (Or even if you coach 400m runners because they need to know how to run the 100m as well.)

So my friend, what have we learned today? Success is a choice. Since you’re reading this, you’re probably in the top 20% or want to be. But it takes ongoing education to get there and stay there.

Now I’m going to read some training articles.

To your success,

Latif Thomas

Twitter: @latif_thomas

Click here for coaching education resources I recommend.

Latif Thomas - Latif Thomas owns and operates Complete Track and Field and serves as the Co-Director of the Complete Track and Field Clinic at Harvard University, the largest track and field clinic in the United States. A popular speaker and presenter at some of the largest coaching clinics across the country, Latif has true passion for the sport and it definitely shows. Over the past 19 years, he has coached more combined League, Division, All-State, and New England Champions in sprints, hurdles, and jumps than he can count. Follow @latif_thomas on Twitter.

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