Recently, a good friend invited me to participate in one of those activities for posting photos on Facebook to commemorate fond moments in one’s running career. The thing was that I’d already “played that game,” when the friend made the nomination. I thought it’d be interesting to do the photo-posting all over again, but this time around, to choose fond running memories from my coaching days instead of my running days.
In the process of outlining my coaching periods, it was complicated by the variety of coaching assignments I have taken on over the years. I suppose I would call my “start” at that moment when I coached for the local Topanga Elementary School. From there, my progression paralleled the children’s as they matured in age. At the elementary school, I coached all grades, from kindergarten to sixth grade. The irony of this assignment was that I was recruited in a call from the school’s PTA president who had no idea that I was coming off an overseas trip as a USA Team Coach at an international competition. All she knew was that this parent “ran,” that’s all. Now, I’ll be the first to admit the international position was not about the coaching. I’d say that it was more of a figurehead position, and my duties were more like a travel agent, chaperone, counselor, dorm mom, and concierge. I didn’t really know all the members of the team, they probably all lived in different states, and I certainly had nothing to do with their level of fitness other than to assess their qualifications to be chosen for the team. My job was to get them to the starting line in good health.
That said, once I returned home from that trip, I accepted the offer to coach all the schoolchildren (at my son’s school I should add), and upon reflection, I can say that I learned more than I taught. Think about it. If you can teach a kindergartner to stay in their lane for a hundred yards, or to put the shot (albeit a beanbag), or to wait for the starter to say ready, set, go, you’ve acquired the skills and patience to coach any athlete of any age.
In those years, I learned everything I needed to know to coach youngsters from an experienced coach at Mt. SAC, Don Ruh. He ran (pardon the pun) a program, “AAF Youth Days” for elementary and middle school-aged children during the Mt. SAC Relays track and field meet which I’d competed in every April. To help prepare the children for their own division of the meet, Don would hold coaching clinics at the participating school’s playground, or on-site at the college, if the schools chose to attend the clinic. He and his squad of athletes volunteered to come to our school, some 50-plus miles away. They were a huge hit, and the kids talked in awe about the discus that landed on the school cafeteria roof for years.
Those elementary years were full of fond memories, and each year we culminated our season with a track and field day which consisted of the 100-yard dash, the standing long jump, a bean-bag throw, a 600-yard distance run, but in addition, we held fun games like a water-balloon toss, a 3-legged sack race and the like.
After six years of coaching elementary students, I moved on to middle school. I was hired at the AAF (Amateur Athletic Foundation, now titled LA84 Foundation) to create a “Run4Fun” program, complete with writing a training manual and staging a coaches’ clinic for any and all schools in the surrounding county and beyond. At the same time, I was also a coach, again at my son’s school in nearby Pacific Palisades. The Run4Fun program culminated in a 2-mile cross-country meet at Griffith Park, and the children competed for their schools by age divisions. Just for fun (more fun), we added a track season at the school I coached for and kept on attending the AAF Youth Days (now called LA84) at Mt. SAC. Additionally, we found a series of meets named after the great Jesse Owens, including regional and national competitions. One of our athletes even achieved a national championship title accompanied by a college scholarship (which I know helped to motivate him to go on to college).
Soon after, I moved on to coaching for the local high school team (for which my middle school was a feeder school). I had some of my best memories from the track team at Pacific Palisades High School, even though I was only there one season. We had an extraordinary team, thanks to the years of preparation under the tutelage of Coaches Joel Kahn and Ron Brummel. Coach Kahn is now deceased, but I’ve stayed in touch with quite a few of the team members, as well as my friend, Coach Brummel, of course. I only regret that I’ve been unable to find any photos from my days with that team.
From this time period forward, I continued to coach high school track & field and cross-country to this day. After the Palisades team, I soon transitioned to St. Monica High School, with a full-time position as Athletic Director, Health and Physical Education teacher, as well as coaching track & field and cross country, both sports were co-ed. I was there for six years out of which came some of the closest, long-standing friendships I’ve ever found. Many of those student-athletes are still in touch, I’m pleased to say. I am proud to say it was a program built from the ground up under my watch.
I went to graduate school during those days, at Loyola Marymount University. I returned to LA84 Foundation, as their coaching education director for seven wonderful years. Later, I returned to LMU where I’ve been working since. Over time, I’ve volunteered to coach at Brentwood High School, Notre Dame High School–Sherman Oaks, and St. Bernard High School.
To continue the high school coaching, which I clearly love, but lack the day-to-day time it takes to coordinate a school team, I have been blessed to coach on the staff of some of the finest Olympian and world-class athletes led by Willie Banks, with his company World Record Camps. We’ve traveled to Wyoming, Montana, Texas, Washington, and elsewhere, including Japan where we coach the children of our military families (Yokota Air Force Base). It’s been a wealth of experiences, with a myriad of athletes I continue to hear from afar and provide advice throughout the year.
Not to overlook another running camp, absolutely my longest-standing, I was consulted to assist and advise founder, Joe Mendelson, in his creation of the Culver Academies Distance Camp in Culver, Indiana back in 2006. I’ve been attending most of the years since, now under the direction of Camp Director extraordinaire, Dana Neer. We’ve enjoyed the company of guest speakers who read like a “who’s who” list of track and field history. The camp is a sell-out every year the moment registration opens. The curriculum, the activities, the bonding friendships . . . . all contribute to the success of this camp offering, under Coach Neer’s fine leadership of an excellent staff of counselors and coaches.
When I said the coaching list became complicated, I have to add that coaching “assignments” overlapped at times because in addition to coaching youth in track & field and cross country, I also have been coaching marathoners. There were seven years with Team Diabetes running charity marathons, overlapping my days at St. Monica HS. And countless friends and family members have sought my advice for years, usually for first-time marathoners and then once “hooked,” goal-oriented marathoners! I am enjoying a great journey and I am glad I can be of service, since I competed in all these areas – on the track, over cross country, and on the roads. I have a foot in each world. I’ve been fortunate and I’m grateful.
Post-script: if you are so inclined (and have a big chunk of time) to listen, here is a really good interview one of my former student-athletes conducted in his podcast with me a few years ago now, http://nogradient.libsyn.com/jaqi-hansen-going-the-distance