What makes a good coach?

Dear Chaskis,

Who's been the most influential coach in your life? And why?

Joelle V.

At Chaski, we talk often about what makes a good coach. During a recent brainstorming session, the coaches Chaski Team reflected on their own coaches who had the greatest impact on them and their running careers. A common theme - coaches who cared about us as humans, not just athletes!

Ty - The most influential coach in my life was my high school coach, Jon Waldron. Before I met Jon, I seriously thought that being good at running was kind of like being tall; you either were or you weren’t. He was the first one who taught me that running was something where if I worked at it, I’d get better. And in learning about that idea of self-improvement, I totally fell in love with the process. Jon taught me to care about getting better, not being “good”. And he had that same level of care for every athlete on our team - from the 16 minute 5K runner to the 36 minute 5K runner. I’m lucky to still have him as a coach, mentor, and friend nearly a decade and a half later!

Ty with longtime coach, mentor, and friend, Jon Waldron

Sue - Mary Schmidt, my high school coach, had the greatest impact on me and my development as a runner and a competitive athlete.  She not only designed challenging workouts for me, but much more importantly supported my progression as a strong, confident runner and even stronger, more confident competitive young woman.  Over the last few years, as I have begun coaching more high school athletes, I look back on the memoirs. My mother saved everything for me in several plastic bins and scrap books.  I have pulled out many hand-written notes from Coach Schmidt, encouraging me to come talk to her after a particularly emotional race or workout. I have goal and actual pace graphs and handwritten two week big meet (states/nationals) tapering plans, always punctuated by a little smiley runner graphic that she used.  I reached out to Mary about two years ago to let her know how influential she was, not only in my development as a runner, but now as a high school and middle school coach.  I remember one of her goals for all of her athletes was “to instill the joy of life-long running in these young women”. And here I am still running!! 

Maggie - Easy. Coach John Sullivan, my high school coach. He helped me to transform from the slowest girl on the team, who only ran in the JV 4x400, to a League Champion and MVP heading off to run for a DI school. He provided a healthy channel for my competitive nature and was instrumental in forming my love of this sport. I still pretend that he could appear at any moment around a corner on my long runs at Wellesley College. He had this knack for being everywhere and seeing everything, as a coach myself I don’t know how he did it. I didn’t fully realize how much of an impact he made or just how lucky I was to have him as a coach until I went to college. At my first big college XC meet at Franklin Park in Boston (where I had run in high school countless times), I was about 200 meters away from the mile mark and my college coach yelled out, “Good job Margaret, keep it up” and said a time that didn’t mean anything to me. I was so confused that I actually slowed down. I ran around the corner and as I hit the mile I heard a very familiar voice shouting, “Maggie what are you doing move up!” with my actual mile split. Great coaches know just what to say to get the best performance. If only he could come to all my races!

Maggie competes in XC race

Mel - Coach Charlie “Choo” Justice has mentored me through pretty much every step of my running career and brought me into the coaching sphere after my college career ended. Throughout the countless Sunday morning ten-mile runs that we have completed together, Coach Choo instilled in me a lifelong appreciation for the sport and shared many running stories that managed to impart valuable life lessons when I needed to hear it the most. He is a pillar in the Greenville, NC, running community, and he never fails to greet each passing runner with a smile and a wave. His exuberance for promoting the sport is unparalleled, and over the years, he has inspired thousands of other local athletes to #runhappy.

Coach Choo’s coaching philosophy soundly resonates with athletes, as his leadership incorporates his personal experiences as a former competitive runner for Team Asics-Tiger and retired NCAA D1 head coach with his extensive wealth of knowledge of the sport. He is always happy to explain the “whys” of training and provide constructive feedback for athletes who design more individualized training programs. To this day, his coaching style continues to inspire athletes to develop their personal love for the sport by encouraging runners to enjoy the process of striving for excellence. Coach Choo’s natural leadership by example has shown me many strategies that continue to assist my development as a coach, person, and athlete. 

Alicja - Jennifer Michel, my 5-year collegiate coach had the biggest impact on me. Describing this in one or two sentences - she was there when it was good and she was there when it was bad. When I was super fit, coach would not push me to the limits, even though she knew I had more. She stayed calm and was intentional with every workout, so I could avoid injuries and overtraining. When I was struggling, she stayed confident. That is what every good coach should be; calm and confident.

#TylerAndrews #JonWaldron #SueMcNatt #MaggieFox #MelNg #AlicjaKonieczek