Building a program, team culture

Shown is our team at the 2014 regional cross country meet. It was the best showing the team had all year.

Shown is our team at the 2014 regional cross country meet. It was the best showing the team had all year.

Six years ago a young man who left Cambridge South Dorchester (CSD) High School transferred back to his home school, North Dorchester (ND) High School, and was lost.

There was something missing.

So he ran, literally.

The young man was a member of a well established CSD cross country team, but his home school went without many sports because it was such a small school district.

However, something was different. He was determined to bring a team to ND during his senior year and get to run again. He spoke with principals, athletic directors, and even went to the superintendent about his passion. A change agent even at 16 years of age, he had no idea what he started.

The young man graduated and during his freshman year of college a cross country team was reestablished at ND. The Eagles’ Athletic program was not new to the 3-mile jaunt on trails as it won the 1985 Maryland state championship. Unfortunately, the well decorated coach moved on from the program and it folded years later.

But, that was then and this is now.

Opening Practice

Upon criticism of not being able to host that many student athletes anyway at ND, the team opened its first tryout in August 2011.

As the sun glistened down on a pair of coaches that decided to split one coaching salary due to budgetary shortcoming, it was already going to be an uphill battle as one girl and two boys were present.

And to make it worse – all three were seniors!

Therefore, the coaching staff was on a major recruiting scheme and wanted anyone. If they could walk three miles or needed an activity for college resumes, they were made for the makeshift team.

With low school and community expectations, the team implemented its training strategies and reached out to a neighboring coach for inspiration. Endowed in knowledge, the ND coaches saturated themselves with everything from the neighboring CSD coaches, who desired more competitive running programs in the area.

At the end of year one, ND saw the team fluctuate to as high as seven members, but only ended the season with four members. Low grades, poor attendance to practice, and low self-esteem were cancers to the team and eliminated runners along the way.

Somehow amongst the challenges, ND qualified one male runner for the state championships. The week prior to the event the CSD coach reached out to the ND runner and coaches to train with their team. This act of friendship continues to sprout the team.

Off-season recruitment

Quality versus quantity, which was option is better for a team?

The team needed number to compete and both ND coaches were middle school teachers. Both spoke with kids, complimented their ability levels, and searched for kids with active parents to build a team.

The result was around 20 athletes, some good and bad, reporting to practice in August 2012.

Creating Culture

Many athletic programs in the school had a losing mentality and was expected.

It had to stop.

To separate from the current school culture, the ND cross country logo was created by a team supporter and began to follow the advice of Wheeling Jesuit University wrestling coach Sean Doyle in building a culture, #eagleculture.

Doyle claims building a family where athletes rely heavily on each other builds a unique characteristic in young people. The characteristics are not only athletic, but a foundation for strong character, family values, and second to none work ethic.

ND cross country was ready for this change; it needed a change.

 

Building the #eagleculture was of the utmost importance to creating a sustainable team. Shown is the team at a cookout following one of our volunteer opportunities at a local Iron Man triathlon.

Building the #eagleculture was of the utmost importance to creating a sustainable team. Shown is the team at a cookout following one of our volunteer opportunities at a local Iron Man triathlon.

 

Branding your team

Everything needed the logo: shirts, short, hooded sweatshirt, uniforms, etc.

We needed to be the (digital) storyteller of our team, based off Digital Leadership guru Eric Sheninger. If someone wasn’t going to tell our story, it would be expected we were drowning in shortcomings and failure because that was the athletic norm to our school.

After years of fundraising, the coaches surprised athletes with new uniforms with the ND logo on it. Previously, the team was sharing uniforms with the track team.

After years of fundraising, the coaches surprised athletes with new uniforms with the ND logo on it. Previously, the team was sharing uniforms with the track team.

Weekly I flooded the announcements at school and utilized Facebook (closed group to members) and Twitter to share in our successes. Before we knew it the school newspaper and local newspaper was featuring our change and students were noticing. There was something different about our team. Yes, we placed the following pieces into our regular yearly schedule to build our team up:

  • Volunteering opportunities at local running events (in season and out of season)

    Shown is one runner finding success at one of our community 5Ks.

    Shown is one runner finding success at one of our community 5Ks.

  • Running together at local 5ks (in season and out of season)
  • Team dinners (in season)
  • Mandatory study halls after races (academics come first)
  • Upperclassmen and first year runner mentoring
  • Off season accountability partner
  • 100 and 300-mile challenge (off season goals)
  • Joining a CSD cross country fundraiser

Each and everyone of these opportunities were optional. No one was forcing students to participate in the year round events. Instead, they wanted to participate. They were and are in engaged in the #eagleculture.

Team Gear

It may sound trivial, but if you look good you feel good. Team gear is one vital piece in the current teenage culture. At first, our team was competing with teams that looked better than us in all aspects — gear and athletic ability. I knew athletic ability was increasing, but I needed to make student feel special when wearing the ND cross country gear.

Therefore, I worked through a fantastic BSN sales rep and I exclusively purchase Nike for team gear. This is not the same as “clothing sales” for parents and fans, but for my athletes we wear Nike.

Warm-ups and uniforms need to match.

Also, wearing your gear is like a walking billboard! Dish it out at every opportunity as funds permit. We give t-shirts out when athletes run their first 5K without walking. Sometimes some of our lesser athletes may never seize greatness. For some, it is merely being a part of a team and learning a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, I award them to keep the billboard moving around school and to lift spirits.

 

How far has ND Cross Country come?

At the conclusion of the 2014 season, the boy’s team missed the state tournament by literally half a foot at the finish line and only got to send one individual to compete. No one graduated from the top six runners on the boy’s squad.

On the girl’s team, every varsity runner hit their personal record at the regional meet and was one spot away from qualifying for the states as well. The team lost two amazing seniors that displayed leadership and poise, but the culture has been created by their actions.

At last week’s interest meeting, over 20 incoming freshman boys and girls signed up to join the #eagleculture with ND country along with the other 25 returning runners.

Other Random Accomplishment

One of our runners finished his first season at Stevenson University as a walk on athlete. The #eagleculture still lives within him as well. After one year of hard work, the Stevenson University coach offered to place him on scholarship for his sophomore year.

The most exciting part, ND’s top returning male runner is light year’s ahead of where this college runner was when he was a high school runner.

Season 2015

Needless to say, I am stoked for the 2015 season as well as the relationships our team has built within the running community. Also, I could not thank CSD’s coaches enough for their friendship and expertise as we built our #eaglecultre. Lookout for us this year, we’re going to be right on your tail.

 

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About briancookeducator

Husband, Daddy, teacher, #Mountaineer, coach, and aspiring school leader | Thoughts are my own.
This entry was posted in Coaching, Ed Leadership and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Building a program, team culture

  1. susansverdi says:

    This was really interesting, Brian. Thanks for sharing! I enjoyed reading about the accomplishments of this group!

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