The Impact of Coaches on Young Runners

The Impact of Coaches on Young Runners


One of the most important things a coach can do for kids and young adults is to empower them to find their passion. If a young person can find something positive that they are passionate about it becomes a guiding light in their lives that helps to lead them away from negative pursuits. Thus, empowering young people to lead through the avenue of athletics – especially a life-long sport like running – can help them develop the skills and values necessary to lead and be successful as they move through the journey of life.


I, like many, have been very fortunate to have some tremendous coaches and mentors help develop and guide me and my running over the years. Coaches who understand what it takes to work hard and set a good example accept the challenge and responsibility to lead young people who seek guidance and success. They help teach us how running can lead to self-confidence, self-awareness, self-discipline, and self-reliance. Coaches in cross country and track understand that being successful in running, like with anything in life, isn’t just an activity, it’s a lifestyle. All the coaches I’ve been blessed to have in my life have believed in me and my potential. They instilled in me the confidence that I was capable of achieving greatness if I was fully committed to and passionate about my goals. The inner belief that something is possible not only impacts an individual’s ability to accomplish the work necessary to succeed, but also encourages individuals to accomplish a feat that others judge impossible.


Just as runners must be committed and dedicated individuals if they want to have success, coaches must stay committed and dedicated to building a winning culture by first building a winning attitude. My college cross country and track coach at the University of Richmond, Steve Taylor, exemplifies an example of a great coach. He has a deep passion for the sport, as well as the intensity and internal drive to be successful, and is exceptional at helping foster young student-athletes soar to their greatest potential in running, and in life. When Coach Taylor speaks to his team, all eyes are locked in on him, as his inspirational words of wisdom and enthusiasm are absorbed and lift each individual in the room. He provides assurance and drive to each athlete, allowing everyone to believe in their training and abilities.


Coach Taylor has all the key ingredients that help impact runners in a positive way, producing a winning culture and leadership excellence. Beyond providing direction and motivation, he teaches proper execution and the importance of having a mission and a vision. Coach Taylor begins each season with a vision and set of goals for the team, creating motivation and explaining the importance of success, which the team adopts, lives by, and works to accomplish. Coach Taylor then proceeds to outline the critical factors necessary for the team to develop and attain this success. Understanding how to prepare, how to train and why certain training is being prescribed and performed at different times is no doubt important to teach runners to help produce success and a winning team, but so is taking care of the little things like proper nutrition, sleep, stretching, drills, strength training, time management, healthy life balance, and injury prevention (“pre-hab”). Those who commit and trust in the culture, knowing they’re doing everything right and taking care of all the little things, will reap from the benefits and rewards by the end of the season, whereas the others will most likely not see the same success and potentially fizzle out. For an entire team to buy into this culture and come together for a common purpose is a testament to a great coach and of the environment he has created.


Within the context of cross country, the coach must understand that each runner is different, with different strengths, weaknesses, abilities, and goals. In order for the coach to maximize the individual’s performance and success, while also providing the greatest benefit to the success of the team, addressing each runner on an individual basis within the context of the team’s goals and training program seems wise. To assume that every individual is similar, in that, each runner has the body, mechanics, or ability to handle the same type of training as everyone else on the team only increases the chance of excessively fatiguing a runner, injuring a runner, or simply causing a runner to lose motivation and desire. When a coach takes time to learn about one of his runners so he can tweak a training program to fit with the individual and situation, the runner then has a better chance of executing the plan effectively and successfully. This will also allow both the coach and the athlete to stay in sync with each other, maintaining good communication on what the individual’s specific role is within the cohesiveness of the team. Coach Taylor was a master at this, especially with me and my running, and it really helped our relationship to flourish over the years and still stay strong now since I graduated over five years ago.


Direction can be vital to an individual or team’s success, as proper direction can provide individuals and teams with opportunities to become motivated to maximize their ability, or, to spin it another way, to seize the opportunity to become motivated (or self-motivated) to test and maximize one’s ability. Either way, team members look to the coach (and leaders of the team) for direction and guidance. This direction must be positive feedback with ample encouragement so each runner maintains the desire to stick with the sport and strive to work hard in order to get better and help the team. Developing determination and perseverance as a coach, whether or not things turn out how he may have hoped for, will only provide a greater benefit to the lives of each individual on the team for potential future and long-term success.


I’ve always been a proponent that running is a very tough sport and all about realizing that each day offers a new opportunity to get one step closer to the goal. Personal accountability to the goal must eclipse everything. Achieving greatness and success in running is a long-term process that has no shortcuts. One must be always willing to put in the work and embrace pain daily to see results. Aligning oneself with individuals who share a similar mindset, work ethic, internal drive, vision, and commitment to excellence refines one’s understanding of what it takes to be great. Coaches understand this fully and help to push, encourage, motivate and inspire kids to do their best, reach for greatness, and pursue a fit and healthy lifestyle through running so that they may accomplish their goals and chase down their dreams.

Read Greg McMillan’s post about What Makes a Great Coach. Learn more about our cross country resources.


Jonny Wilson is a McMillan Running Coach. Learn more about our Personal Coaching where you can train with a coach like Jonny by your side to plan your training and talk about race strategy, performance nutrition, injury prevention, stretching, and much more.

“I have achieved my goals for 5K, 10K, and now a Half Marathon – thanks McMillan Running!”
-James W

Written By Greg McMillan
Called “one of the best and smartest distance running coaches in America” by Runner’s World’s Amby Burfoot, Greg McMillan is renowned for his ability to combine the science of endurance performance with the art of real-world coaching. While getting his graduate degree in Exercise Science he created the ever-popular McMillan Running Calculator – called “The Best Running Calculator” by Outside Magazine. A National Champion runner himself, Greg coaches runners from beginners to Boston Qualifiers (15,000+ and counting!) to Olympians.

Read Greg’s Bio




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