ByLiam Boylan-Pett WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 5, 2015
Fall is coming, and with it, the first week of cross-country practice. For athletes, it’s a time to be excited—the season is almost here, after all. But it’s a time to be patient, too.
Everyone wants to impress the coach with a killer first workout. But remember, the season is long. The first week is about controlling your excitement while still setting a tone for the rest of the fall. It’s a very important part of the process.
“Lower your expectations of the intensity levels,” says Mike Harris, the coach at Hopkins High School in Minnetonka, Minnesota, of the first week of practice. “It’s just the beginning of the season. We’re going to gradually increase the intensity as the season progresses.”
Whether you’re brand new to cross country or a hopeful state champ, here are five mistakes to avoid during the first week of practice.
YOU OVERDO IT
It’s extremely difficult to be in peak shape from the first practice all the way to the state meet. In that first week, don’t force it. If a few of your teammates are fighting to beat you in a workout where you’re in control, let them duke it out. You’ll be ready to beat them when you pick up the intensity on race day and as the year progresses.
“We don’t want to hit the hardest workout of the season in that first week,” says Harris, who coached University of Colorado-bound Joe Klecker to a 4:04.13 mile in the spring. “We try to be pretty level-headed about how we approach a workout in that first week. And we’re going to underplay rather than shoot for the moon.”
YOU HANG BACK TOO MUCH
Don’t hold back for the sake of holding back. You may surprise yourself with a great workout in which you didn’t have to go all out.
Harris likes athletes who are willing to go to the edge. He believes it’s part of his job to harness the enthusiasm of athletes so that they’re ready to go on the right day. And he has to do that to some of his extremely motivated athletes, holding them back in workouts.
It’s a fine line, one that can be balanced when an athlete and coach have a good relationship.
YOU’RE NOT HONEST WITH THE COACHING STAFF
Be upfront with your coach about what you’ve been up to all summer. If you’ve put in a ton of miles, you might be ready to try a workout with the varsity squad, but if you’ve missed a bunch of time because of injury, family vacation, or binge watching Netflix, your coach needs to know. That way he or she can decide how to move forward with training. Don’t lie about it.
“We’re going to work with you, not against you,” Harris says. “Our script is going to be catered to each individual athlete as well as we can.”
YOU NEGLECT YOUR SCHOOLWORK
At Hopkins, academics take priority over running. “I’ll go to my deathbed suggesting that if they can’t do it in the classroom, they won’t do it on the course,” Harris says.
At most schools, cross-country practice starts before the school year. Take the first week of practice to get used to the running without the classwork.
Plus, get to know your racing schedule. On the first day of school you should let your teachers know if you’re going to be leaving class early for a race.
YOU SKIP THE EXTRAS
The first week of practice is no time to skimp on the drills, core-strengthening exercises, plyometrics, and recovery routines like foam rolling or taking an ice bath after a hard workout. In fact, it’s a good chance to establish a routine by setting aside time for the little things in your daily schedule.
“Create those daily habits that are going to make a difference down the road,” Harris says. “Slow down and really think about what you’re doing. This will set the tone for the rest of the year.”
This is important not only individually, but for the team, too. “We want the mindset for all of the athletes to be that they’re going to make a difference on our team,” Harris says, whether they’re varsity or J.V.”