Running Camp Notes: Team Culture For High School Runners


What is “culture”:

The term culture is thrown around a lot. Everyone talks about having a good healthy environment and how it increases productivity and accountability within a group. But what does that mean? And why is it important for a sport that is an individualistic as running?

The nuances of what culture means can be debated and discussed but to me it simply referred to as “the way things are done around here”. At face value it sounds simple, a little cheesy, and cliche but it does really matter. The way you treat your teammates, the way you support one another, and the way you keep each other accountable all effect the team in massive ways. So my question to you is: How are things done around here?


Team Culture is everything

John Wooden(The greatest NCAA Basketball coach of all time at UCLA) put it better than I could “A player who makes a team great is more valuable than a great player. Losing yourself in the group, for the good of the group, that’s teamwork” and “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.

Being a good teammate matters. I ran at North Central College A tiny DIII School in the suburbs of Chicago. Since 1972 when The 3 Divisions split up. North Central has stood on the podium at XC Nationals every single year expect 5 in 47 years. This is a school without scholarships to attract high level athletes. Our coach wasn’t an expert in training I always laughed when people asked us what we did. We ran the same two workouts every single week throughout the entire season.We had a culture where we all bought in to being the best team we could be and that started with controlling what we could which is being the best individual we could be which is passed down from the upperclassmen setting the stage for the underclassman of how things are done no matter how fast you are:

Bring Energy-

At the state or national meet there can only be seven runners representing your team and only 5 of those will directly score. But every single athlete on the team 1 through 40 matters. We are all competitive and want to be better than others. Use your teammates to help refine that edge. If the 30th person on the team cares and wants to get better and starts working hard that means the 29th person will have to work harder to continue to be better and then that means the 28th person on the team will have to work harder to be better, etc. It all matters. If you’re an upperclassman you set the precedent of how hard to work and being a leader not even by speeds but by work ethic. Maybe you never score at a state meet because you weren’t a top 5 runner. That doesn’t mean by showing up doing the work and asking for your teammates to do more that you didn’t influence how well they run at the end of the season.

If you show up to every practice, moping, upset you have to run and full of negative energy you affect the other runners. It may be just for a few laughs but it does change the feel of what’s going on. Your not just lowering the bar of what you are looking to get out of practice that day for yourself you’re changing the attitudes of those around you too, even if it’s in subtle ways

Be that person who shows up excited to get better. Everyday has its purpose, be excited for that purpose. Even if it’s a recovery jog. That excitement is infectious. Buy in with your teammates to give everything as there will only be one team that ever looks like the one you’re currently on. Things will change, people will graduate or move.

Be accountable.

Training & Racing is hard. It sucks waking up early before school to get a short run in. It sucks when you’re 2 miles into a 5K and you’re charging up a hill. But having a team culture will give you purpose when it would be easy to quit if you were doing it yourself. If it’s an early before school run show up because you know your teammates are going to do the same. In a race give it everything you have even when you’re body is screaming to slow down, because you know your teammates are doing the same for you. Don’t be afraid to hold each other accountable if someone is slacking. It’s awkward but it is for the betterment of the team.

Set Team Goals-

My challenge to you guys is to set your team goals these next few weeks if you haven’t already. Is it to make it to state? To score a certain amount of points at Conference? A certain amount of people under 20 minutes for 5K? Goals that you guys decide upon are the most powerful as no one can tell you what you want. These are goals that you’re working towards now just by showing up today. Great teams set the expectation of what they want to be. That doesn’t mean they’re always going to hit those goals but that they’re going to keep each other accountable, work hard, and bring the energy necessary to take a swing at that goal.