Tracy Demerath is an assistant Track and Field Coach from the US, who is a retired runner herself and began coaching with a passion to give back to her sport. ?For Tracy, track and field is a source of fun and her coaching philosophy reflects that. ?Still inspired by her own female coach when she was an athlete, Tracy is a dedicated and ambitious coach who admits that her athletes may think that she is a little goofy!
For this interview, FCN blogger Sara Schwendinger interviewed Tracy about her coaching career, her passion for the sport and how she tries to cultivate confidence in her squad.
A big thanks to Sara for this great interview!
Why did you become a coach? Did you have any coaches that inspired you to take this journey in your own life?
When I became a coach, I was at a point in my life were I was ready to give back to the sport. Running has given me so much, and I wanted to be able to share my passion for the sport (and life in general) with the younger generation- the future of the sport.
My high school cross country and track coach played a major role with me getting involved in coaching. She may not know it, but her passion and encouragement while I was an athlete, still inspires me today.
How long have you been coaching? How has your coaching changed since you first began?
This is my 9th year coaching at the high school level and my 2nd year putting on Fast Kidz. I would say my coaching has changed in the sense that I am more aware. When you first start coaching, you are just figuring out how to write a quality training plan and keep everyone healthy; you’re trying to figure out how to make it all work. I think over the years, I have learned how to listen to my athlete’s bodies when they might not be able to. As much as I can teach them to be aware of what their body is telling them, they are still learning how to tune into that kind of feedback. I was able to do this when I began, but I have honed the craft. I now have a better sense of when I can push them more or when I need to back off.
I think I have also changed how I approach certain parts of the season. It is so easy to get caught up in wanting to win or running really well at every meet, but that is just not logical. As a runner, I know to trust the process, so I have really grow to embrace that as a coach and show the athletes that they too, should trust the process.
What is your coaching philosophy? How does this philosophy affect how you guide your athletes?
My philosophy is, enjoy every moment and embrace opportunity. I use this as a driving force for when I am asking my athletes to do something I believe is possible, but they might see as impossible. Yes, I am going to make them feel pain and experience discomfort, but I try to remind them that this sport is still about having fun. That might mean we do a game day or a dress up day- what ever it is, that?s the bottom line- track and field is fun.
How do you cultivate confidence in your athletes given the variations in ability level and experience in the sport?
As crazy as it sounds, I acknowledge that what I am going to ask them to do is going to hurt, but also tell them, time and time again, that I believe in them. I might put them in a race they are scared of, just so they can see they are capable of running that race. For some, it might be I run the workout with them. As a coach, I approach this for each athlete differently, simply because each athlete has different areas where they lack confidence; for one athlete it might be their kick, for another it might be a 400. We acknowledge it and then build on it as a team.
How do you balance your coaching responsibilities with other work responsibilities and family life?
I am very lucky that I have an amazing son, who appreciates and understands that I coach. So, he understands that some weekends I am busy, but when I am with him he has my full attention. But, being a single mother balancing teaching, coaching and family can be tricky, but I (think) I have become good at prioritizing things. For example if I have school things to do or an event for my son, I have come to accept that the dishes won’t done and that’s ok.
Why do you think there is such a lack of female track and field coaches at the top ends of the sport in all age groups?
This is tough for me to answer because I am fairly certain the school I coach at has never had a female head coach (although, I am hoping that changes this year!) I think this stems from the fact that women were seen as incapable of running over a 800, let alone coach athletes. While we all know women are just as capable as men, I still think this is a subconscious thought people have. I had a female coach in high school, so to me I knew no different. However, when I got to college, I missed that feminine presence at the helm. I think track and field is very set in its ways- if that makes sense. We have our tried and true workouts, etc., so it only makes sense (sadly) to me that women, who were not allowed to even run at one point, have a hard time breaking the glass ceiling. Do, I think this is changing? Yes, but not fast enough.
Have you ever experienced discrimination in your coaching due to your gender?
I don’t think I would call is outright discrimination but rather lack of acceptance of ability. I used to have a joke I would say when I said something but people ignored my opinion; but, that’s ok the blonde girl doesn’t know what she’s talking about. When I started, I think there was some skepticism about how if I would be a good coach. Of course, they would not have hired me if they thought I would not be a good coach, but at the same time, I felt that some people felt like my opinion did not have value. I could have this completely wrong, as it could have simply been because I was new, but I will never know for sure.
I would say the closest I have come to discrimination is when I was a volunteer coach at a local college. I was the only female coach there. My job was not to put workouts together, and I understood that. Yet, I ran with the girls every day and got to know some of them very well. But, in that time I was never asked for input on how they felt or how they felt about their training. I don?t want to say too much about this, but I will say the head coach somewhat treated me like a second class citizen around athletes.
If I asked your athletes to describe the type of coach you are, what do you think they would say?
Passionate, dedicated, sometimes a little too intense and other times just down right goofy. I would hope they would say that they know I want all of them to be successful, and I am willing to do whatever I can to help them reach their goals. On top of that, they see me working toward my goals, which helps them see that I am not just a coach who talks the talk, but I can walk the walk. I love to joke around with my athletes, but they also know when I mean business.
How do you define success as a coach?
Success, for me as a coach, is when my athletes are successful. That might be something as simple as a PR or something bigger like making it to state and placing. My success only comes when they reach their goals. The other way I measure success is by how many athletes keep running, either in college or on their own.
What is your ultimate ambition for your coaching career? What is the legacy you would like to leave?
My ambition is to build one of the most successful teams the high school I coach at has ever seen- and to continue it as long as I am there. The legacy I want to leave is that women?s track and field is a force to be reckoned with- that female runners are strong! I want our program to get to the point where when people hear the high school’s name, they think of the women’s track program. I want to be known not only as the coach who pushed athletes to be their best on and off the field, but who was personable; the coach who knew all her athletes so well that she knew when they needed to be pushed and when they needed her to back off.
I must also acknowledge FastKidz here, as my ambition with this program is to build the future of the sport. Whether the kids who attended run track or not, I just want them to learn to enjoy running and understand the running community and all it as to offer.
What advice would you give to other current female track and field coaches or who are interested in coaching?
Dive in and hold on! It’s an amazing ride. You will mess up but own it, because your words mean more to your athlete than you know. Athletes will look to you to ease the pain of a bad race, do it, but also show them what they can lean from that poor performance. You will get over excited and nervous for your athletes races and that’s ok.
Read and continue to learn. There is always something to learn about when it comes to track and field, and it only makes you a better coach if you keep abreast of new info.
Lastly, never, ever give up on an athlete. If an athlete comes every day and works, even if you know they could do more, they are there and they still deserve your attention.
Author: Sara Schwendinger has just finished her first year as an Assistant Middle Distance Boys Track Coach at Des Moines Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa. She has been a runner herself for almost 26 years (August marks her 26th runiversary). Racing distances from the 800m to the marathon. I just turned 40 in March so I’m a proud masters runner now. Living in Des Moines with her husband David and our furbabies Maisy, a Boxer Mix, and Nosey and Bandit, two Maine Coon cats.