by Mike Byrnes

Steve Martin had a great comedy monologue pertaining to how one could avoid paying taxes on $1,000,000. He opened with these lines, "First, get a million dollars." (I'll give you the punch line at the end of this article.)

Most people think of a 'great coach' by the names and numbers of great athletes he/she has produced. True…to a point. Was it great coaching that produced Usain Bolt, Michael Johnson, Lashawn Merritt, Mary Decker, Sarah Bowman? OR, were they wonderfully talented athletes who would have gone to the top regardless of whom coached them? We'll never know. But let me tell you the secret of being a 'great coach.' The one constant that stands with virtually every 'great coach' I've ever known.


I can only speak about the relationship I've had with those brilliant athletes I was fortunate enough to work with. Others will be mentioned that I know of personally but there will not be too many. ALAN WEBB/SCOTT RAZCKO is one that instantly springs to mind. A high school runner and his coach. A GREAT RELATIONSHIP to be sure. Certainly Webb was possessed of great natural ability. But how many others of equal ability are, were out there? Again, we'll never know. But in a nation of 300,000,000 it is foolish to assume there are/were no others. When Webb starred in high school there were others who ran almost as well. Most went on to become top quality runners but only Webb ever ascended to the heights achieved by the Webb/Raczko duo. For those of you reading this but not too well versed in statistics, several years ago, 2007 to be exact, time wise, Webb was the best middle distance runner in the world. Better than the Moroccans, Kenyans, Somalians, better than EVERYBODY! He lead the world in the 1500 (3:30.54), the mile (3:46.91) and #2 over the 800 distance, 1:43.84, a mere .01 from the top spot. His coach? Scott Raczko. This was a pair whom I knew intimately. While attending the Virginia Tech indoor invite Webb had finished second in, I think, the two mile. He and his coach came up to the awards area and Webb looked totally downcast. I put my arm around his shoulders and said, 'Someday you're going to be great.' In the years to follow I saw Webb run many times, he was never without Raczko. They were inseparable. I can only imagine how many hundreds of hours they spent just talking. Developing a GREAT RELATIONSHIP.

It was my good fortune to coach Sarah Bowman. Sarah was possessed of two superb qualities, she wanted to win every race (what runners doesn't?) and she realized the necessity to do the training necessary to win every race. I've spoken of her work ethic in earlier pieces but let me give you a couple of quotes found in my notes after some of the very first workouts we did together; MONDAY, 1/19, Cold, windy — tough kid. TUESDAY, 1/20, Cold, nasty, windy — Unbelievable! (Ed. Note — She ran 71 minutes, about 8 miles) kid is tough! WEDNESDAY, 1/21, Cold, overcast, about 30 degrees — kid is nasty - My point, despite the most adverse conditions, her commitment to working out never wavered. After almost every WO we would talk, sometimes, in better weather to be sure, for an hour or more. I never had any reason to distrust her commitment to excellence. I knew she'd never make up an excuse to skip a WO. She trusted me and my training implicitly. There was a complete commitment by each of us to the goal, to win EVERY race. And we did. Why? We had a GREAT RELATIONSHIP.

For a coach to become a great one, he/she MUST establish such a bond. It can't be done with every athlete. Most don't want to make the effort necessary for greatness. But here we come to a problem, how does one define greatness? To me it has nothing to do with talent, not as a coach. A great coach makes a total commitment to EVERY athlete on their team, regardless of the kid's talent. A great coach is just as concerned with the progress of a male 5:22 miler, or should be, as he/she is with the 4:22 athlete. The kids on the team recognize this, don't ever think they don't. And the coach develops a GREAT RELATIONSHIP with the team. The athletes know the coach is totally committed to what's best for each and every one of them. And they respond accordingly.

I've never seen them work together but I know Clyde Hart and Jeremy Wariner are more than coach/athlete. They are good friends. Why does one coach fail with a team and another turn the same group of men into a superb squad? What made Bill Bowerman a great coach? He turned out many awesome milers and according to those close to him; they all liked him as a coach but more as a friend/mentor.

I could go on and on but it would be repetitive since the same scenario will be present in all great pairings. The athlete and the coach must bond. When I began coaching Girls I thought I would encounter new problems, new situations of which I was unfamiliar. Not so. Well, almost not so. Let me digress. One afternoon the Girls co-captains came to me. They were concerned about pre-race rubdowns. Why didn't I treat the Girls the same as the Boys? The Boys got rubdowns, the Girls didn't. I explained the physical nature of a good rub down and the fact that, since most of the leg muscles are located in the buttocks area, that part of the body was integral to a proper massage. I went on that it would look unseemly for me to be seen massaging the buttocks of these young Girls. To their credit, they immediately saw my dilemma. At all meets in the future, they would be massaged but only with a parent present. Problem solved.

Could that have happened had the kids and I not had a wonderful relationship? I think not. So, those of you who aspire to coaching, remember, if you want to be a great one, you must have a GREAT RELATIONSHIP with your team. Good luck!

Comments should be addressed to I am also available to serve as a private coach for your son/daughter. Please contact me if you're interested.

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