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Interview with Coach Mike Adams
May 17, 2009 - Erik Brown
This blog post is dedicated to my dad, Melvin L. Brown. He was the head coach of the boys’ track & field team for many years at Patton High School and Cambria Heights. In 1975 he came out of coaching retirement to become the head coach of the first ever girls’ track & field team at Cambria Heights when dozens of girls came out for the boys’ team. I owe my love for the sport and my passion for running to my Dad. Today (May 17th) is his birthday.
The Altoona Boys Track & Field Team is riding an astounding winning streak. The last time the Altoona boys lost a track meet, we were living in a different millennium. On Friday, they won their 14th consecutive District 6 championship. They were this year’s PIAA Indoor Track & Field State Champions, and they’ll travel to Shippensburg later this week as the defending PIAA Outdoor State Champions. Can you say dynasty?
This year’s team is one of their strongest. With all due respect to the many fine athletes from other area schools, the current Altoona Mirror Track & Field Honor Roll bears a strong resemblance to the Altoona boys’ team roster.
Recently, Altoona Boys’ Track & Field head coach, Mike Adams was gracious enough to sit down with me for an interview at Mansion Park. Coach Adams has been involved in the Altoona track program for the past ten years, including five years as an assistant coach and now five years as the head coach. Prior to that, Mike was a member of the team himself. He continued his track career at Penn State University. He is also a math teacher at the senior high school.
ATW: Coach, what do you attribute your program’s success to?
Coach Adams: Basically, when I came down here 10 years ago to my Alma Mater, Altoona, Tom Musselman was the coach at the time… and Tom… I have to give all the credit to Tom. He built this program from the ground up. I mean, he laid all the ground work, the foundation, you know… things of that nature. He really was a big... and is still, an influential part of my coaching career. Whenever I have a problem or a question, he’s the first guy I go to for an answer, and he’s just been tremendous with me. You know, I just took it from where he was and ran with it… and I have had the personal success of having some great athletes to coach and that’s what it comes down to a lot of times. You know, if you’ve got those great athletes that work hard for you, you’re going to be successful.
ATW: OK, how about getting kids to come out? Some programs seem to have a hard time getting some of the better athletes…
Coach Adams: Yeah, you’ve got to sell it. You’ve gotta be a salesman. I mean, our junior high coaches do such a great job of getting people out at that level. And, it’s a numbers game in track & field. The more numbers you can get, you’re going to find some gems in there… and our junior high coaches get hundreds of kids out, and we just try to keep on getting them out from the junior high to the high school. And we sell it! You know our sport is one of those sports that can help all of the other sports… speed, quickness, jumping ability… all those things… strength, power… we have. And, a lot of the coaches from the other sports look to that, and look to us to help them develop their athletes. We have full cooperation from the athletic department and other teams, and that’s been a real key to our success.
ATW: I would think so. At some schools it seems like it works in the opposite direction…
Coach Adams: Yeah, exactly.
ATW: How about evaluating your talent and trying to get your kids into events that they’re well-suited to?
Coach Adams: Yeah, basically, what we try to do is… we find where our areas and needs are and we try to put our best athletes there… and that’s basically what we’ve come down to. Now we trial and error… we have kids that were in events as sophomores… that by the time they’re seniors, they’re state-level kids in events that they never did as sophomores. You know, we just kinda massage it through the years and see where they best fit. It’s not always a perfect thing right off the bat, but we eventually find where we think they’re the strongest and can help us the most.
ATW: OK, while we’ve been talking here, you’ve been giving some instructions to your assistants about things you want the varsity athletes to be doing here today. Do you have a pretty well structured plan for the daily workouts?
Coach Adams: I’m psychotic when it comes to workout schedules. I have every minute of every practice for every event… every single day (planned in advance). I’m overboard when it comes to that. I phase every (aspect) of their programs from the beginning of March to the end of May, and I don’t abandon my plan. We do general conditioning the first month and we stick with general conditioning. I don’t care what the results are on the track. We build that foundation and we keep sharpening as the year goes on. But, we are meticulous about our planning and I think that has led to a lot of our success.
ATW: Yeah, sitting here with you, it was very apparent to me, and that’s why I wanted to ask you that. How about motivating kids, have you got any thoughts about that?
Coach Adams: Yeah, their (assistant) coaches talk to them and I talk to them as head coach. And what we try to do… we try to find with each individual kid, what motivates them. Whether it’s a faster time, whether it’s being here because their friends are here, or whether it’s trying to impress this, or do this… and we just try to help them along. We have them set goals. I think that’s the most important thing we have them do… to set intermittent goals and long-term goals. So we have the long-term goals set at the beginning of the year… and they’re on their lockers… and then every week we set goals as a team and as individuals and we evaluate those goals and see where we are. I think the constant evaluation and the constant setting of goals gives them direction because without direction, kids are just shooting in the dark. I tell kids all the time, you wouldn’t aim at a target in the dark, so why would you not set a goal and step toward that goal every single day… because if not, you’re never going to reach it. So, the meticulous workouts and the goal setting, I think those have been two big keys to our success. And it’s not just the good athletes… one thing we pride ourselves on here is, even our kids who are never going to contribute in a dual meet or an invitational meet, as far as points go… we monitor their progress, and we show them their improvements. And that makes a big difference. You know, they might be a six minute miler as a guy, but if they can get down to 5:10 that means something to them. And that helps our program. You know what I mean? When you care about the kids on a whole, and you chart all their progress, and you show them their improvement, and you keep showing them their improvement, they get excited about your sport, and that’s the key.
ATW: Well, my last question was going to be… and I think you may have already answered it… what advice would you give to a new track & field coach?
Coach Adams: I would say, be positive with the kids, be fair and be consistent. You can’t treat your star athletes any differently than you treat your other athletes. If anything, I’m harder on them than I am on the other kids because I expect more out of them. And, its consistency… you can’t let them screw around… you can’t let them… you know, when its time to work I tell those guys that its time to work. When we step off the track, let’s have some fun. But, when we’re working, we’re working. And that’s what it’s all about. We preach hard work, hard work, hard work. You ask any of these kids, and they’ll tell you that… we work harder than anyone else. And I pride myself on that, I really do. I think that we sometimes push the edge a little bit, but we always get there with results.
ATW: Well, I think the proof is in the pudding Coach. Thank you very much.
Coach Adams: Thank you!
Thanks again to Coach Adams. Best wishes to the Altoona Boys in their quest to repeat as state champions in Shippensburg. Best wishes also to all of the PIAA state qualifiers, boys and girls, from the Mirror coverage area. May you all P.R.!
Finally, a special shout-out to my niece Kayla Funk. Kayla will be representing the Dover Area High School girls’ track & field team in the 200M dash at states. Run fast Kayla!