By Don Madgett of South-Doyle
The best way to look at camps, retreats, and day trips is to think of each of them as being able to add a dimension to your program. Combinations can add multiple dimensions. Depending on your experience level and the place you find your program, it is best to start where you are comfortable and look at where you can continue to grow.
The easiest of these to implement is the day trip which can be as simple as having parents help drive your team to Cades Cove in the Smokies for a long run and can take on nuances from there including breakfast and an ice bath in the creek afterward. Cades Cove wouldn’t be the only destination for such a day trip but it is probably the classic one for the Knoxville area both because of its proximity and legendary loop. Depending on the size of your team, a bus is also a possibility. Smaller teams have been known to share buses for the trip. If the team provides transportation it should be noted that field trip permission from your school system is probably required. A trip like this could take place during summer training or on a weekend after school starts even during the season.
A closer example of a day trip might be the Guard Shack loop in Oak Ridge followed by a trip to Big Ed’s Pizza. The combination of a run followed by another fun activity is what really makes day trips valuable to your team’s culture. The Guard Shack gets your athletes off the pavement onto the softer surface of a gravel forest road.
These are two popular options, but there are as many other ones as you can think of.
Camps are a bigger undertaking but can provide an even bigger boost to your program. This is especially true because of the importance of summer training to success during cross country season. Getting the miles in is, of course, a big deal but there are a multitude of other advantages to having your team at camp. Building camaraderie and leadership within your team is among them, but depending on the camp, having your athletes around other teams, athletes, and coaches can certainly provide new perspective that both reinforce and enhance some of the beliefs and practices you already have.
There are multiple approaches to taking your team to summer camp. I will use examples that I’ve used with our teams over the years. The first is a team individual camp put on by someone else. The first camp I ever attended as a coach was Appalachian State’s Team Camp in Boone, NC. The biggest advantage to this one is that your team goes and stays together during camp. A downside is that the team may be responsible for transportation during the camp besides getting there and back. This can be overcome if you have the budget to take a bus and driver with you. Most local school systems won’t allow team vans with coaches driving like may have happened in the past or may still happen in some states. Private schools may have different options when it comes to this too. If you choose a camp like this, you will see some teams traveling that way and you might be tempted to envy them but I feel certain avoiding that liability is in our best interests.
A second option is an individual camp put on by someone else. These usually have the advantage of providing transportation to off campus running venues while at camp. The downside, if it is one, is the diminished focus on your team. When we’ve been to a camp like this, I try to create an upside by highlighting the positive aspects of gaining insight from other athletes and coaches from across the country. We have still been able to carve out time for our team at meals and free time. Most of these camps welcome teams and their coaches, often comp-ing the coach’s fees. We have attended Jim Ryun’s Running Camp and the Smoky Mountain Running Camp over the years and our athletes have had the opportunity to be exposed to Jim Ryun, Jack Daniels, Matt Tegenkamp and many others over the years. I am always able to bring back new ideas from the speakers we encounter. Last year it was the importance of building aerobic capacity over a four-year (or more) time period from Coach Alex Gibby who coaches at UNC Charlotte.
I combine the idea of a third concept for camps with retreats in that it is likely something you put together for your team yourself whether it is during the summer or the season. If during the season, this could be over a weekend or during fall break. We have done summer camps on our own in cabins at Pickett State Park and have also rented houses in Blowing Rock, NC. The focus changes in this type of camp or retreat from education and training to team building and training which is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it is the best thing you can do for your program. If you get ahead of travel plans, it can be a way of giving your team a focal point during fall break so you don’t lose the momentum you’ve gained before region. Getting someplace cool, both literally and figuratively, can be nice. That is one of the reasons we like to head to the mountains. There are often gravel forest roads like the ones I described at the Guard Shack in Oak Ridge and also trails accessible in these areas. Most towns have nice greenways now too.
Any of these three options can add depth to the character of your program. With proper planning, each can provide your team with opportunities for growth. Depending on your group’s dynamics, it is hard to find a downside if you have been deliberate in your preparation. I recommend this for any team. Find a level within your own comfort zone and I believe you will find it rewarding. Don’t be afraid to ask for help both within your program and school, but also out in the coaching community as well. We are a pretty collaborative bunch.
Don Madgett has been the head cross country coach at South-Doyle High since 1997 after serving two seasons as a volunteer assistant. His teams have taken day trips across South Knoxville for runs starting from Island Home Park through Ijams Nature Center and back followed by breakfast at the Round Up, flown to Colorado for Jim Ryun’s Running Camp, and based retreats out of ZAP Fitness in Blowing Rock, NC for the semi annual fire tower run from Moses Cone Manor House on the Blue Ridge Parkway. You can practically see the Percy Warner Steeple Chase Course from there.