You Can't Improve What You Don't Measure.
Something I've always loved about running is that it's not just a battle to determine the winner. Most kids will never win a race, in a race with 100 kids, only one can be the winner. However, often the greatest wins are just knowing that you're improving and getting faster. It's embracing the mantra of "The only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday."
In most sports it's hard to quantify improvement. It's difficult to put a number on how a child has improved their dribbiling in basketball, or how a youngster has improved their tackling skills. In running if you only compare yourself to other runners, it can be tough to see improvement as kids improve at different rates. In cross country the course can vary and sometimes the distance isn't always accurate, which makes it difficult to compare cross country races.
When I did CrossFit, a big part of the programming is establishing benchmarks. We'd test and then retest at a later date. We took that approach with the Colorado Coyotes and in our first week of cross country practice in 2016 we had the kids run a timed 1600 meter on the track. We posted the results online and out of 32 finishers the team had an average time of 8:49. Six weeks later we retested and had the kids run the 1600m on the same track and once again we posted results online. The second time we had an average time of 7:31, an average improvement of 1:18 per mile. We could tell the kids were improving and getting faster, but when you see the data and see young runners knocking a minute off their time in the 1600m, that's a great feeling! For us as coaches and even a better feeling for our runners. All of our athletes had huge smiles on their faces and many of them wanted to run the 1600m the next day to see if they could improve even more! (which we did not do)
The 2016 Colorado USATF meet schedule was unique in that the team ran three races in Fountain, Colorado on the exact same course. We had the Kokopelli Invite on 10/08/16, the USATF JO State XC Championships on 11/05/16 and USATF Regional JO Cross Country Championship on 11/19/16. Once again, I geeked out as this was another opportunity for us to collect data and measure performances. With the big question being, "will our taper work?"
We had 26 runners compete at the Regional Championship. Out of those 26 runners, 15 runners ran their fastest time at Regionals compared to the previous two meets. We detailed all of this data in a spreadsheet and shared with the parents at the end of the season, to once again show results.
We also used that data to review the season and evaluate the taper. Having 58% of the runners running their best race at Regionals was great, but now that 58% is the 2016 benchmark and one we look to improve upon in 2017.
Because you can't improve what you don't measure.