Q: How did your HS Coach Create an Environment of so Many Healthy Girls?

L-Flo,

After our radio show I was thinking about your team of 60 girls in high school and the fact that you only had 1 instance of an eating disorder. And I was thinking about you as the leader of the team – you were the one who was having success, you were the one naturally taking charge. And you had a healthy perspective on food and your body.

It reminded me of the It Gets Better Project, where instead of talking about the negatives, the issues, the possible problems, they focus on the good stuff. That’s what happened without you even realizing it – you were naturally a good example and you set the tone for the rest of the team. On the other hand, on Lize’s team, the leaders were dealing with eating disorders themselves, and therefore it spread like wildfire through the team.

Ann Gaffigan

So now the question is, how do we develop strong team leaders who influence their team members positively? How can we make sure the natural leaders of the high school and college teams are setting positive examples? What can the coaches do? The parents? The professional athletes?

Why do you think you were so unaffected by this problem? Your environment must have been healthy, your influences must have been great. Tell us about them. We need to emulate that!

-Ann Gaffigan

A:

The following question is in reference to a radio show I did recently about eating disorders among female runners.  You don’t have to listen to understand this Q and A, but here it is if you want to: WTS Radio Show
Ann,

HS mug shotYou are right on about the environment, but you definitely give me too much credit.  The most important influence was my mom.  I literally don’t have ONE memory of her talking about dieting or saying negative things about her body.  If she had issues in that area, she must have kept them away from me because I never knew about it.

As for my running environment…I stepped into my high school team as a dweeby little freshman, and the environment was already there. I wasn’t the fastest girl and we were State Champions on a team with five amazing seniors who I looked up to. I emulated them and added a little of my own flare when it came my turn to lead, and I brought those experiences with me to college.

Our awesome HS team environment was completely due to my coach. Dave DeLong showered his attention on the kids who were the best role models, not simply the fastest kids (having both was the ultimate).  And he was an awesome guy with a great family and carefully chosen, fun assistant coaches, and you wanted their attention.

Kids respond to what is rewarded.

He had top 10 lists for all grades for major workouts and races, and top 10 lists for total team time, so performances WERE important.

But he used an Athlete of the Week shirt ceremony every week to highlight someone new each week for a variety of reasons: courage, dedication, leadership, helpfulness, selflessness, etc. They were cool looking shirts that everyone wanted (which makes a difference).

Alysia, Lauren and Coach Broneer

Alysia Johnson and I stay connected to the team, along with other alums. We are here with the wonderful Coach Broneer.

He kept in touch with alumni and would talk to his team leaders about what these alumni were up to. He would say things like, “Steve So-and-So who was #3 guy on our League Championship team in ’89, he works with at-risk kids now in New Mexico…most amazingly generous guy…” You knew that life was about more than running and that you would be admired and followed and talked about for living a good life.

When there was a problem on the team, he would jump on it publicly and express his disappointment but always tell us we were better than that. He treated us like the people we COULD be. If we won a race but acted like jerks, he came down on us for it.

Additionally, he recruited volunteer assistant coaches based on what they could offer as examples to us. He was picky about who he let influence his team. It really was about developing good people by showcasing good people.

There was always so much going on with our team that you didn’t worry or think about what anyone else, any other team, any other fast runner…was doing. DeLong capitalized on the teenage tendency to feel like they are the center of the universe.

A kid getting an award with an assistant coach

Photo from the most recent banquet. Awesome award!

Our end of the season banquet was the most important part because it solidified the culture and environment of the team. This is where you saw what qualities were awarded, and set your sights on what you wanted to earn next year.

Dave would plan a speech about the team, and he would spend a butt-load of team money on awards. He said that was the best investment you could make. He always bragged about how smart and hard working his team was, and when he gave out the awards for students with over a 3.5 average, it was hard to fit us onto the stage. I remember that leaving a big mark on me as a freshman. The fact that a huge percentage of the team was squeezing together, laughing and being celebrated, all holding plaques for their brains…it made a strong point that being on our team was going to be about being a multi-dimensional person, not just a fast runner.

The wide variety of awards you could win gave every runner on the team something to shoot for, some niche to fill, knowing that it would be recognized.

Finally, our booster club of parents had clear leadership that was in line with our coaches vision. DeLong got them involved early in the summer as drivers for team activities, and gave them free lodging and gas for our team pre-season camp in Mammoth for a week if they helped out. This created a group of invested parents who bonded with one another, who were willing to help year-round.

I think that providing an environment that keeps kids focused on larger, broader, more holistic ideals makes it almost impossible to get lost in obsessions over things like food. When one student did do that, DeLong preemptively talked to the other influencers on the team about how doing that was a mistake. Then the teams reaction to that one person’s actions was like, “what the hell would someone do that for?”

I’ve been out for 12 years now. Canyon hasn’t always won, but we are always good; and whenever I talk to DeLong, he still talks about so and so who is “such a good kid.” It still makes me want to be a good kid too.

Note: Dave’s wife Lisa has recently published a memoir called Blood Brothers, which is about many things, of particular interest to this audience is going through some of life’s biggest smacks in the face while living the life of a wife of a very passionate (and busy) coach (Dave).  But preserving a marriage under hard circumstances is merely a sub-plot of an incredibly rich story.  There are themes of love, loss, the miraculous, the tragic and an ever-changing understanding of faith through it all.  I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Get it here.

 

DeLong Family

Jake, Dave, Lisa, Jessica, and Joelle DeLong (with Puccini with the little teeny weenie)