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NAME: Jonathan Gambrell (Hillgrove)
How long have you been coaching and at what schools?
6 years at Hillgrove, 4 years at Allatoona
How did you get into teaching/coaching? Did you have running in your background?
I ran my junior and senior years of high school at Kennesaw Mountain. After graduating, I kept running and ran with a teammate that ended up transferring from Kennesaw Mountain to Allatoona. After running with him for a few years, it turned in to me helping coach there with my high school coaches. During college I started off pursuing physical therapy/athletic training but knew I really wanted to coach. I ended up changing majors to chemistry and the rest is history.
What would you say is your overall coaching philosophy/motivation?
For me, I learned a lot of life lessons from my time running in HS. One of my biggest motivations is to be an example for the athletes I coach and to pass along those life lessons to them. I want my athletes to see that hard work does payoff but that it might not always payoff as quickly as they want it to. In a society that craves instant gratification, one of my main goals is to teach my athletes that success will come if we put the work in, just not always when we want it to. Our team hash tag is #ConsistentToGreat which we preach all the time; consisent work over an extended period of time will result in improvement. The problem is that some people are not willing to work hard enough, long enough to see that improvement.
What is your opinion about the state of XC/Track in Georgia right now? Any changes you'd like to see happen?
I think that we are definitely in a better spot now than when I was in high school. I think the quality of coaching in Georgia is improving drastically as coaches are pursuing more professional development opportunities and collaborating with each other. I remember in high school, that we paced a teammate in the 3200 in practice to try to break 10:00 to get him to qualify for State. Now a 10:00 won’t get you close to State in most classifications. In my first year coaching at Hillgrove, we had a kid run 9:38 and got 10th place at Sectionals. So the quality of runners we are producing as a State is definitely getting better. With that being said, I think we are still behind in some areas. I would love to see the 4x800 get added to our State meet as we are one of the few States to not contest it at the State meet. I think this would help increase participation and give some more kids more motivation to be able to train deeper in to May which will only help the quality of runners in our State. I think we see a divide right now between distance coaches and sprint coaches, with both sides making decisions that will only benefit their specific group or the strengths of their team. I would love to see us as coaches come together and be able to make decisions that will better the sport as a whole, not just our specific event group.
How are you different now as a coach vs when you started?
This is a loaded question and I could probably go on for days about this but I will only highlight a few things. I would first like to apologize to the athletes I coached my first few years at Hillgrove. Knowing what I know now, I look back at what I did my first few years and just question a lot of what I did. But as I tell my athletes, it is okay to make mistakes, just don’t make the same mistake twice. For me it has been important to reflect upon each season and determine things that worked and did not work and make proper adjustments. When I first started coaching, I was consumed by the virtual meets and rankings etc.. I then would talk nonstop about this stuff with my team. When we were not ranked where I thought we should be I would take it to my team and try to use it as motivation. I did the same with virtual meets. Now, we do not even talk about virtual meets or rankings as a team. The only thing we talk about now is the process - training consistently each week and doing the little things we need to do to stay healthy. We very rarely talk about potential results. When it comes to racing, we focus less on other teams and more on ourselves. When I first started, I would talk about let’s try to focus on this team or these runners. And then we would race and those runners would have an off day or something would happen. We focus now on the things we can control, which is ourselves and our race plan, and less the things that are out of our control. Finally I would say that my training has changed a lot since I first started. The main difference is less quality/workout days and more recovery run days. When I first started, we would have 4 quality days a week – 3 workouts and a race. Now we have 3 per week (long run, workout, race). We have also emphasized the long run more than when I first started. When I first started the longest run a majority of the team would do would be 4 miles. Now most of the kids get 3-4 miles in on recovery days. Prioritizing the long run has been a huge factor in the improvements we have seen on our team.
What are the things about coaching that you really enjoy?
I think the main thing I enjoy is seeing kids buy in to the program, put in the work and improve and run times that they once thought were impossible. And this goes for all levels of kids. As coaches, I think we would all agree that it is fun to coach the kids who are fast and talented. They make us look like we know what we are doing. But for me, I get just as much joy and satisfaction from the kids who work hard for 4 years to break a certain time barrier that is a big goal for them. I remember watching a senior boy break 21 minutes for the first time ever in a 5k at Region his senior year in his last race. The joy and excitement on his face was priceless. He had worked hard for 4 years and finally achieved his goal. I also enjoy the teaching process. I view coaching as teaching, we are teaching a sport not a school subject. Whether it is in the classroom teaching chemistry or at practice teaching running, I enjoy seeing the light bulb go off for the kids and see them learn and improve.
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