Cross-country coach Sean Woods weighs in

 What is your previous coaching experience before Johnson State?

I have coached high school, at Spaulding high school in Barre for 21 years. Cross country and track and field. And before that I had coached in Massachusetts for a while.

Just looking at the records this season, for either team, they are not exactly stellar and I mean that with no disrespect. Is winning the most important measure for you?

Well, I think long term we want to become at least the middle of the conference. But I think when you first start with a program, we only have four people returning from last year’s team so that means 11 of my 15 runners are brand new to running in college, you know you have to be realistic. We’ve actually done fine in terms of where I want us to be in this part of the season. We’ve done fine. And I think we have some goals for our conference championship that we want to try and accomplish. But yeah, you have to look a big picture when you first start coaching. Everything is not all of a sudden going to change, and the program the last couple of years has struggled some.

What would you say is the most important thing a coach can accomplish? What gives you the most satisfaction?

I think seeing them improve. Watching people improve, watching people accomplish their individual goals and our team goals, and also have some fun doing it. You know, were not a division 1 power house college, so they’re not on scholarship, but the big thing is improvement. I think that’s what any coach wants to see because if the athletes are improving, you feel like you’re doing a better job.

What were your expectations like before the season started? Are you satisfied with where you are now?

Yeah, I think our expectations were that we want to, over a period of the next couple years, really improve the program, get more athletes involved, to recruit a lot more.

How has recruiting been?

It’s just in its beginning stages. But it’s going fine. I think I will have an edge in recruiting because I have coached in this state, high school athletes for over 20 years, I know all the coaches, I know all the athletic directors, so I don’t have to create working relationships with everybody. I’ve already got them built. But my expectations when I came here were to try and improve the program. I think we’re going in the right direction. If nothing else our numbers are very different than last year’s team. Last year they kind of had in a lot of races seven, eight, or nine people. Were up to 15 right now, almost doubled.

You talked about the long-term outlook, I noticed on the team you have a lot of freshmen who are in the races. What do you expect from them?

Well the key is, and it’s something the whole athletic department is trying to work on, we need retention. We need people that come here, want to stay for four years even from an academic standpoint. That’s a real key. Just to compare,Campanile, who was the coach last year, only had one person back from the previous team. One. I have four. The goal is you want to have eight to 10 back every year, which I think is real possible with this group that I’ve got because they seem to like what they’re doing, are pretty talented, and they are having some success. But I think long-term that’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to retain people. I can’t be reinventing the wheel every year; then you get them half-way decent and they’re all gone. It’s like you’ve got a senior class every year. That’s no good. But I think this group is different. I really do believe that the majority of these underclassmen are all going to come back next year. They’re enthusiastic, they like what they’re doing, and they’re getting better. I mean you look at last year. The men were 10th out of 10 and the women were 9 out of 10. We’re definitely going to be better than that this year in the conference. But I have more numbers, and I have more time.

Do you find that cross country requires a different mindset and conditioning than other sports?

I think all sports require commitment. I think what cross country requires is a lot of individual discipline, because when you’re in a race, there’s not anybody else you’re going to be able to depend upon. You can’t blame somebody else. You are accountable for yourself. Yes it’s a team sport, we keep score, but a lot of it is individual. It’s similar in many ways but I think there is a lot of that self discipline that really comes to play in this sport.

What’s the most difficult part of coaching for you?

The travel. I mean it’s a little different than high school. You know in high school you travel half an hour, 45 minutes. Here, different states and were staying overnight. The easiest part honestly, is working with the students, that’s the part I really like.

Is that what you find most pleasant about the job?

Yes. I really like the students, really having a good time working with them. They have responded well to me. In terms of my working relationship with the students and their working relationship with each other, it’s been tremendous. It’s just the travel piece I’ve got to get used to. The recruiting piece is not tough, but it’s time consuming. It’s a part-time job but it almost plays out like a full-time job when it’s in season. The travel, well, I got to get used to it, and I’m hoping that if I get enough people on the team eventually I can get one of those nice busses that soccer gets.

What was the best coach you have ever had and why?

Not sure I’ve ever had one, which is why I’ve worked so hard to be a good coach. Because I’ve had coaches that have pushed athletes beyond what I think they should be pushed. I mean I’m all in favor that you got to push but I think I had coaches that really pushed us beyond what I could handle. When I was in high school, we won the Eastern United States Championship. That’s how good we were. But most of us did not run in college because most of us were too beat up. We were worn out. With me I’ve learned from that experience, and if I coach, which I have for many of years, I want to do things a little bit differently. You still have to be intense sometimes, you still have to push, but there’s a balance. I’ve learned to balance a lot better than my coaches did. But to be fair to them, different time period. I was in high school in the 70s. Then it wasn’t about working with student as much as it was constantly pushing them. It was more about accomplishing everything than it was treating them like people. So for me, the best coach for me was a teacher I had in college. He really instilled in me the need to push people challenge students, but he also said make sure you listen to your students. Make sure they’re ok with what you’re doing. He really stressed that balance word. You’ve seen coaches who are like, so into their sport and just want their students to live and breathe it. Well, I don’t think that’s healthy. Running is important, but it’s part of their life, it’s not their life. I think you need to keep a balance.

What do you think your greatest asset as a coach is?

I think I’m organized. I think that my athletes think that I know my stuff. When I say this is what we are going to do, I don’t get challenged. They are buying into it. You have to be organized to do that. Can’t wing it. They would catch on to that. If you come in and are like ok here is what we’re doing, it instills confidence in them.

What do you think your greatest weakness is as a coach?

I do need to keep telling myself that you do need to listen to them. I can get set in my ways, and I think I need to make sure that I keep listening to my athletes. Make sure I really hear what they are saying. You can learn from the athletes and I’ve learned that I to need listen and say, “How was that practice? Did you get out of it what I think you should get out of it?” Most of the time its fine but sometimes they say we need to make this adjustment and I need to make that adjustment. Weakness is always an interesting word. I think we all have areas we need to work on. For me it’s [that I need to] keep listening. Keep listening and make sure I’m hearing what they are saying.