It’s 6 a.m. It’s February. It’s Chicago. Two words: cold and gray.
Out of the distant haze, a pack of young runners emerge. An old man waits on the corner, his face is a direct contrast to the conditions. It glows in the gloom.
“Mornin’ boys,” he yells. “Mornin’ Al,” the 30 runners reply in unison.
The runners and the old man continue on their 5 mile route through Naperville, Ill. singing at certain intervals, playing trivia and exchanging philosophies on everything from race day strategy to which dorm room has the best looking women.
This is North Central College Cross Country and Track, which has been synonymous with incredible success: 16 NCAA Div. III National Championships and 420 All-Americans.
Much of this tradition, according to other coaches, alumni and athletes, can be attributed to one man, Allen Carius, who has served as head coach for 42 years.
During his tenure, Carius has been named NCAA Division III Cross Country Coach of the Year five times and Coach of the Century by Sports Illustrated. He has been inducted into the NCAA Division III Coach’s Hall of Fame and the Drake Relay’s Coach’s Hall of Fame.
Even with all these accolades, his real rewards lie in his everyday coaching experiences. The heartaches, accomplishments, pains and successes will hit your senses at once with one trip into his miniature office. The memories are alive, and they continue to inform the new generations of hungry runners that wander in each year.
“Everything boils down to people. I get phone calls constantly from alumni that say what a positive impact this program has been in their lives. That gives me the greatest satisfaction,” says Carius.
Here is an extremely condensed version of some of the life lessons that Carius teaches as part of his program:
No one more important than the other. “We all have different gifts and abilities,” says Carius. “Your value in this program is not based on your performance, but the energy and attitude that you contribute is of most importance. There is no one on the team that is more important than any other.”
Carius’ philosophy of equality extends to those that are injured, parts of the athletic training staff and family members.
(How important does each individual on your team feel?)
Instant evaluation, feedback and encouragement. “If every person can maximize his positive attitude, then he will have a synergistic effect on the rest of the team,” says Carius. “When you see someone doing the best they can, then you can’t help but be inspired.”
After every workout, the runners receive instant feedback on their times with comments of encouragement and observations for improvement. These could range from “keep building on your strength” to “try to back down on the number of intervals.” This immediate reinforcement allows for each athlete to understand where he is at every day.
(How often and in what format are you evaluating your team?)
Play. There is a lot of fun to be had on Carius’ team. His playful nature keeps everyone positive, and his mantra, “Run for Fun and Personal Bests” is an everyday living reality.
“What we are doing is not life or death. There are more important things in life than running. We don’t care about performance. We care about attitude,” says Carius. “However, the fun is in getting better and what you are becoming. There are times that practice is miserable on the outside, but the fun in our program is in the satisfaction of improving.”
(How much fun are you and your team having?)
Creating success for others. “Every Monday, after the meet that weekend, we have the team nominate Athletes of the Week,” says Carius. “It is powerful to see athletes holding up other athletes, and it reinforces the characteristics that we value.”
Through inspiring others and exalting attitudes that will lead to success, he is creating a bunch of mini-Als on the each team. Many of his former runners go on to become successful coaches themselves.
“This is not my team,” says Carius. “Leadership within the team is extremely important. If all of the motivation is coming from me, then we are in trouble.”
(Have you facilitated anyone’s growth lately?)
“All right, boys,” says the old man, turning away from the pack of runners toward the fieldhouse. “Have a G-R-E-A-T…”
“GREAT” the boys answer.
“Have a great day, boys.”
“You too, Al.”
Jeremy Nulik, Creative Energy Officer (CEO), St. Louis Small Business Monthly