The Wisdom of Coaches

Top local coaches—from Ozzie Guillen and Tom Thibodeau to Oliver Purnell and Kelly Amonte Hiller—reveal sacred truths about perseverance, motivation, the importance of hard work, the value of failure, and more

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Joseph Newton, Boys' cross-country at York High SchoolJOSEPH NEWTON

POSITION Boys’ cross-country coach, York High School
STATS 27 state championships; 12 state runner-up finishes; 4 third-place finishes

When a guy does bad, what good is it to chew his ass out? He already feels bad. The best time to chew a guy out is after he just did good, because then you can tell him anything.

The hardest thing is to get the guys believing that they can do it. You’ve got to go into every race thinking you can do your best. There’s no magic trick to do that, though. You just have to keep telling them. There are still kids who have doubts. So I’m working on that all the time.

The pressure [to win] is extraordinary. You’ve got to take the pressure off any way you can. People ask me, “How are you going to be next year?” I tell them, “We’re going to be terrible. Don’t worry about it.”

Once in a while, you’ve got to let the kids think they’re smarter than you are. If you’re always acting like you’re their superior, they don’t like that. Nobody does.

When the pressure is on my guys, I always say, “You’ve got to run free. Don’t outthink yourself—just go and run.” [British middle-distance runner and Olympic gold medalist] Sebastian Coe used to tell me all the time, “I’ve just got to run free.” When the pressure is on, you have to stop thinking so much, clear your mind.

Every day during practice, I try to call out each guy’s nickname. Now when you’ve got 225 guys on the team, that’s not easy. But I try to call them out at least one time. I learned that from my own children. They would say, “Mommy, Daddy, watch me,” and if they think you’re not watching them, it’s not good.

I make my guys tuck in their shirts when they run. Look sharp, feel sharp.

As a coach, you’ve got 225 guys, 225 egos. Some guys have confidence; some don’t have any. You’ve got to have that radar up and know what’s going on with your guys. There are some you can’t yell at—they just go to pieces. Others love it when you yell at them—they get a real kick out of it. What I like to do is chew a guy out who loves it when I chew him out. Then the other guys see that, and they get the message, too.


Photography: Peter Thompson/Chicago Tribune



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