For many athletes, just playing a sport isn’t enough. Their passion is so strong that they need to share it with others.
Those are the kind of people that the DeKalb County Prairie Runners recruit as potential coaches, and the organization has done a masterful job of bringing them in.
President Jill Franke and her staff have assembled a staff of assistant coaches with backgrounds in track, teaching and physiology to help run the cross country/track club, which trains in DeKalb and Sycamore and competes against in various races around the Chicago area.
With a group of several current college students and recent graduates, it seems that Franke has made a conscious effort to seek out younger coaches for the club, but she said it only happened because of the skills she was looking for.
“It has nothing to do with their age,” Franke said. “Mainly, it has to do with recruiting the highest quality of coaches that we can, because we want people who are current on coaching philosophy and research and techniques, and those people tend to be younger.”
It certainly helps that the source of much of the club’s young talent is part of the club itself. Board member Vicky Books is an instructor in the Northern Illinois University Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, and she influenced several of her students to apply for a coaching job.
Those who were chosen have impressive track backgrounds to fit the club’s philosophy.
Assistant coach Ashlyn Patton said that’s a necessary trait to properly coach the kids.
“Anyone can say, ‘Run fast, turn left,’ but when it comes down to it, there’s so much technique,” Patton said. “If they can learn that technique at such a young age, that’s great.”
Technique is crucial in a sport with such a wide range of possibilities, and these coaches have the experience needed to teach it. Across the board, the staff of assistants have a wide range of expertise, varying from discus to javelin.
In the eyes of the kids in the club, the reason for having such a staff is simple.
“They know what they’re talking about, so that helps a lot,” said Chantel Kyler, who competes for Indian Creek’s track and field program. “When you’re younger, you can understand the athlete because you were just that age a couple years ago.”
Several of the athletes experienced debilitating injuries during their careers, forcing them to stop doing what they love. As a result, they have come to the club as a way of fulfilling the passion that they still have for the sport.
But regardless of whether they can still compete, the reasoning is the same for all of the coaches. They want to give back, both to the sport they love and the kids who may soon love it as much as they do.
“Honestly, I just want them to come out here and learn something new every day and just work as hard as they can,” assistant coach Jacob Clayton said. “It’s not necessarily about winning races or meets, but it’s about doing better than you’ve ever done before.”