High School / Middle School Coach — Matthew Hansen

Matt Hansen 1

Today’s interview is with long-time friend Matt Hansen. As a very young coach at Dallas Baptist University I got the opportunity to coach Matt. He was in my first recruiting class and was as big of a TEAM guy as I have ever coached.

He never seemed to be very interested in personal glory or success…but he sure did want the TEAM to win and he did everything in his power as a runner and as a teammate to make sure that happened.

This interview has a lot of great information for coaches who might deal with younger runners (middle schoolers) or for coaches who might struggle with building a program. I’ve been very impressed watching Matt grow as a coach over these past few years and it’s very impressive what he’s done at the middle school level with his kids.

One of the biggest accomplishments, in my opinion, is seeing his 8th graders go into high school and lead their varsity squad to the State Championships. That’s huge and it means that those kids have been prepared well at the developmental level.

This is a great read…I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

1. How long have you been at Kerr Middle School / Centennial High School and what is your official role / title?

I have been at Kerr Middle School for 5 years coaching both the boys and girls cross country and long distance track teams. As for Centennial High School, I have been there for the last two years as an assistant cross country coach. 

2. What is your educational background? 

I graduated from Alvarado High School in 2004, then went on to Dallas Baptist University where I graduated with my Bachelors in Education in 2009 and with my Masters in Kinesiology in 2011. 

3. What is your running background?

I ran all four years in high school and won three district titles in cross country. I then ran cross country and track at Dallas Baptist University where I was 1st team all-conference in cross country in 2007. That same year I helped our Men’s team win their first-ever Conference title. In 2008 I set the school record for the Indoor 5000 meters and was named an NCCAA All-American. 

After completing my eligibility I became an assistant coach at DBU from 2009-2011. 

4. If you had to sum up your coaching philosophy, what would it be? 

For me, since I am at the middle school and high school it’s how can I get these young athletes to come to cross country and stay in it throughout their full high school career? It’s important to make this sport fun and enjoyable for all of the kids that come out because we want to grow the program as large as we can. I take my athletes to the trails here in Burleson and show them that it’s not just about running on a road or a track. 

For training…at the middle school we will have two harder workouts during the week, and then I will find another way to make the other days fun. Sometimes we run at the trails, or at a park in town, and on Friday’s we try to play ultimate Frisbee. 

I have separate workouts for those that really show a desire to excel. Most of the young athletes really start buying into the program a few weeks into the season because of how much they improve in a short time. 

After the cross country season, for those who take it a little more serious, we have a running club that will meet after school a few days a week. We also have local races that they can run; this is anything from foam glow 5ks, to the color run 5ks, to competitive 5ks. I usually get around 60 athletes at the middle school level for boys and girls combined. 

Once they get into high school we give them a more intense workload and build the miles up accordingly. We have had a very successful turnout for our programs and this year we had one of our more successful seasons as the ladies placed 3rd overall at the UIL 5A State Championships. 

5. What is your favorite XC workout? 

By far it has to be hills. We do hill workouts for both our middle school and high school athletes. At the middle school, we bus them to the high school to run on our ‘Green Moster’ hill. ((Matt compared this hill to some of those that we have at DBU…let me attest…these hills are no joke.))

I like the hill workouts because they teach you so much about yourself. Of course, hill workouts are good physical training, but it also mentally prepares you for anything. We have a phrase, “If you train your mind for running, everything else will be easy.” 

Training on a hill and doing hill repeats builds character; teaches you to be mentally strong; and it’s something that’s good for every running. The confidence the kids gain from conquering the ‘Green Monster’ is worth the workout itself. Sure, some of the young athletes may have trouble with the hill workout, but it’s an amazing confidence booster. It really helps those younger runners that might be scared of a tough cross country course. 

6. What is your favorite track workout for a 16/32 kid? 

For the middle schoolers, one of our toughest workouts is a mile warm up, followed by 1200 meters + 800 meters + 600 meters + 400 meters at around 80-90% with 3 minutes rest, then a mile cool down. We usually finish the day with 4-6 build up strides. It’s a really tough workout, but our standout freshman girl did this last year when I had her at the middle school and she cut her mile time all of the way down to 5:37. 

7. What’s the most challenging part of your job as a middle school / high school coach? 

I think for me it’s balancing the large amount of athletes that we have on the roster. We have 60 middle schoolers and I’m the only coach; so it can make things a little difficult for both practices and meet. 

For practice, I have had to separate workout sessions for grade levels. Sometimes it is based on gender, especially if I have more boys than girls that season. I like doing this because I am able to work more one-on-one with the athletes. 

When it comes to the  meets, I have a huge amount of support from parents and that really helps out! They don’t understand how big of a part they have in our program!

8. What’s the most enjoyable part of your job as a middle school / high school coach? 

The most enjoyable part of coaching at both levels is seeing the kids succeed. For me, I get to see them start out in 6th grade and watch them grow all through high school with our head coach (Coach Eden). After five years of basically getting to see these kids grow from not being able to complete one lap in their first year, to five years later standing on the podium at the State meet…that’s a great feeling. 

The last part that I would like to add is getting a chance to mold someone’s life. Some of the kids that I have that run cross country have a lot of real world problems. They need an outlet to put their energy and frustrations into. They need a supportive atmosphere and need someone that believes that they can do it. I have had kids that just wanted to come out because they heard that cross country was fun. I have never cut a kid no matter how slow they might be. 

I am a huge believer that the time that you start out with does not define the runner that you are. It just means that you have a starting point to get better. Anyone can be great at this sport if they try hard and listen to a coach. 

9. Favorite coaching memory?

I have two coaching and one personal memory. 

The first was back in 2007 as a runner for DBU. We won the conference titles for both teams (men and women). I remember everything about that race and the people on the team who helped us win. That team will always hold a special place in my heart. 

As far as coaching, the 2009 DBU women’s team was pretty special. They qualified for the NCAA National Championships for the first time in program history. 

With my middle school and high schoolers, this year was awesome. Our women’s team worked very hard all fall and the amount that they improved was tremendous. We knew from the very first practice that we would have something special, but we didn’t know how special it would end up being. I’ll never forget seeing Coach Eden jump into the air with a fist pump after finding out we were 3rd at State. 

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