WITH SPECIALTIES that vary wildly, from the javelin toss to the 10,000-meter run, track and field athletes naturally tend to cluster with teammates from their own events. This year, however, Macalester’s new head coaches are trying to fight that tendency—and build team unity—by having the team spend more time together.

That means all-team stair workouts, group sessions with guest speakers, even a group run through the downtown St. Paul skyways one winter weekend. “Our number one priority is to unify the team so both coaches and athletes view it as one program,” says new co-head coach Matt Haugen.

The best teams are those that gather to root for their teammates, co-head coach Betsy Emerson has observed. Therefore, she and Haugen decided to reduce the frequency of shuttles departing meets, and are instead encouraging their athletes to stay after their own events are over in order to support teammates.

Matt HaugenBecause Haugen and Emerson were already coaching cross-country and the track program’s distance runners, one of their chief challenges has been building rapport with the team’s other athletes—the sprinters, jumpers, and throwers.

When nearly 90 student-athletes are involved, say both coaches, overseeing practice schedules can feel like controlled chaos. Fortunately, the transition has been a true team effort in its own right. Assistant coaches and student workers have helped with recruiting, older athletes have helped build the new culture, and associate athletic director Vanessa Seljeskog has stepped in to take care of the administrative matters surrounding track meets. (The college will determine the program’s long-term leadership structure later this year.)

Those efforts will help the team move toward one of its biggest goals: seeing more athletes qualify for the conference championships in May. But midway through the season, Haugen had already noticed a small, intangible victory. “We really are a team now,” he says. “You can see it. You can feel it.”

April 29 2014

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