Dave Emeott has been Head Track and Field Coach for East Kentwood High School since 2004. EK won its first state championship in 2009 and since then has tallied eight MHSAA crowns, producing countless state champions, All-Americans, and collegiate athletes in the process. Before becoming the head coach at EK, Emeott was an assistant on staff and served as the cross-country coach from 2000–2005. He began his coaching career at Mount Pleasant High School in 1995 after finishing his athletic career as a collegiate pole vaulter for Saginaw Valley State University.
Freelap USA: In the state of Michigan, East Kentwood High School is considered by many to be the gold standard for men’s track and field, but readers outside of Michigan might not be familiar with you. Can you talk a bit about your background as an athlete, how you got into coaching, and what has kept you around for so long?
Dave Emeott: I was an average 14-foot pole vaulter at Saginaw Valley State University in 1994 when I decided to give up my athletic career. I transferred to Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, to pursue a math degree and began coaching at Mount Pleasant High School.
At MP, I worked with some great coaches and athletes and grew to have a passion for coaching. I began coaching at East Kentwood in 1998 and became the head coach in 2004. I have been inspired by great coaches all the way—too many names to mention. I am also inspired daily by our staff at EK on both the men’s and women’s sides. Coaching is my hobby. Some people play golf or go fishing: I coach!
Freelap USA: You mentioned you took over as the head coach at East Kentwood High School in 2004. Your team won its first state championship in 2009, and eight state championships total in the time since. To what factors do you attribute that level of success?
Dave Emeott: Our staff puts a ton of time into off-season work, including getting as many athletes out for the team as we can each season. Recruiting within our own district is a high priority. We work all year to encourage students to come out for the team, with a goal of rostering 10% of the school population. With 2,500 students, 250 is a good year. Our average boys’ team is 125 athletes, and the girls’ is about the same.Recruiting within our own district is a high priority. We work all year to encourage students to come out for the team, with a goal of rostering 10% of the school population, says @EKTracknField. Click To Tweet
Track is a numbers game: big teams win. Our thought is that if we have 10 kids on the team, someone will be good; if we have 100 kids, someone will be great! You can win a lot of meets with nine good athletes and one great one.
Sign-ups for this season in March have already begun. As of October 18, we had 201 total athletes registered in a Google Form. We have their names, email addresses, parents’ email, and about a dozen other personal facts collected and compiled in one place. We send out school-wide emails, post the form on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and have posters in the halls—you name it, we do it.
Since 2009, EK has scored in every event at the state finals except for the 3200, which is a real testament to our staff. They have worked tirelessly to help grow our program and have a healthy competitiveness that drives our team in all areas.
Freelap USA: The saying goes that “culture never graduates.” Clearly, to have the year-in and year-out success you’ve had, you’ve established a championship culture in your program. How have you gone about building—and maintaining—that sort of culture so that no matter who is on the roster, you know you’ll be in contention?
Dave Emeott: We have an amazing tradition! Our athletes take a lot of pride in their team and in wearing the “EK” on their chest. Our team is an athlete-led organization. They pass down traditions and culture. They feel the pressure (sometimes good, sometimes bad) from all the former teams and attempt to step up to meet expectations. It is not uncommon for our team to have several past champions or NCAA All-Americans come to practice. The pressure does not come from the staff. It comes from each other.
If you are ever at a meet with EK, you will notice a few things. All athletes are dressed in the same warmup outfits, all athletes warm up together in formation, and the warm-up finishes with Falcon Jumping Jacks, which have been part of our team since the ’60s.
We have team rules about looking back for your teammates after a race and shaking opponents’ hands before and after a race. Our athletes will always be found thanking officials, especially in field events.
We finish each meet with a team meeting. The focal point of the meeting is “What did you notice today?” This will go on for five or 10 minutes, with our athletes pointing out the accomplishments of their teammates, usually from different event groups and hardly ever the stars of the team. Almost every aspect of our team has a tradition, and you are either part of history or making history.
Freelap USA: As track coaches, we are responsible for so many events, and it’s tough to be an expert in all of them. On your coaching staff, in particular, what do you see as your role in terms of event coaching, athlete management, and staff leadership, and how do you balance those roles effectively?
Dave Emeott: I am the pole vault coach for the men’s and women’s teams. For our 250+ athletes, we have 13 amazing assistant coaches who share duties. We are fortunate to have coaches with a tremendous wealth of knowledge. I have a fair knowledge of all events, but I generally let our coaches coach. Our sport is way too big to micro-manage. That’s not to say I don’t do some amount of management, however.
For example, on our staff, all of the workouts for a season are due at the beginning of the season. These may change throughout, but everyone must have a plan. We discuss this plan and how it might impact each athlete who may be a crossover type kid, like a hurdle/high jump athlete, for example. In addition, our entire staff attends at least one clinic per year: usually, the MITCA coaches clinic, but often coaches seek other professional development, which we always happily support.
There are times when my coaching philosophy may not mesh with my assistant’s, but this is not the focus. I offer suggestions, but if they go on their own path, they know they will be supported but also held accountable. I also think it’s essential for coaches to learn from the mistakes they will make.Coaching coaches should be a strength of all head coaches, says @EKTracknField. Click To Tweet
The best form of education is discovery education. Whenever a coach wants to try something new, I will always encourage it. It is an opportunity to learn: either their idea works or it fails, and they learn what not to do. Coaching coaches should be a strength of all head coaches.
With that being said, everyone on staff feels some pressure to perform. If their area is not doing well, the other staff members notice. This is when a head coach needs to evaluate the situation: is this coach working out, is there light at the end of the tunnel, or do we need to part ways? This method has built a really strong coaching staff who are bonded and battle-tested.
If I have a role with non-pole vaulters, it would be on the mental aspect of the sport. When working with our kids to gain a mental advantage, we spend time getting their confidence/competence scale in balance. We are never too high or too low on ourselves; we are just right. If you want to be confident or cocky, prove you deserve it.
I prescribe a few books to kids. The first is Read This Book Tonight to Help You Win Tomorrow by Rob Gilbert. The second is Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence by Gary Mack. Both are excellent books to teach athletes how to deal with the mental aspects of this sport, and this sport is very mental.
As a head coach, it is my job to keep the team in the right mindset at all times. It is important not to let any one person be bigger than the team—even a kid who is a 40-point returner and competes in mostly individual events. I always preach the team, the team, the team.
Freelap USA: In states like Texas, California, Florida, and the like, athletes have the option of training outdoors year-round. Things are a little different in Michigan: the outdoor season is just shy of three months long, and sometimes it feels like it’s cold and wet for the first two months of that. What do you prioritize in the off-season for your athletes to make the most out of the short outdoor season and ensure that they’re peaking at the appropriate time?
Dave Emeott: Our first priority in the off-season is our speed and agility sessions, which occur Tuesdays and Thursdays directly after school. These sessions are open to all athletes on all teams. Our numbers are frequently over 100 kids from every sport, from track to softball to soccer.
During these sessions, we focus on a few basic components. First is form running drills. We start each day with a lengthy dynamic warm-up, which incorporates many form running drills done at an increased rate of speed as each season moves forward. This warm-up will take about 30 minutes to start the fall or winter season. By the end of each season, the warm-up will take about 7–9 minutes.
Our second focus is wickets for high-velocity running form. We do sets of wickets each Tuesday. These sets vary in length and intensity and are either from a static or flying start. Our goal is to have a combined daily distance of approximately 400 meters.
Finally, we do a fair amount of low-grade plyometrics. We spend a lot of time on the stadium steps or stairwells, promoting lower leg strength and health.Winter competitiveness is never the goal of our program. We participate in many events, but our focus is always on the first Saturday in June, says @EKTracknField. Click To Tweet
After each athlete has committed to the base workouts, we will have various event-specific opportunities throughout the winter. These training sessions include all the disciplines of the sport. There is no official MHSAA Indoor Track and Field season, but various venues around the state offer two or three indoor track meets all winter long.
Our athletes are encouraged to participate in one meet per week as long as they meet all other training commitments. This is a great way for our athletes to learn how to compete while training through the dog days of a Michigan winter. Winter competitiveness is never the goal of our program: I am completely unaware of any individual championships or records our team members have earned. We participate in many events, but our focus is always on the first Saturday in June.
Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask. More people are reading SimpliFaster than ever, and each week we bring you compelling content from coaches, sport scientists, and physiotherapists who are devoted to building better athletes. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — SF