Entrevue avec Tove Shere

En juin dernier, j’ai eu la chance d’assister au GAIN V Apprentorship organisé par nul autre que Vern Gambetta. Pendant ces 5 jours, j’ai appris et interagis avec plusieurs passionnés du domaine de la préparation physique, de la réhabilitation et de l’éducation physique.  La dernière présentation de la semaine fut celle de Tove.  Sa présentation a touché plusieurs d’entre nous au point tel que Vern n’a pas été en mesure de conclure l’événement avec sa propre présentation.  C’est un honneur de pouvoir interviewer Tove dans le présent article.

XR Performance (XRP): First off Tove, I would like to thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Your presentation at GAIN V was great. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey that brought you to be a coach?

Tove Shere (TS): Hi Xavier, thank you for the kind words and for asking me to share a little of my story. It is a daunting task to try and compress 60 years into a paragraph or two but I’ll give it a shot. I’ll begin with the present. I am currently employed by Santa Fe Prep School as a teach/coach/administrator. I teach PE, Health and am the Head Track and Field Coach for Boys and Girls and the S&C coach for the school. Some of my other duties include as sitting the Upper School AD and being the Middle School AD. Outside of the school environment I have the pleasure of coaching some masters multi-sport athletes and that just about rounds out my job profile.

Tove performing her latest Ironman

My family and I immigrated to Canada in 1957 and being a female athlete in the late 50’s and 60’s did not offer much reward or receive a whole lot of encouragement. There were a few role models and mentors in my life during the early years. The first was a magnificent ballerina from Russia by the name of Galina Samstova. After witnessing her performance in Swan Lake when I was about 8 yr. old I longed to be a dancer but my 5’8″ frame and my size 11 feet were sure signs that it was not meant to be. Luckily my High School offered a variety of athletic venues and I was on every team that was available. There was absolutely nothing about the academic side of school that I found interesting and so if there was a bus leaving my school I was usually on it. My early years weren’t very pretty and I made some really bad choices during the 60’s and 70’s. Thankfully i survived and in 1988 my life changed course permanently. I was living in San Diego at the time and my cousin from Vancouver came to town to participate in a triathlon. Not knowing anything about the event picked up my pack of cigarettes and went to the beach to watch. So many things moved me to tears that day but my call to action happened when they announced the winners of the women’s age group for the 45-49 yr. olds. The « Twin Team » of Barbara Warren(then Alvarez) and Angelika Drake(then Castaneda) took the stage. I had never seen anyone like these two women and had no idea that 45 could possibly look like that. It was an enormous epiphany and i mad up my mind to be in that race next year. And so the journey began. Fast forward..not only did I get a chance to meet the twins but they become one of the great guiding lights in my life. We lost Barbara after a bike crash in 2008, but Angelika and I just returned from their home in Austria where I had the privilege of completing an Ironman in Barbara’s honor, with Angelika as my coach and counsel. It took years of hard work to undo the damage that i had brought upon myself during the early years but every injury and every setback has been a blessing and a stepping stone to reclaiming the athlete that I was born to be. during the early years of racing it became obvious to me that i enjoyed helping others reach the finish line as much, if not more, than doing it myself. I began coaching in a one on one environment and made it my mission to study and learn and watch and explore and gather as much information from as many of the many knowledgable coaches that I could get in contact with. When I found myself given the opportunity to coach at a High School level I was absolutely thrilled beyond belief. I know that High School was a critical juncture in my life and perhaps things might have played out a little differently if I had been exposed to some different information. Obviously I am now grateful for everything that I have been through as it is hopefully useful in my work. I have been working with kids for 15 years now and I must say that they have renewed my enthusiasm for life and sport in so many ways. Also having the opportunity through Vern Gambetta to meet people like yourself and the other remarkable folks at GAIN keeps pressing that « refresh » button and keeps me constantly learning more and more about our craft.

XRP: We can say that your life has been quite a journey so far!  Recently, some of your track & field teams have had success despite having limited access to facilties and equipment.  How were you able to physically prepare them for competition?

TS: The Girl’s Track Team has won 2 State Championships. One in 2006 and the other in 2011. IN 2012 they finished 2nd by one point. The Boys’ Team has also had some top 3 finishes over the years but the State title has eluded us so far. We are a 2A school in New Mexico which gives us an eligible student athlete population of about 250 kids. About 1/3 of those students participate on some level or another on the Track Team. It is true that we don’t have a track or much of a facility of any kind. We share a soccer pitch with the Lacrosse and Baseball teams during our season, which begins the first week in February and ends the first week of May with the State Meet. If you coach in a small school environment you know that it is imperative to share athletes with other sports. This takes lots of communication and patience on everyone’s part and it is vitally important to not make the athletes feel caught in the middle between programs and coaches. If the Basketball team is having a great season I will not see those athletes until middle to late March. They will arrive in shape but weary so I make sure that their transition from one sport to the other allows for adequate rest as well as a fun refocusing on the next event. The kids that are not in another sport train 4-5 days a week (except 8th graders; I only allow them to come 3 days a week to practice) and our practices are never longer than 1 & 1/2 hr. Workouts are age, sex, and ability appropriate. One of the many goals I have as a coach is to teach the athletes to always focus on what they can do and not waste time on what they can’t. One of the great highlights of working with a High School team is to observe how remarkably adaptable and resilient they are and not confined by someone else’s preconceived limitations or expectations. If they trust that I believe in them and the fact that we can get to where we need to be in the short amount of time allotted then they just get there. In terms of actual workouts only a handful of the athletes will be in a weight room setting working with load. These are the kids that have been with me a few years and have « earned the right » (thank you Kelvin Giles) to progress. Most of the team is doing body weight and band work twice a week. I have incorporated Vern’s leg progression series with great success. We do our speed work on the grass field and the distance runner’s have specific workouts that they do on the road in the early season. I still do hill work in February once a week and I adjust the interval and the repeats to the athlete; nothing over 90 seconds of effort on a 4% grade and a maximum of 8 repeats for some of the mature distance kids. We are situated at 7000 ft in altitude, so the weather in February and March can be very cold and snowy.One of our favorite workouts is a snowshoe relay that I set up on the field if we have storm. Each team has equal numbers of sprinters, distance runners, throwers and jumpers. The distance folks do one lap, sprinters go down and back, jumpers and throwers run to mid field and do 10 tuck jumps in the shoes and then sprint back. I bake pies and cookies as prizes and a great time is had by all. In March we travel 2x a week to the local HS and use their track from 5pm to 6pm. This is the only time we actually get to work our relays, hurdles and field events. The upside is that we rarely ever have shin splint issues(not never) and after doing a full leg progression series last year I am happy to report NO hamstring problems at all. I am blessed to have great assistant coaches and Captains. All the older athletes mentor the younger ones and we take great pride in some of the traditions that we have established over the years. The Girls have been District Champions for 22 consecutive years now and the Boys are known for their dominance in the 4×100 as the Girls are for theirs in the 4×400. These traditions are handed down from the Captains to the underclassmen and it makes my job much easier. We work hard and we laugh harder but we really try to use our time wisely and as efficiently as possible. We study lots of film and the team watched Frans Bosch’s DVD last season which was an enormous help to everyone. I steal as many great ideas as I possibly can from folks like Vern Gambetta and Jimmy Radcliffe and take their wisdom to my workouts and the results speak for themselves.

XRP: Coaching is as much an art as it is a science.  In your presentation at GAIN, you presented your Guide Dog.  Knowledge or the science of coaching/physical preparation represents one bodypart of your dog while other attributes like rituals, persistency, intention and intuition make up the rest.  How important is it to focus on the psychological, social, and personal aspect of performance, may it be on the track/pitch or in daily life with the student-athletes you work with?

TS: I think those « intangible » aspects are an enormous part of coaching and maybe even more so in High School sports. Athletes of that age are not likely to be at their full physical potential, regardless how hard they train, but hey can build an emotional and psychological foundation that will serve them throughout their athletic career as well as their day to day life. Not many student athletes go on to be collegiate, national class or world class competitors, but I know that what they learn as a student athlete will help guide them on whatever path they choose as they become adults. Sport is an opportunity for life lessons that cannot be either taught or learned anywhere else and that for me is on of the great joys of coaching/teaching. State Championships are fabulous, but reading a college entrance letter from a student that had a life changing moment as a result of his athletic team experience is by far the greatest reward a coach can have.

XRP: There are many other aspect of physical preparation that the coach and athlete need to master in order to reach their potential. You’ve mentionned that you use mental imagery as well as relaxation techniques before important competitions. When have you decided to use these other tools and how do you implement them with your teams?

TS: We start working on the mental preparation in our first practices and continually weave those techniques into our entire season. Working with young athletes that are sometimes new to the feelings and pressures of both competition and intense workouts, it is so important that you give them the tools they need to cope with what is going on « between their ears ». As an example, if we are doing hill repeats, i will ask them after the first repeat, what was going on in their heads about 60 seconds in to a 90 second effort and then we discuss how we replace those thoughts with something that will assist them as an athlete. It is good for them to know that everyone suffers from those mental demons and that the goal is not necessarily to stop those thoughts from happening, but to replace them with something of your choosing when they do happen. One of the goals I have as a High School coach is to get the athletes to tune into themselves and begin to understand what they are feeling and what they need at any given moment. It is my hope that by the end of the season they have greater ownership of themselves as athletes and they can communicate what they are feeling and what they might need from the team or the coach. We incorporate yoga, meditation and visualization techniques into our training also and if we have a meet on Saturday , for example, we would finish Friday evening with 30 minutes of yoga and 10-15 minutes of meditation. The evening prior to State, the athletes that are competing also find a quiet corner somewhere a do a complete visualization of their event. The track athletes have stop watches in their hands and report their times after they’re finished. Field athletes report their heights and distances. We’ve been doing this for 15 years now and i find that most of them will be remarkably accurate and report their potential even if they haven’t seen it in performance at that point. Once they realize that their bodies intrinsically know how to get the job done, they know that they just have to get out of their own way and let it happen. We had a 2 miler that visualized his race within 1/100th of what he actually ran at State and he finished as a State Champion with a new school record and a 16 second PR. In the long run it comes back to trying to teach the kids those big life lessons, that you can’t control many outside forces that will affect your life and your feelings, but you can control how you react to those feelings and choose your response.

XRP: Tove, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. Not only are you an accomplished coach at the high school level but you are an accomplished athlete as well. What challenges awaits you in the future on both the coaching and athletic level?

TS: Xavier, thank you for taking the time to include me in your blog and conversation. Although I am not entirely sure what challenges await, I can be sure that there will be some. I have been very blessed to have had the opportunity to coach both Boys and Girls in High School, but after 15 years I am starting to feel the need to « graduate » HS. I have no real plans but I am definitely open to possibilities. I do some one on one coaching with Master’s athletes in a variety of disciplines and I will continue with that work I am sure. On a personal note i should like to take another shot at the World Cyclocross Championships this coming season. They will be held in Louisville Kentucky in 2013, which makes it feasible for me. I started racing cyclocross about 15 years ago and it has been part of my mission to encourage more woman, of any age, to participate. The numbers have been growing steadily and last year was the first time that there was an age category for me at the World Championship level, so I would like to support that change by racing. Of course, watching the Olympics gets all kind of competitive juices flowing andy makes me want to strap on my spikes and go train for the 200 meters. I am not sure how my hamstrings would feel about that though.

I thank you again for taking the time to chat with me and if something changes in my coaching career I will keep you posted.

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