#WhateverItTakes

As of today, I am no longer a college coach. Having been “in the game” for nearly TWENTY YEARS (my first head coaching position was back in 1999 at Old Tappan, while I was finishing up my senior year/undergrad days at Montclair) I’ve had quite a journey. Starting with summer swim & dive coaching at the PRMP, to coaching the “non-competitive” swim team at the Ridgewood Y, to volunteer coaching the PRHS freshman volleyball team & volunteering with the Boilermakers whenever I could (or Meghan asked me to!) to my high-school career at OT & DBP, and most recently coaching D2 XC/Track at Felician, I have been very fortunate to be a part of some very successful programs and I have gotten to work with some great people – athletes and coaches alike.

My most recent stop at Felician College/University was one which I really wanted to work out. I left DBP in 2013 to do some coaching for an Olympic Development program here in NJ, then added some private coaching on the side but when the opportunity to pursue collegiate athletics came up, I was “all in” – especially during the time between leaving teaching at the Prep and picking up my new position at MSDA. I spent countless hours traveling/recruiting, planning training and workouts, and meeting athletes whenever their schedules required it – in spite of what my days looked like (545 AM practices before a full day of teaching Shakespeare, followed by office hours and PM workouts for example). There were times when – on a team of only 12 athletes, I’d be at 5 different workout sessions – even though I was only paid part-time. I believed in my system and wanted to show them what dedication looked like so they would repay it in kind.  I found an assistant coach in James Pipkins who shared my passion and gave to this program what I tried to – and gave 10X the time and energy I did, which I didn’t think possible. He made it work, so I thought I could as well – and we had a plan.

After two years of recruiting – and believe me, we put in the time to find the “right kids” and we worked very hard to make sure that the student-athletes we were providing opportunities and assistance to were of the same mindset and philosophy as us – and after struggling to field a team in 2015-2016, then adding a few pieces but still holding on for dear life in 2016-2017, our 2017 signing class – for MXC, WXC & WTR – gave us great hope. These were young men and women who signed because they believed in us, and who we believed would start/continue the upward trend. In all honesty, and with as much humility as I can muster given the feeling of failure and disappointment in myself, I’ll simply say it just didn’t work. I have a system I believe in; a system I’ve developed through trial and error, through revision and adjustment, through research and restructuring and my vision and my system didn’t “connect” with the student-athletes we brought in. I won’t blame them; I won’t blame myself, either. I’ll just say that it didn’t work, and things weren’t connecting – nor did I see that changing. Rather than take away their opportunities, it was time for me to move on and hopefully, a new coach with a different philosophy can help the young people at Felician and the coaches and staff there move forward. The past 6 months I feel like I took some giant steps backward – as a coach and as a person – by being there. Personally and professionally, it was time for a change. I simply couldn’t make it work, so it’s time to move on.

I often find inspiration in music – you’d be hard-pressed to find me without music playing at home, in my classroom or the car – and I’m rarely not singing, humming or whistling a tune. Music calms me; music motivates me; music teaches me & music makes me who I am. I found a song a few weeks ago that for some reason keeps coming up on shuffle, or on the radio and these particular lyrics hit home:

“Hypocritical, egotistical; don’t wanna be the parenthetical, hypothetical – working onto something that I’m proud of, out of the box, an epoxy to the world and the vision we’ve lost. I’m an apostrophe; I’m just a symbol to remind you that there’s more to see. I’m just a product of the system, a catastrophe and yet a masterpiece, and yet I’m half-diseased…and when I am deceased, at least I’ll go down to the grave and die happily! Leave the body of my soul to be a part of me – I do what it takes!”

(“Whatever it Takes” – Imagine Dragons)

What did this song show me? I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I want to practice what I preach and I want to be who I say I am. I haven’t been able to do either lately and I don’t want my ego to ruin the college experiences of these young people. I want to work with people who want to work with me; people whose goals match my vision & whose drive and determination are strong enough to handle what I throw at them. I am humble enough to admit that I failed at this most recent endeavor BUT I refuse to believe that my system doesn’t work. It has never failed anyone who has trusted me and “bought in” 100%. I am now 3 head coaching stops into my career and so far, I’m just a parenthesis; I’m just a part of the conversation. I made a name for myself at DBP but at some point that will fade – and that’s okay. I know – hypothetically speaking – the talent there would have led them to success, with or without me, and that’s okay, too – I’m still proud of what we were able to string together there.

I want to work on something that I’m truly proud of. I was a great “program coordinator” at DBP; I don’t consider myself a great coach. I had a pretty good middle-distance/distance system that developed some pretty good talent there but I’m still working on the “out-of-the-box” ideas and the solutions to the shortcomings of my system and myself. There’s more to see but I’ve always been a product of the systems I’ve been in. In HS I was good, but I was just good for a kid from Park Ridge – never anything “great” as a student or an athlete. I went to college and failed as a college athlete – it was systemic and personal – and I failed as a college student. My shortcomings as a college student led to me failing to advance early in my career; I then worked within a system that failed me as a teacher, even though I had great colleagues and friends, I didn’t have mentoring and professional development and I lost my way. I left that job and took another chance, and another, and another – each time trusting people to provide for me and when they didn’t I blamed them – and the system, instead of taking responsibility. I was trusting and naive when I should have been skeptical and pragmatic. From promises of employment to promises of advancement to promises of support, the system(s) failed me again. Ultimately, these stumbles and falls led me to where I am now – and I’m in a place of support and within a system that wants me to succeed. A system that sees who I am and what I can do and is helping me become the best version of myself; not leaving me to my own devices. A system that wants to find ways and situations for me to help; not a system that I can’t be successful in.

I’m finding my way – maybe for the first time – and I’m excited for what the future holds; that excitement and passion is what I need to follow and the fuel for my happiness and I can’t follow my heart (or my dreams) when things are standing in my way! It’s time – at 41 – to do “Whatever It Takes” to be who I am, and to live a happy life. Hopefully, this is where the searching ends and the discovering begins. For the first time in my life, my faith, my hopes, my goals, my dreams and my situation are all in alignment. Now, to continue the journey!

 

 

Coming Back To Life

Like a phoenix rising from its own ashes, the blog is rising from the depths of obscurity. For my first post back, I want to reflect on an amazing weekend I had recently – the Mount Saint Dominic Academy Kairos 15:04 retreat.

(Adapted from an email I sent to the retreatants, student leaders and adult leadership team)

1 hour after I left the PAC after Homecoming on Sunday, I wanted to write this while this experience was still fresh in my mind, but a few days without “good sleep” and my comfy bed squashed those plans. 24 hours later, I had another perspective and changed my whole reflection. 48 hours later, I rethought things again and came to some “conclusions” that seem pretty clear. So, I wanted to say a few things – that can best be summed up in a “THANK YOU” if you don’t want to read more – but it’s so much more than just that!

A funny thing happened to me on Kairos 15:04: I found a part of me that I can’t even say was missing; I found something I’d maybe never had – a community of friends. My story is out there now; life hasn’t been easy but life isn’t always what we want it to be. To borrow from Eddie Vedder, I’m a lucky man – I can count on both hands the ones I love – but one thing I had always searched for was a place I felt I belonged. Not a place where I had to be something I wasn’t but a place where I could be who I knew I was supposed to be. I felt that this weekend and wanted to share with my “Kairos Moment” which happened on Sunday evening when we returned to campus.

When – among the messages to their friends, families and teachers – the young women recognized ME for having been a part of THEIR weekend (with a standing ovation no less) I was floored. To have my words connect; to have my actions resonate; to have my presence acknowledged by an entire group – with applause, cheers and smiles – was something that connected with me deeply. I can only say this – you may have collectively stood up for me, but there isn’t a ladder tall enough for me to climb or a rooftop high enough for me to stand upon, nor could I clap or shout loudly enough for the world to hear, and know, how special you all are.

To my colleagues, your strength this weekend – to share your experiences with these girls – gave me the strength I needed to tell my story. To the team leaders, your stories and struggles, your challenges and victories (big and small) showed me that everyone truly does have a story, and that story might be something we’ve never heard or it might be something we relate to on a deeply personal level – but the story is what makes us who we are! In the retreatants, whether juniors or seniors, I saw just why this place is what it is – because there are still good kids out there looking for a place where they can be who they were meant to be. The Mount has 200 amazing young women (and a bunch of adults) whose stories weren’t heard this weekend, but I can bet there are a lot of them who wouldn’t mind if we all listened once in a while. If you found yourselves and your courage this weekend, don’t be afraid to show that to others. In the words of Chris Carrabba and Dashboard Confessional,

there’s still a kid somewhere that needs to hear this: That somebody cares, that somebody knows, who’s tired of bleeding and battered and being torn up…just pick yourself up, it’s time to go” (“We Fight”)

We fight this fight TOGETHER. We fight with and for each other to live our best lives and to be the best versions of ourselves. To claw our way back from the toughest times and to lift others up when their struggles are dragging them down. I came into work after Kairos 15:04 with renewed spirit and focus – on who I am and why I’m here, at the Mount and in this world. I’m here to be unapologetically, imperfectly, authentically ME and to look for the same from everyone in my life. No phonies, no masks, no answers – just ready to ask lots of questions to help me live, learn and grow & to build better relationships with all of you, and everyone here…in the classroom, in the hallways and in everyday life. To help others find what I found this weekend!

Thank you!

Mr. D

YEAR ONE

Felician University_Logotype_Mark_INLINEAbout a year ago, I sent my resume in for a college coaching gig that caught my eye. Felician College (now Felician University) was looking to replace the longtime and departing coach, which also happened to be just after the first outdoor track season in school history had concluded. It would prove to be no easy task; however, after a year at the helm there are a few things I’ve learned and I’d like to share them with all of you!

First, TO ALL HIGH SCHOOL COACHES:

Help your student-athletes explore and take advantage of the opportunities out there. The biggest disappointment this year has been the athletes we have on-campus who want to join the team but can’t because of things that weren’t done right prior to starting college, and the biggest frustration I’ve had is with how many potential recruits and/or interested student-athletes (and/or their coaches, parents, etc) don’t take the steps to discover what their options are at the “next level” and end up hurting themselves or missing out on opportunities.

My suggestions? All coaches and parents should instruct their student-athletes to contact every school they might be interested prior to taking any further steps. Most, if not all, schools have interest forms, questionnaires or contact info on their athletics’ websites and that’s a great starting point; if a coach doesn’t respond to you, try again…every coach should at least do prospective recruits the courtesy of an email. Secondly,  and I can’t stress this enough, keep your options open AND help college coaches find you (and other student-athletes) by keeping your online profile updated. If you use a recruiting service, change your profile when you’ve committed. If you do commit, submit your signing status to sites like Milesplit, your local paper, your school’s Twitter/Facebook accounts, etc. so that coaches know, your future college gets publicity and so you can be recognized for your accomplishment! Thirdly, COMMUNICATE. If a coach reaches out to you, reply. Even if you’re not interested, trust me we’d rather know than wonder. This job isn’t easy; it gets harder when we can’t maximize our time and when we don’t know and have to ask, that’s time that could be better spent if we know what we need to know!

Next, TO ALL HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETES:

YOU CAN DO THIS SPORT IN COLLEGE. Yes, ALL OF YOU can PARTICIPATE; MOST OF YOU can CONTRIBUTE and MANY OF YOU can SUCCEED/EXCEL AT IT. With SO MANY LEVELS and institutions that sponsor XC/T&F (NAIA, NJCAA, NCAA D1/D2/D3) there are nearly TOO MANY options for you, which means you SHOULD ASK FOR HELP making the decision! And here’s another “secret” for all of you potential college recruits: If we know about you, we can help you – and most of you would probably get some kind of help if you asked for it. I bet there’s a school out there for all of you, and based on the latest NCAA Participation Rates (see link below) there are a LOT of places that NEED YOUR HELP! We are all “fighting” for a VERY SMALL number of YOU. If more of you wanted to participate in college; if more of you knew you could participate in college and if more of you were encouraged to explore your options to do so, we would ALL BENEFIT from your involvement! Also, make sure you know what you need to do to be eligible to participate! NCAA requirements, SAT/ACT scores, GPA minimums, sliding scales…it all matters. Also, the “order of operations” for how the process goes is VERY IMPORTANT. As suggested above, contact the coach before you do ANYTHING and if a coach contacts you, ask them questions before you make any decisions. Some schools are VERY SPECIFIC in HOW the process must be completed and you can lose potential scholarships, grants, etc. by not following the process. COLLEGE IS EXPENSIVE. Why not make it less expensive? A few thousand dollars a year in athletic help may not seem like much with college costs where there are in the US, but even a little help could lead to a few months or even years sooner after you graduate to making a down payment on a house, buying an engagement ring, taking a nice vacation, or just breathing easier and not living from paycheck-to-paycheck, or in your parents’ basement for any longer than you have to!

NCAA PARTICIPATION RATES

Finally, TO MY COLLEGE COACHING PEERS:

We ALL need to work together to make this sport successful. We all have “responsibilities” to our admins, ADs, conferences, etc. but our biggest obligation is to provide student-athletes with the opportunity to succeed. Sure, many of us end up recruiting many of the same kids. Similar schools, similar locations, similar majors = difficult decisions. I can honestly say that the recruits we are getting are making good decisions for their situations and the ones who have chosen elsewhere are only a statistical loss for our program. I completely understand every “other choice” recruits have made so far. I’ve also directed some that I’ve spoken to “better fits” for them, even if it means “losing them” as a potential recruit. Is it a fault or a flaw? Perhaps. But not a moral or ethical one. I’d rather see a kid happy at a different school than unhappy at mine because I “had to get them.” If we ALL work TOGETHER we will all help each other succeed and we will help build the sport. If even 1% more HS athletes went on to participate in college XC/T&F, we’d all be better off. With proper guidance, they all will.

Coaching, for the most part, hasn’t changed. I try to give our student-athletes OPPORTUNITIES. To travel, to participate, to improve, to succeed, to excel. As a newer program, and with a new coaching staff, there are lots of opportunities here for athletes of all ability levels to get involved and I am 100% confident in saying that the more opportunities we all provide for these student-athletes (we meaning colleges, HS/Club coaches, guidance counselors, parents, advisors, etc.) the better the experience will be for all of us. If the WORST thing that happens is that some of these prep athletes TRY college sports and don’t like it, but get a good education and become contributing members of society, that’s a win. If they find a place they are happy, participate in the sport, contribute to a program, develop as young men/women and experience success socially, academically and in athletics so that they graduate ready to “take on the world” then there’s nothing better than that. I believe in the future of the sport; I believe in the future of this program and I plan on working at this until that future becomes the present. Let’s help each other make the future a bright one!

#SoarFalcons

#SoarWithUS

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Hambletonian Marathon…

Since the summer, my training has fallen under the hashtags #SMP & #HMP for “Secret Marathon Plan” & then “Hambletonian Marathon Plan” once I (un)officially decided to run. I say UNofficially because even though I’ve registered, trained and prepared for the race, I still can’t convince myself that it’s a good idea. Here’s why:

I have only officially run two marathons – Baltimore 2008 in 3:24 & NYC 2010 in 3:28. I also ran the entirety of the Boston course ahead of & with (and then behind) Meghan in 2009, which had me start about 30 mins before the gun on my own, wait for her at 15 and try to run with her to the finish. That didn’t work out so well. That’s a story for another day. But Baltimore was rough; then I trained for two years only for NYC to be WORSE. Needless to say, my self-confidence at 26.2 isn’t exactly sky-high. 

In the interim, I devoted myself to reading up on, learning about and writing training for marathoning. Had lots of ups and downs coaching people to do it,  but also got to help some friends and family achieve some incredible things. From massive PRs, to podium finishes, people I got to help did well. But I still couldn’t commit to doing another race. It actually took me almost all of the 5 years between NYC 2010 and today to even consider doing another – I essentially swore them off for good – and to be honest, this might legitimately be my last one FOR REAL (unless I BQ…)

So why now? Honestly? Four people. Meghan, whose success and prowess at the distance have proven to me that the system “works” & hard work DOES equal success on most occasions. Shanna, who trusted us with her friendship, trusted me with her training, impressed me with her success and whose late father, Bob, I met at the finish line of Hambletonian 2014. Kim, who every day during marathon training (this’ll be her first) essentially did something she’d never done before. Coach Marc, who got me in PR shape for a half LAST fall and whose training has me in the best shape of my life. 

Will it ACTUALLY happen? You’ll have to wait to find out on Sunday. Just know this – I’m only running if I think I’m 100% ready when the gun goes off. And if I do run, I’m going for it – but doing it the right way, unlike when I may have erred in my previous two-ish attempts. 

#HMP #SMP #teamDeCarlo #NJGarminRunners #theRidgewoodProject #trainwithMarc