Coach Blake’s Philosophy for WOHS Cross Country Team

“It's great to compete in a sport, but if I can teach them how to compete than I can teach them how to compete in everything that they do in life.” - Coach Blake of WOHS Cross Country Team

Tyra Hughes, Editor in Chief

Coach Felicia Blake runs West Orange High School’s prestigious Cross Country team and over the past 5 years, she has qualified the team to compete in successful championship seasons with a top 3 state ranking. These qualifications, however, could not have been accomplished without Blake’s personal steps toward shaping a hardworking team. As a coach, Blake values training her athletes both physically and mentally in order to teach them how to navigate the sport with a healthy mindset. Last month, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Coach Blake to discuss her 2019 Cross Country Team and her overall philosophy for shaping her athletes toward their very best abilities at meets, in the classroom, and in life. 

As a coach, what is the best advice that you can give to a student athlete? 

“Understand that you are a student first. Focus on your grades, make sure you have a B or B+ average. [As for sports] Give it a chance, don’t quit. You’ll never know if you’ll do well if you don’t give it a try for the first time.“

How do your pre-practice study halls help your athletes in the classroom? 

“I started the study hall sessions 6 years ago. It’s for time management, but it’s also for me to keep track of what they are doing in their class and to get ahead of their classes.  It’s no excuse about not getting work done because you had a chance to do it here. If you’re not doing well in class, it gives you the chance to see a teacher without being worried about missing practice. Study Hall  is from 2:30 to 3:15, practice is from 3:15 to 5:30.”

How do you train your athletes for a successful season? 

Summer Off Season: 

“We train all summer so that prepares them. Preparation for cross country is actually just to do well in the off season. This year we had a great off season summer training and that’s starting to cash in now.” 

Having Faith: 

“If they understand that if they have faith that they can run and have confidence in themselves, they’ll do well. It’s important to instill that into them. They already have the physical attributes, they just have to get the mindset. ” 

Letting go of Perfectionist Mindsets: 

“Also to understand that everything is not always going to go your way, you’re going to have to face adversities and setbacks. Whether it be you’re not winning or race, or get some nagging injury. As long as you understand that you can overcome that and [it] makes you better, because no one is perfect all the time. You have to learn to face adversity, come back and be resilient.” 

What have you learned this season from the performance of your athletes at meets?

“I’ve learned that some of them are overachievers in the classroom. They tend to be calculated, but when you run cross country you can’t be calculated. You have to  run it freely and have the will to take chances. I have to learn how to deal with their sense of perfection. If they don’t perform well, then they become dejected and there shouldn’t be dejection – it’s always a learning experience.”

What do you feel is the biggest benefit from practicing discipline and excellence as an athlete?

“I think that whatever you do, you should always work in the spirit of excellence. This  generation has a lot of excuses and you have to be stronger than any excuse. I believe that in order to strive for excellence, you have to prepare, to prioritize time, and to perform. I like those three Ps because they all work together: you can’t take one without the other.”

In terms of athletes, do you have any newcomers this season that you’re excited for?

“Leila Garraud. She’s a cheerleader, she ran outdoor track ever since her freshman year and she’s #1 girl on Cross Country right now.”  

“The boys team is solid, we returned all of the top five runners except for Pierce (who graduated last year).  Lamier Tompson has fit in here very well here [this season].”

Junior and Varsity Cross Country athlete Leila Garraud running at the Bowdoin Classic Meet in Wappinger Falls, New York

What are you most excited for this season as the cross country coach?

“I’m excited for the boys team, I think they could surprise a lot of people in Counties and in Sectionals. The girls team finally learned to compete as a team. Everyone that is competing is new to cross country except Angelyne Silvero because we graduated so many seniors last year. We’ve had some injuries… [and] that set us back some. [But] they are all taking shape and form this season.”

In comparison to the last cross country season, do you feel the team has shown improvement in terms of times, and work ethic?

“It’s hard to say at this point because I use last year’s season as a point of reference. Each team has their own identity. As far as the girls, we graduated the Top 3 in the county last year. It takes some time to mold and shape the team now to where those girls were, but they have a bright future ahead of themselves. And the boys: it’s all about staying focused and doing better than what they did last year.” 

Lamier Thompson, Varsity cross country athlete running at the Regis Invite Senior Race

What will be the most challenging meet this season?

“Sectionals. Unfortunately we don’t have any home meets because we don’t have the land for them. But [Sectionals will be held] at Garret Mountain in Woodland Park. During this month, the first part of championship season starts. It starts with SECs and very intense invitationals.”

In the past, how well has the team done at sectionals?  

“The boys they qualified for state last year in the top 5. They’ve been doing well. In the past five years they’ve been qualifying for groups three times in a row. So we are trying to keep that tradition going and build up on doing well in the states.”

Varsity Boys Cross Country athletes, Alex, Senay and John at the Manhattan Invite on October 12, 2019

 

So far this season, what meet has shown the best times?

“Cross county is different because the courses are different. There are a bunch of hills, some courses run a different type of terrain. The meet we ran probably the best which was a very hard course was the Bernie McGee meet, that was our best team performance so far. 

 

How you would describe the social dynamic of the cross country team?

“They love each other. We do pasta nights, competitive scavenger hunts [at] Whole Foods, Burger King… they actually get their workout in, they accomplish 5 miles of running. They do it together as a team and I divide them up equally. We have a beautiful banquet at the end of the season.” 

 

 

Cross Country is much different from track, so how can athletes know if it is the sport for them?

 “You have to really want to run 3 miles [at practice and at meets]. It’s the discipline of coming out and running on your own. We have small numbers but I would rather have people that want to compete and run instead of people who want to try out just to be on the team. It is a sport for a disciplined athlete.”

Cross country is unique and not for everyone because you have to have the right mindset for it, but Coach Blake is dedicated towards shaping her athletes which every practice, every meet and every study hall.