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The “Game Changers”

The Class of 2018 walked across the stage yesterday during the Commencement Ceremony at Waynesburg University.  I wanted to congratulate the entire class – and I wish you the best.  Go out an change the world!

For this particular blog, I wanted to write about my feelings regarding a small portion of that class – the WU distance squad.  I call them the “Game changers”. It’s a term I remember from a book I read a few years ago regarding the 2018 presidential election (The book is titled Game Change and was written by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin). Every time I use the term “game changer”, I think of that book. The book details a lot of events and decision made that helped Barack Obama become President of the United States. Similar to the theme in that book, this class put some things in motion that changed the course of history for our cross country and track programs.  Ultimately, they changed the culture. They changed the way the game is played. They made history.

10 men and women graduated in this class. Sure they had some similarities, but they had a lot of differences. One of them grew up less than a mile from campus yet another drove a car over nine hours to return home every break. Their majors range from sports broadcasting to business to nursing. Some of them excelled at short distance races (including the hurdles) while a handful preferred running 25 laps on an oval track (the dreaded 10k).  Some of them preferred cowboy boots and country music, and others preferred putt putt golf and Taylor Swift.  They didn’t always see eye to eye. For some groups (or teams), these differences could have destroyed any path to success.

But… They are FAMILY.

What’s particularly admirable about this group of “game changers” is that they always put the team first and sacrificed individual goals for the betterment of the program. Their numbers are incredible. In fact, what they accomplished may never be matched by another incoming class. But what you cannot measure that makes me so proud (as their coach) is that they changed our culture. The team was successful before they arrived to campus but they took us to a new level. They brought confidence. They brought cohesiveness. They were selfless. And they came to work every day trying to make themselves and their teammates better.

To say that I am grateful for their time here is an understatement.

Their lasting legacy will be that future generations of Waynesburg distance runners will be grateful for their time here too. Why? Because they changed the game and the way that game was played!

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

The Excitement of a New Season

Life comes at you quick.  It seemed like yesterday we were ringing in the new year, and here we are in the second week of March.  Where does the time go?

A great example of the time flying by is the start of the Major League baseball season in 19 days.  Here in southwestern PA, there are mixed emotions about the team this year.  Some think we might be talented enough to make a playoff run, while the majority of fans are bracing themselves for another long summer of losing baseball.  No matter what side of the fence you are on, I think the excitement for this year is growing day by day.

Personally, I like the feeling right before a new season.  I think we all look forward to the start of something new, and I am no exception.  From the Pirates fan’s perspective, you could be only a few short weeks away from the most memorable season of all time.  Sure, the wheels could fall off and the team could lose 100 games, but you just never know.  Every team starts opening day with a 0-0 record and everyone is tied for first place.  That is what is so exciting about the start of a new year…you just never know what the future will bring.

As a coach, you have a similar feeling about the start of a new year.  But in my experience, there is also a lot of pressure, stress and a lot of work to get done in anticipation of that opening day of competition.  We don’t really savor that feeling of an opening day like the fan does.  Don’t get me wrong, the excitement is still there.  It’s just a different feeling.

No matter where you are in your life, you are probably anticipating the start of something new on the horizon.  Maybe you are going to be starting a new job, moving into a new house or planning a wedding.  That is the start of a new season for you.  I am sure you have butterflies in your belly; just like the professional or college athlete when they step into the batter’s box on opening day.

Today I wanted to give you a few things to consider as you prep for that new season ahead.

First, I suggest you write out a plan on some paper and post it where you can see it.  That new season will be coming quick, and you want to “master” the first few weeks.  The plan will keep you on track.  On this plan make sure you checklist some things you want to complete and outline how you will accomplish them.

Second, come up with a theme or a slogan that will drive you every day.  I know it can be corny or cheesy, but having that slogan in the back of your mind when the times get tough will keep you focused.  A couple of good examples are “Believe” (used by our championship track team in the mid 2000s), and “Embrace the Challenge” (which I pull out a few times a year with my distance squad).  Whatever it is, it has to be related to your long term goal.

Lastly, remove the negativity in your life (and on your team).  If there is negativity in you or in those around you, it makes the journey difficult.  I bet your “new season” is already tough, but you are just making it tougher if you hear from those around you that you cannot accomplish the task.  You don’t need that in your life.  Surround yourself with positivity through motivational quotes, caring individuals and loving teammates (family and friends).

Good luck to all of you who are starting a new season – opening day is right around the corner!

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

Too High or Too Low

My life has been a roller coaster the last few months.  There isn’t one particular reason  for that, it’s been a bunch of things in work and in my personal life that has caused me to be apart of a whirlwind of emotions.  I bet you are just like me at times in your life.

Some things in my life get me to be very “high” with a lot of positive vibes.  These moments in my life are very rewarding and put a smile on my face.  There are small victories every day, and they come when you least expect them.  They tend to give me an adrenaline rush and my confidence spikes.  After they happen, I think I can accomplish anything.  I might be a little cocky for a while too.  That’s what I mean when I get “too high”.

On the contrary, there are “low” moments in my life.  I would assume there are low moments in your life too.  We all struggle through them.  Something negative happens in our life and we don’t handle it very well, and it sets us into depression.  Our immediate response inside our head is, “I can’t do anything right”.  Our confidence drops quickly and we aren’t sure we will ever be able to turn things around.  That’s what I mean when I get “too low”.

It’s easy to turn this concept into an athletic analogy – in fact, let me give you two off the top of my head.  First, let’s think about the life of a college recruiter.  (I know, this is a topic I reference frequently….sorry)  On a Monday I could get a commitment from a top recruit, and I get so “high”.  I can’t help but think about the next four years and all the championships we are going to win with that recruit.  He or she is going to be a “game-changer”, and I am on top of the world.  Little did I know, I get a call on Tuesday from a recruit who tells me that they are going to attend our rival school because it seems to be a better fit.  I hang up the phone and head into depression for the next week.  Ask my wife, this happens dozens of times in the recruiting cycle.  On a side note – my wife is a saint – she puts up with a lot!

The second scenario happens every season, and if you coach, it has happened to you.  One week, you are the dominant team, heading towards historic accomplishments.  You are on a roll and riding high.  In the snap of a finger, things change.  Your star athlete gets hurt, and is out for the season.  You are beaten by a team that is ranked lower than you.  Someone quits the team.  All of sudden that dominant team is lucky to make it through the year.

How does that happen?  How do we go from being on top of the world in that moment of extreme high, to being in the dumps, on the verge of losing everything, in that moment of extreme low?

I don’t think any of us has a really good answer.  Why?  Because if we are placed in a situation of failure, we are going to respond a certain way.  No matter how much we have prepped ourselves for that moment, most of us do not like to lose.  All I can offer is a suggestion.  In the moment of extreme “high”, pull yourself back to the middle ground.  Sure, you might still be excited and looking forward to the future – that’s good; keep that feeling.  On the contrary, when you face moments of extreme “low”, pull yourself back to the middle ground.  It’s okay to grieve and suffer for a bit, but move on.

Seek middle ground in your life.  It will guide you towards success.  With that said, do not be afraid to celebrate the joys (“highs”) and learn from the failures (“lows”).  Those ups and downs will be your “story” forty years from now.  It will be an amazing story.

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

636 Miles and 11 Hours

I get the question from time to time, “what is it like to be a college coach”?  It can be tough to answer, and it varies based upon when the question is asked.  But for the most part, it is such a rewarding job and I recommend it to those who have a passion for a sport or for those who are passionate about seeing growth in others.

One of the parts of the job that I particularly like is recruiting.  Every coach is a bit different, and some find this the worst part of the job.  But I like it, mostly because I like challenges.  And to be honest, recruiting is about as challenging as it gets.  You spend a lot of time explaining the program and the student-athletes role…just to get a call that they are heading to a rival school because of variable A or variable B.  It can be really tough.

But, what I have learned, is that you have to embrace the recruiting journey.  If you want to be successful, you need to put the time in and take chances with talented athletes.  You have to have thick skin.  You have to be OK with failure 94% of the time….that’s my failure rate the last 14 years.

But one part of the recruiting job that is semi-exciting is the road trip.   I thought I would outline a recent trip so the readers can see what I am talking about when I mention challenge to coaching at the collegiate level.  Take a look at my journey below and think about the commitment recruiting can be…even for a small private Christian school in southwestern PA.

6:30 AM – Wake up prior to the alarm; run three miles and get an ab workout in because I intend to be on the road most of the day.

7:15 AM – Spend two hours with my amazing 3-year old daughter because I won’t see her all night.

9:15 Am – Depart for the recruiting event.  I packed a cooler of food and purchased a large black coffee on the way out of town.

10:00 AM – The office called and I listen to our weekly staff meeting.

11:30 AM -Believe it or not, no stops yet…but I have ripped into the cooler of food and have downed a PBJ sandwich and a string cheese.  The coffee has been gone for a bit and I started on a bottled water.

1:00 PM – My first stop of the day, but only for a bathroom break and to fill up on gas.  As always, I am worried about getting there on time, so I don’t grab food or drink (Subway has three people in line)…I packed a cooler of food for goodness sake.

2:30 PM – I pull into a McDonald’s after 25 miles of no cell service or GPS.  My thought was to grab a quick burger, but they misplaced by order so I end up waiting for 15 minutes or so.  At least I got to use the restroom and I also received a free apple pie.

3:30 PM – Arrived at the venue; and for two hours I spend time with the recruit and their family.  This makes the trip worth my while, as they are kind, caring and very interested in finding out more about our program and what we can offer their child.  I LOVE this part of my job.

5:30 PM – Back on the road; the same roads I came in on, so I am anxiously awaiting the Subway I saw at 1pm on my way into the venue.  At 7pm I reach that same plaza and spend 15 minutes filling up on gas, grabbing a sandwich and using the restroom.

7:15 PM – I pull out and pull behind a white truck with WV state plates.  Oddly enough, I am with this car for the next two hours on numerous roads in PA.

9:00 PM – This old man is getting tired, so I pull of at a Sheetz to get some gas, an iced tea and to use the restroom.  While I am filling up my tank, I stretch for a minute and walk a few laps around the car.  This is exactly what I needed for the final stretch run.  I pull out of the station, and believe it or not, I get behind the white truck with WV plates.

10:00 PM – Late night (for me) thought: PA has evening construction on major highways!!

11:15 PM – Finally pull into my house.  Of course I couldn’t sleep, so I took a quick shower and caught up on email.

12:30 AM – Head to the bedroom to sleep (finally)…..it was a long day with over 11 hours in the car.  Next time, I would like to fly…except my budget won’t support that.  So I am pretty sure I will be doing this again in my Jeep Patriot.

The moral of the story:  College coaching is amazing, and I love it.  But it takes time, and it can be burdensome to those  close to you (my wife is a saint).  They sacrifice a lot while you are sacrificing a lot.  That’s a lot of stress and anxiety.  So be prepared if you want to coach at the collegiate level….it isn’t just one hour a day of practice.  There are so many things behind the scenes that are time-consuming and frustrating.  But, you need to embrace them and be willing to work harder than the other coaches you are going up against.  That’s the only path to success.  Oh, and you need an amazing wife like my Kelley.  She puts in more work than me keeping our family afloat..and I love her more than anything.  Find a Kelley in your life and let him/her know how much you appreciate them.

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

Lessons Learned: Family

It’s amazing to me how God really opens our eyes to things.  It’s his show, and he puts all the pieces in motion in our lives.  He has really taught me a lot about family in the past month.

Lesson #1: A point will come when you will need to step up and help family

My dad is an amazing man, and someone I think about every day of my life.  He taught me some life lessons about love, compassion and hard work.  Throughout my day, he comes into my mind as I ask myself, periodically “I wonder what my dad would do”.  But the most recent lesson he taught me is that you need to step up when it’s your time to help the family.   He always hit challenges head on if he knew it would help those around him, and he has done that yet again.  We are blessed to have him in our lives.

Lesson #2: Don’t squander moments that you can share with your children

It is true, I am a new father.  But I have learned so much about being a dad this past month.  This is the time of the year where I start to feel guilty.  One of my passions is coaching, and I am truly looking forward to the cross country season.  But I also know that this will lead me to miss a few moments in my daughter’s life this fall, and I am not ready for that.  But I was blessed with an amazing, but exhausting, weekend with my wife and daughter.  It’s one of those weekends that you look back on and smile because we truly took advantage of every minute of the day.

Lesson #3: Family comes in a variety of different ways

We all have family.  It may the family that we grew up with from a small age, or it could be a group that comes out of no where at some point in your life.  Family can blood, but it can also be a strong friend group or a team of athletes.  Family can be positive at times, and even though we don’t want it to be, it can be frustrating.  Family can have four paws and a tail.  This lesson hits home as we prepare for the start of another school year.  A thousand WU students will come together in a few weeks and this will be a life-changing year for many (if not all) of them.

The moral of the story is to pull your family in tight and take advantage of the time you have to spend with them.  Whether it’s your grandmother, your cat, a teammate or your child embrace every opportunity that you have with them.

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

“I am a Stress Manager”

Hello Summer!  I am glad you are here and I missed you.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a Pennsylvania guy who loves snow, colorful trees and a crisp morning with frost.  I like the seasons, but I missed summer for a different reason:  Summer means I get more time to disengage.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “disengage” as “to separate or release from something to which they are attached or connected”.  The Chris Hardie definition is “you are working really hard, you need to step away and take a break”.

The average working American clocks 2,080 hours a year at the workplace.  That’s a lot.  And depending on the nature of your work, it’s important to step back, re-focus and dive back in.  Being able to disengage could save an assignment, could save you a boat load of stress or could ultimately save your job.  There is power in that disengagement.

A female runner in our cross country program averages 25-35 miles per week for ten weeks in the summer and fifteen weeks “in season”.  A male runner averages 40-50 miles a week for that twenty-five week period.  The math indicates that a runner in our program logs between 625 and 1,250 miles from June to mid-November.  That’s a small jaunt on foot from Pittsburgh to Wichita, Kansas.  During a run to Wichita, you would think it would be appropriate to take a few hours off your feet to relax, grab a bite to eat and catch up on a few shows on Netflix.  That sounds appropriate, right?

That analogy above is a bit extreme, but hopefully you get my point. As coaches, we know the importance of taking a day off every once in a while.  Our athletes need some time to “mix things up” and do something that breaks the monotony of running.

In a professional setting, we need some time to step away to think about something other than the task at hand.  Science is actually on my side on this one too.  Rather than cite some sources, let me give you a brief list of benefits of disengagement.

  • Reduction in stress
  • Re-vitalization when you return to the task – productivity increases when you return
  • Better sleep patterns
  • It’s beneficial to your heart
  • You strengthen relationships

While sitting in a workshop yesterday, the facilitator asked the room to think about what they “really” do on a daily basis.  I answered truthfully, and I think I surprised a few people when I said that I have begun to look at my job working with students as a “Stress Manager”.  At times we want to increase stress, to place pressure on the student to become a better person and to strengthen character.  But at other times we need to find ways to reduce stress in our student’s lives so that they can manage their day and stay focused on their goals.  (I can actually see this as the topic of a future blog.)

Being able to disengage is vital in that management of stress.  I urge you to look at “disengagement” as a positive term, and something that you take advantage of.  It could help you get to the next level in your professional career or your athletic career.

I guess the next step is figuring out where you want to go and disengage.  A beach, cruise ship or a big castle with some mouse ears are my recommendations.

 

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

Ten Selfies in the Graduation Line

I don’t care who knows it, but that was me running down the graduation line last month taking selfies with my athletes.  My Facebook page and Twitter feeds have every cheesy photo in case you want to verify this – it is not “fake news”.

I don’t care if you think I am unprofessional.  Because it’s my job to help our students maneuver through tough situations and decisions; and I helped this particular group to the best of my ability over a four year stretch.  It was through those tough situations and tough conversations that I learned a lot about this group of “kids” that makes me proud.

I don’t care if you think I am a nerd.  If you spent a day with me, or four years in our program, you will find out I like this term anyways and use it quite frequently.  But this group of young men and women worked harder in the classroom than they did on the course or the track.  An argument can be made that they accomplished more academically in their four years than any other group of seniors we have coached.  So call me a nerd; I love it.  This group will have future teachers, future business leaders and leaders in the medical field.  They will be changing the world around them.

I don’t care if you think I wear my emotion on my sleeve.  As I stated earlier, I have been through some tough times with this group.  I’ve cried with them, prayed with them, run with them, eaten cold pizza in hotel lobbies with them and spent hours talking about family and life.  We’ve helped each other through broken hearts, personal bests and season ending injuries.  That’s powerful.

During the first few weeks of May, this group embarked on a new adventure.  They quickly morphed into adults heading out into the real world.  One piece of paper and a flip of the tassel and four years of hard work finally came to an end.  But for that amazing group of seniors it truly is a beginning.  This is the beginning of the rest of their lives and that’s why it was a great day.

While out on the recruiting trail a few weeks after graduation, I had the chance to meet with three alumni at a track meet in West Virginia.  I spent a couple of hours with the three of them at different points in the day.  I left that venue so proud of the men and women they have become.   They are amazing coaches and are passing on their wisdom and their passion of the sport to the next generation of student-athletes.  I am glad to have been able to be a part of their journey.

Like them, this senior class will step out into the real world and have a chance to make a difference in the lives of others.  I think that’s why I like this coaching thing so much – and why I am really enjoying being Madison’s dad.  Each and every day I have a chance to help those athletes, and my daughter, be a better person and make a difference in this world.

To the class of 2017, I wish you the very best.  You are going to accomplish some great things – so set the bar high and don’t settle when you reach the peak.  Set the bar higher and get to work.  And, I am always a phone call away.  Maybe that “selfie” will pop up on my phone when you call.

 

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.