Coaching Structure and Methods - USA Athletics Scholarships

Coaching Structure and Methods

Unlike the club system in the UK which relies largely on the efforts of volunteers, collegiate teams will be run by full time paid coaches. Here we will give an outline of how a team is typically ran and what the roles of the different coaches are. It is likely to be different from anything you have experienced before in the UK.

Head Coach

The head coach will be the overall figure head in charge of the team. Their word takes priority over the assistants and they will have the final word on all decisions. The head coach is accountable to the athletics director and will be responsible for ‘steering the ship’ in terms of setting the overall direction of the team. Allocating scholarships, setting a competition schedule, signing athletes, are all examples of big decisions made by head coaches.

As well as being in charge of the entire programme, the head coach will also have a background as an event specific coach and this could be anything: Cross country, middle distance, throws, jumps, sprints. We have found that many of the head coaches are distance specialists as this will enable them to be in charge of the cross country team to.

Assistant Coaches

Being in charge of a collegiate track and/or cross country programme is not a job that could be done solo. For that reason each team will have several assistant, graduate assistant or volunteer coaches. The assistants usually work hard to ensure the day to day operations of the programme run smoothly. Organizing logistics for meets, helping at training, meeting with athletes, would be some of the typical tasks for an assistant. The assistants are usually heavily involved in recruiting and it could well be an assistant who you first make contact with when hearing from a school.

The status and power of assistant coaches can vary tremendously. Whilst some of the assistants are just that; assistants to the to the head coach, others will have more influence and coach their own event specific groups.

Coaching methods

If you have done your research before signing then hopefully you should have a fair idea of what the coaches’ favoured methods are. Whilst the training set up will obviously vary from school to school, our experiences have given us an idea of how a typical team may operate.

Cross Country

Cross country is viewed very much as a TEAM sport. Almost everything is spoken about in the interests of the team, and with everyone training for the same races this usually works well. The team will typically meet twice a day during cross country season for organized training, and this could consist of 2 runs, or 1 run and 1 drills / core training session. Team meetings are frequent, where the cross country coach will review how things are going or discus plans and tactics for upcoming races.  As the season progresses, all efforts will be made to ensure that the top 7 athletes are ready for the major races.


As soon as cross country is over then focus will turn to indoor track. This is where training can become more individualised as the entire team is no longer training for the same event. You will still meet for a lot of the runs, probably not for everything like you did during cross country season.

The emphasis that indoors is given will vary. Traditionally it is viewed as the least important of the three seasons, but it is still very competitive and you be expected to perform well at the big meets.

Some coaches will encourage their athletes to take a decent break after the long cross country season, so that they can freshen up and be ready for a track season that runs until May / June.  For athletes who didn’t run cross country then this is where the year begins

Certain schools excel indoors, while some tend to fly under the radar after cross country. Mild winter weather, exceptional indoor facilities, and high quality coaching are all factors that could result in strong indoor performances.


The indoor and outdoor seasons pretty much role into each other and this will be considered when a coach is setting your training. There probably won’t be a huge difference in structure to how the indoor season operated and things will still be broken down into event groups. Not all athletes will compete at the same meets, and which meets you go to will be dictated by factors such as standard, cost, location and the time of season.

There are typically a lot of team meetings during track seasons, though they will more likely be about logistics and general motivational speak rather than specifics about your event. When you have hammer throwers in the same meeting as 10,000m runners it would be pointless to talk tactics as one big group.

Obviously this description is quite general, though in our experiences it is kind of a standard form template. In terms of the actual content of the training, you are advised to find this out directly from the coaches.



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