Coaches Facing Important Questions About The Season

Sean Brosnan made a trip to Target recently when he had to stop and pause. 

The Newbury Park High School coach saw a few of his student-athletes running outdoors. 

How strange was that moment? 

For Brosnan, who was named national cross country coach of the year by USTFCCCA in February after leading the Panthers to a Nike Cross Nationals title, it was in fact very weird.

Because up until a few days prior to that, when the entire country went on alert and began making preparations to prevent the spread of coronavirus, he had seen his athletes almost every single day for the past six months. 

"The thing is, they're all running," Brosnan said of his team. "They're going to do it. They want to. I just wish we could go to the track." 

While that won't be the case at least for the next several weeks or months, as COVID-19 cases, which are now over 7,000 in the United States, spike nationwide, Brosnan is ultimately facing a question of which he's not the only one. 

What exactly is the right move here? Success in distance running requires a dedication to the craft, a combination of mileage and speed work. Coaches need to train their athletes to remain fit and capable. 

But all across the country, athletes and their coaches are facing questions. Should we train? How do we train in this climate? And what exactly, if the season does get cancelled, is this training exactly for?

"Everyone is still plugging along," Brosnan said. "We are not allowed to have official practices, but everyone is keeping their fitness. They're probably working out in small groups and figuring out how to get it done." 

"I don't necessarily think we should under react," he added. "But I don't believe in over reacting, either. I think we should find a common ground in the middle. We just know they (the athletes) have to do it on their own for a little bit." 

Newbury Park shut down this week, Brosnan said, and next week is spring break. So he sees about a three-week period where everyone is out-of-pocket. But there's no guarantee when that timeline is up that everything will be back to normal.  

"A lot of coaches are reaching out to me wondering what I'm doing," he said.  

There may be some possible solutions. In Texas, St. Stephen's Episcopal coach Paul Carrozzo -- whose training club, Born To Run, works with a variety of athletes from different schools in the Austin area -- has already made a quick adjustment. His practices are now below the 10-person group threshold, and he's developed a system of wave starts, training small pockets of athletes at intervals of 30 to 45 minutes at a time.  

"We would always end up breaking into sub-groups anyway," he said, "so this is way to get out in front of it." 

In Missouri, Hazelwood West sprints coach Sean Burris has led elite 400m runner Justin Robinson through a combination of solo workouts on the track and in-home drills. Some things, however, you just can't get done at home. 

Sprinters require more composite work beyond the track, including time in the weight room. With schools and independent gyms shutting down, that's proving to be more difficult. But Burris says he's finding creative ways to get the work done. 

"Justin is a really optimistic person," Burris said. "He's taking it all in stride and he's like 'If we're meant to have the season, we'll have it. If not, it probably will be for the best."  

Brosnan, along with Carrozza and Burris, still hold hope that their seasons may come back -- Texas is suspended until March 29, while California and Missouri are reconvening with their state associations on April 3.  

But they are all realistic, too. There is a strong chance it does not.  

"I just don't know," Brosnan said. "I understand why this is happening. It's super necessary. But it would be disappointing for the kids. I have juniors who needs this. I have a senior girl who needs times." 

* File Photo: Brosnan talks with his Newbury Park team in December 

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For Brosnan's senior athlete, Nico Young, and Robinson, in particular, a season lost would be devastating. Both athletes were hoping to go after national records. Young's 3,200m hopes were dashed recently when the Arcadia Invitational was canceled.

This fall, Young had one of the best seasons in high school cross country history, winning NXN and setting a meet record in the process. Along with his 3,200m plan, he had visions to not just go after Galen Rupp's outdoor 5K national record of 13:37.91, but to also reach the U.S. Olympic Trials standard of 13:25.00. 

Robinson, who's already qualified for the Trials in the 400m, was set up to run in an international meet in Grenada in a few weeks. Burris said he was in mid-44 second shape. 

But even if that gets canceled, Burris believes there may ways to get on the track and run fast. 

"I think it's a matter of getting particular meets sanctioned," he said. "They won't be meets in a traditional sense."  

For Brosnan and Carrozza, that could mean producing small time trial-style workouts on public tracks. A year ago, Carrozza's son, Crayton, in fact did that exact thing.  

"I talked to a Southern Section coach," Brosnan said. "We might want to set up something one night and get a timing system and just blast a time." 

Either way, it's an unprecedented time in America, not just in sports. 

"I've never been in any situation like this ever," Burris said.  

If the CIF season does get canceled, Brosnan says Young might shift his focus. If that's the case, he says, there would be no need for eligibility. Young could compete wherever he could find a race -- no matter the competition, or where.

But that decision won't be made until CIF makes a determination on its plan moving forward. 

"It's unfortunate," Brosnan said. "(If our season gets cancelled), our kids don't get their seasons back."