CA Coaching Legends: Tim Butler on Maintaining a Successful Program

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Over a span of over four decades, retired Dana Hills (California) head coach Tim Butler had success at both the cross country and track and field levels before he retired in 2015. During that time the Dana Hills (CA) boys and girls cross country teams have made it to numerous Nike Cross National races and state championships. Below, Butler offers advice in some key areas of maintaining a successful program. This interview is recirculated from a conversation in 2015. 


What are the key elements to building a successful high school team? 

Buttler: It's hard to quantify in three minutes or so but, I think in this sport, first of all, you've got to identify the kids that are willing to work hard. If you're looking for a kid that just relays upon the talent that God's given him and doesn't work for it, and doesn't work hard, he's (she's) not gonna flourish in this sport.

For instance in my freshman classes when I taught PE one of the things I used to do to see if I want them on my team was put them on the pull-up bar. You get a kid that just gets up on the pull-up bar just pumps out ten real quick jumps off; he didn't have to stop but he just did because ten was an A and that all he wanted to do. Then I get a kid who does one struggles at two, really struggles and barely makes it at three pull ups, that's the kid I want.

1. So number one is they've got to have a mind to work.

2. They've got to learn how to buy into the whole team thing because that's a transformational concept, you know going into families, business, countries, into communities, and you know if they're just out there to get stats and want to be on a team so they can get good times and get a good college they can do that in any other sport, my sport that's not gonna be encouraged.

3. If you're out there to help your teammate, if you're out there to make somebody better, then that's another quality I see to building a successful program.

The Three Elements of A Successful Program

First thing is talent, the next number two is talent, number three is talent. You've got to have kids that have some kind of aptitude for running, have some kind of fitness, have some ability there.

It's sad because we have a lot of kids that have a lot of talent that don't develop their talent they just rely upon it, and they don't work hard and they just waste it. The most successful kids you see out there, especially in cross country and track, are kids that not only have the talent but they've been willing to put in more work . . . to be better.

Cohesive Staff 

Getting guys around me that shore up my weaknesses because I got weaknesses. Get guys that will cover my weaknesses and also use their strengths. To have a staff that's cohesive and to have a staff that's on the same page and that is going for the same thing instead of standing there in front of the kids arguing about what we should be doing or what we shouldn't . . . we're all on the same page and we love each other. We're a very close group and the kids see that.

You Can't Do It Alone 

Gathering a staff that's going to help you because you can't do it alone. You can't be the lone ranger and coach 20, 30, 40, 50 kids. You've got to have somebody else to bounce things off. I experienced that early in my coaching and it wasn't really fun, [because] I was making a lot of mistakes. Because I didn't really have another view of things.