Park cross country: True enduranceFinishing his 20th season as Park’s cross country coach, Mike Moran continues to motivate athletes to reach their personal best.
By: Teresa Townsend, South Washington County Bulletin
Finishing his 20th season as Park’s cross country coach, Mike Moran continues to motivate athletes to reach their personal best. Although the teams’ athletic abilities vary from season to season, Moran’s definition of success encourages them to do the best for themselves, even if that does not make them the best in the state.
“He’s always telling everyone how much they’ve improved,” said Park team captain Robert Briggs. “It makes you feel better about yourself, the way he believes in you.”
Even though the boys placed eighth at their last meet, Moran emphasized that they were “just a handful of points off of fourth place,” and helped them put their results into the right context and consider the difficulty of the course and intensity of the workout on the previous day.
Coaching track with Moran taught Park girls track and field coach Matt Maher how to set a positive tone that focuses on each athlete’s individual improvement.
“He always says, ‘Our goal is to get as many kids to be successful at the end of year as possible,’” Maher said.
Moran is proud when his athletes continue to earn their top times and personal bests toward the end of the season so that they peak at the conference meet. His focus on what his athletes are doing well allows him to motivate his team even in a difficult season.
“I emphasize the other end,” Moran said. “The way I measure success is doing as well as you can at the end of the year. I don’t change my tune. You can only have the kids running who come out. If they’re not making the state team and they come out, that’s great too.”
Moran was a standout distance runner for Park and the University of Minnesota. Combined with a few years as Woodbury’s coach, he has now coached cross country for 25 years. After a quarter of a century, he still retains his love for the sport.
“His passion really shows through. You can tell it’s one of the most important things to him,” Briggs said.
Both Maher and Briggs believe Moran’s abundance of knowledge about the sport encourages his team to put their faith in him. Maher noted that while Moran’s experience as a college runner gives him a strong background, he still maintains a humble and open attitude with his athletes.
“He’s easy to talk to,” Maher said. “ The kids respond to what he says. He’s been there. He knows what’s going on . . . He’s got a lot to share and he will share.”
Briggs said that Moran’s proclivity to tell stories from his college running days makes him easy to relate to.
“You really trust him as a coach,” he said.
As Maher points out, the athletes’ confidence in their coach helps recruit and retain athletes.
“I think they see that he knows it, that he’s done it for so long,” Maher said. “He’s had great success. We don’t sell the program anymore. We don’t recruit.”
The joy of running seven miles, or more, at practice seems to be recruitment enough.
“He always makes me laugh,” Briggs said. “He just loves to be there, and it’s really fun to see that in a coach.”
Moran said levity is an important aspect of his coaching style.
“I try and have a little fun with them,” Moran said. “I try and talk about fun things. It’s good to have the boys and girls together . . . it gets them more interested. I try not to run on the same route too often.”
Even though strong scores and placements aren’t Moran’s main focus, his coaching techniques frequently lead his teams to the top, “For a while the girls were making the state meet every year,” he said. “It was nice to be thought of as a juggernaut.” But even when the teams’ abilities fluctuate from season to season Maher noted that they focus on doing the best with what they have. “We can’t count on the kids that aren’t there . . . if they have the best times of the year [at the end of the season], that’s a success,” he said.
Even though he began without the intention to coach for 25 years, Moran plans to continue.
“I’ll do it as long as they’ll have me, and as long as I’m having fun,” Moran said. “It’s hard to imagine not doing it.”