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The Blueprint to College Running

Nike Green Mountain Running Camp's co-director Mike Henderson speaks with former SMRC camper and staff member AJ Ricketts about which characteristics college recruiters look for in runners. Previously at Prince and Cornell College, Mike Henderson is currently an assistant coach at the College of William & Mary. In this interview clip, Mike uses his experience as a recruiter to provide insight to high school runners on what can separate them from the pack.

Interview Transcript:

AJ: Mike Henderson is an assistant coach with the Cross Country program at William and Mary, the reigning CAA conference champions. Mike with previous stops at Princeton and Cornell College and is the co-director at Nike Green Mountain Running Camp. Mike, as someone who has spent a great amount of time recruiting and looking for athletes who will eventually help your program, what are some characteristics you look for out of high school runners?

Mike: I think that’s a great question. I kind of break it down to a couple different areas. I would say one of the first things we’re looking for is somebody who has a real passion because, as we all know, running is a tough sport and it’s going to have some ups and downs and you really need that passion, drive and desire to continue to improve and get you through some of those moments. Then, I think, kind of one of the other big things we look for is certainly the competitive nature of a person. I think that varies, obviously by program, but as a division one program with people at the national level and being strong that way, it is important that kids have that competitive desire as well. We certainly recognize that there’s a place for everybody so our two criteria right off the bat are that passion and that competitive desire. And then after that, it’s a lot of intangibles. Fitting in with the team and how much upside we think they have in their training. You know, if they’ve been under-trained or if they’ve been in a program that’s really going to transition them well into what we do. That’s kind of more of the minute details but your big overarching thing is our two first main criteria: that passion and competitiveness.

AJ: Those are great characteristics to look for out of each runner. It really leads into the next question. Mike, there’s runners with natural talents and great ability, but so many successful runners who make that transition from high school to the college level don’t have that raw talent. They have those intangibles. That competitiveness and passion that you were talking about. How often do you see those intangibles really shine in these high school runners when you’re recruiting...and maybe more so than runners with just raw talent?

Mike: I think we see it a ton. And, you know, that’s one of the areas where, in the recruiting process, we get some valuable information from high school coaches. As we’re getting along the process with the kids we are really interested in, high school coaches can provide some pretty valuable insight into those things about a kid. One thing I’ve stuck with is a saying that somebody told me years ago that I’ve always remembered. It said, “high school shows the talent of a kid, and college often shows the work that a kid puts in.” I think that’s a great reminder and is something I think of frequently because those really talented kids, if they haven’t learned about that work ethic, when they get to college the other kids are going to catch up to them. It’s really fun to see that, too. Because another thing that really fosters the development of kids in the collegiate level is that, often times, the kids that run in college were by far the best on their team. They didn’t necessarily have a lot of people to run with. So when they get to college and they’re learning curve is really expedited by having a whole group of athletes with the same passions and desires that they had, and to be able to train with that kind of group day in and day out, we see it a lot where these kids come to another level. That’s really fun and exciting as a coach to be a part of that process.

AJ: The process of getting to the college level can almost feel intimidating at times for athletes, with the clearinghouse, forms, emails, and recruiting. But at the heart of everything, it comes back down to the classroom. You understand that, you were magna cum laude and coached in the Ivy League. A lot of times, if the grades are high, that opens up a lot of doors to get into schools academically, walk on, and end up having a great career. I think that’s overlooked sometimes.

Mike: Absolutely. You’re kind of speaking to my heart, as a kid who was one of those people. I think that this goes back to ancient years with the “Sound mind, sound body.” There is a great relationship between that ability. We see it a lot in distance running. There’s people who really are great students that keep themselves fit and grind away and become great athletes as well. I think that ability to focus, commit, and believe in yourself and what you’re doing translates between the classroom and on the track or the cross country course.

To sign up for GMRC or any Nike Cross Country Camp experience, head to ussportscamps.com/running.

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