An Interview With Tove Shere, Coach of Santa Fe Prep Track and Field

| - May 10, 2013

"Shere's zeal for athletics and her dedication to the team she coaches is an inspiration to her athletes"

Tove Shere races the prairie during the women 60 and over race. Photo:

This weekend, high school athletes from some 40 AA division schools meet in competition for the New Mexico State Championship Track and Field competition. Three schools will travel to the University of New Mexico track in Albuquerque to represent Santa Fe: Monte del Sol Charter School, Academy for Technology and the Classics and Santa Fe Prep.

The Prep track and field team is led by head coach Tove Shere. Born in England, Shere relocated to Canada in her youth where she discovered a deep affinity for athletics. Her enthusiasm for an athletic lifestyle still prevails in her life today. She is highly invested in the wellbeing and improvement of her high school athletes and she continues to challenge and push her own athletic endeavors as well. Shere has participated in numerous cyclo-cross events throughout her life and most recently won the Cyclo-Cross National Championships in her age group.

Shere's zeal for athletics and her dedication to the team she coaches is an inspiration to her athletes. The strong relationship between Shere and the athletes she coaches is perhaps one of the reasons why the Santa Fe Prep Griffins have experienced continued success in district competition.

I had a chance to interview Shere earlier this week as she prepared her team for the 2013 State Championships. First of all, are you excited for the State Track Meet?

Tove Shere: Well, preparing for State is like preparing for a wedding… it’s very stressful. I have to make sure that everyone is entered into events and people are roomed with the right people and everyone is happy. When everyone sits down and eats, then I can enjoy it. When people get out on the track and we’re actually there, I get excited.  Now I’m in preparation mode.

SFDC: How do you prepare yourself and your team for the State track meet?

TS: You have to take each person individually. You get someone who has been training since they were six years old, it’s going to be very different from someone who just started this year, even if they’re 18. So everybody has their own workout.

SFDC: Do you do something different when preparing for the State track meet, versus others?

TS: Yeah, taper for me is a very high quality, low quantity taper, so the intensity of the workouts actually steps up, if nothing else. But the quantity, the actual mileage or distances run are reduced greatly. My main focus, for runners specifically, is speed. I’m working central nervous systems more than energy systems at this point in time. I try to alternate between energy system and central nervous system on a fairly regular basis so one is adapting while the other is getting worked. But for a high school athlete with the season being incredibly short—I mean most college people have six months of prep work, we’re lucky if we get three weeks of base in, and then it’s straight to competition. So it’s really about how fast can I get those guys in the period of time that I have. So we’re really working the central nervous system, getting those neuro-muscular adaptations to happen, getting those quick muscles to fire as fast as we can: speed in the arm for the throws, bounce in the step for the jumpers and those guys. So a lot of plyometric work in the end. Short, explosive stuff is what we’re doing.

SFDC: When preparing for state, do you specifically train for other schools or athletes?

TS: Never. Let’s look at times: all of the times in the state are handheld. They’re all legal.  So let’s say somebody from, I don’t know, Lordsburg or wherever, is running a 10.5. He might have had a 65 mph tailwind when he ran that thing. I can’t look at that data. The only data and the only thing that is important to me and to my athletes are things that are within our control.  Everything else is completely out of our control.  And if I focus on anything other than that, I’m wasting my time and theirs. If we come with our best game, and work to the best of our ability, the chips will fall where the chips will fall.  It is a complete and utter, in my opinion, waste of time to be looking around to see what anybody else is doing. It matters not to me, at all. I respect them and what they do, but I am not going to think about it for one nanosecond. I want my kids to get on the track, and walk away going “that was the best I could possibly do.” If the net result of that is things like state championship, Halleluiah! Do I go in looking for it? Never.

SFDC: For your team, what are the most anticipated events of the meet?

TS: Yes, the girls have their favorites and the boys have their favorites. And within those favorites there’s also people. So not only are there events that you get attached to as a school, I think we all know that, but there’s also people that you want to honor at a meet like this. So I think that even though he may not necessarily be—although he’s very good—the fastest guy on the team, we are honoring Jake Lyon by letting him run the 800 in the Medley, because he deserves it. More than anything else in the world, he just deserves it. He’s worked his buns off for five years, he deserves to step on the track at state, and get a shot at being the best Jake Lyon Jake Lyon can be. And if that gets us into the final, we’ll all celebrate, if it doesn’t, we’ll still celebrate because Jake Lyon has an opportunity to celebrate himself. So that’s one thing that we do at state. We honor our athletes, we honor the people that have been with us for four or five years. And I will always do that.

The other thing is that we have certain races, like the girls 4x4. You know we have won that many times in a row, so it’s special to the girls they really want it. And I believe that if they have a good day, they have a good shot at it. So there are things like that that we all really get going on. The 4x4 is also probably, because it’s the last race of the event, I call it sort of the Warrior’s Dance because only the people who can really get to the bottom of their soul and find some grit can run the 4x4. Everybody’s tired, everybody’s run all day, nobody wants to get back up and run a 400 at the end of the day. They’re done! It used to be that when I first taught here, I looked for people to run the 4x4 and they would be hiding behind the stands. So we had to change the culture of that, and understand the honor of it as opposed to the punishment of it. And now, it’s an honor to run the 4x4. People fight for the position.

SFDC: What is your philosophy on coaching and how you run practices?

TS: Every workout [the athletes] do is written by me. Every workout is monitored by a coach…My philosophy about coaching at a high school level, again this is more about high school than anything else, is that at the beginning of the season, I assume that most of the kids know nothing, so that it’s me controlling it—it’s basically 90% me 10% them. My goal as a coach, especially by the time they’re older, is to reverse those numbers. I want them to understand themselves as athletes. And part of my goal is to teach them what it is I’m doing, I just don’t throw numbers out at them and tell them to do something, I want them to know what they’re doing and why they’re doing that workout at a specific time, so that by the time we get to state I can say, “How do you feel today?” and they know what I’m talking about. It’s not just “oh yeah, I’m having a good day”. That’s not what I’m talking about. How are the legs holding up? Where is the energy system? Where are we going? Did you adapt from the workout from before? So, if I can make them responsible for themselves as athletes, not only do they go to a college or another coach as a brighter athlete, but they start to come into themselves. They start to go, “Oh, that’s what that is. That’s what that’s feeling like.” And they know enough to tell me when they’ve gone too far or to back them off of a workout because something starts to hurt. I don’t need them to go to the well every day they step out into a workout. I need them to know themselves as people, and as athletes. So by the time we get to State, I am there to serve them for the athlete they’ve become through that year. And if they need guidance, of course I’ll jump back into that, but my goal is to say, “What do you need?” and look them in the eye and to know that what they tell me is the truth because they know themselves well enough to do that.

SFDC: So that’s a good transition into—unless that is—the most important aspect of athletics/team sports that you (hope to) instill in your athletes? Is that the most important, knowing themselves?

TS: I think it’s certainly part of it. I think for, again we are talking about high school athletics and I keep saying that because it’s very different from collegiate athletics. I think that for many of us coaches, that we teach first, and what our venue is—what the head fake is—is the athletics. We’re trying to teach kids is how to be better people in the world, how to understand being part of a team, what it means to be responsible for communication from one teacher to another teacher, how to juggle more than just what they want in life but how to go, “Okay this is my homework, this is my sports commitment, I’ve got to talk to this person, I’ve got family commitments…” How do you breathe and take care of all of those details in your life? And we try to give them road maps to do that. I think athletics, for the most part, are a great metaphor for life in many, many aspects. And I think many people who have done a sport will find that they can take that into the workplace. They understand what it’s like to be part of something that’s not just about them. I think as a teacher, it’s the greatest tool I have. Track and field specifically, is one of the purest sports there is, because it’s just, for the most part, you and a tape measurer, you and a clock. That’s what it is. So if I end up with a soccer player whose heart and soul is soccer, if I can return them to their sport a faster soccer player, I feel like I’ve served them well. It’s not for me about making them the fastest person on the track team, it’s about me helping them be the best at what they want to do and I can use track and field to do that.

SFDC: Did you participate in track and field in high school?

TS: I was not a great student. I was not an academic. I was very much an athlete. I grew up in a different time and place in a different country. And athletics sort of saved my bacon. I did not really like school, so I pretty much did every sport there was. My philosophy was that if there was a bus, I was on it. Sadly, that’s how I got through high school, but it also really helped me with all of the frustration and all the angst that is teenagehood. It just helped me get through that I don’t think I would have made it without sports. And I don’t think I would have made it without my coaches. I know for me that they were probably the most important people in my life during my teen years. It was just a different place for me to be me, and being me was okay in those arenas, and it wasn’t necessarily always okay in other places. It was a safe, fabulous place to just let it all out. So yeah, I was very much a jock in high school.  

SFDC: You are clearly very invested in your own athletics, so how does that relate to your coaching?

TS: Well, I left it for a long time, and a lot of people don’t know that. So I came back to my athletics at the age of 37, and I had been smoking two packs a day for almost 30 years, I started when I was very young, and I was almost 200 pounds. So when I came back to it, the struggles were beyond imaginable, they were enormous, they were excruciatingly painful to get back into shape. I always say my greatest  anatomy classes were myself, I injured every body part known to man trying to get back into shape, and still do. It also gave me a great empathy for the beginning athlete. You know, to start from nothing, to start from scratch, to start from a memory, to start from a wannabe, and just struggle to get little tiny pieces of it put back together again. I mean I was a mess. So putting it back together again was a really hard endeavor. And I hope it gives me some insight and empathy into the kids who come to school and say, “Well I’m not an athlete, I’m this, that, or the other.” Yeah, well yeah you are, everybody’s an athlete. Everybody can do something to honor that part of what, I believe, God gave them, which is an athletic body.  That’s what we are: athletes by nature. It doesn’t mean you have to be an Olympian, but you have to get out there and honor your body, or you end up like I did at 37, just not feeling to good about yourself.

SFDC: What is your favorite thing about coaching?

TS: My favorite thing about coaching has got to be actually when the kids graduate—and this always makes me cry—when the kids that graduate get back in touch with you, and you go “Oh my god!” They still remember you and it meant something to them. ‘Cause you don’t really know at the time what’s going to stick and what meant something or what helped somebody. You can only hope, and so if you’re around long enough, you get emails from a kid—I don’t think kids realize how important it is to teachers to hear back from those kids. Those are my favorite moments of coaching, is to find out later on that not only did it mean something to them, but it helped them in some way in their life. That’s all we really want in the end: is to help.

SFDC: So do you plan to continue?

TS: At some point I have to do something different. I mean, my body is starting to break down itself at this point. And I’m still competing, I’m still an athlete, so it’s hard. It’s hard to keep up the energy levels at my age. I don’t know when I’ll walk away, there’s times when I think It’d be nice to graduate high school with my kids and move on to a college level. I would like to coach at that level at some point. Then again, it doesn’t have the same satisfaction that it does at this level. So it’s hard. I will never say never to anything, and I know enough from walking the walk I’ve walked in life that you have to always be open to change. So when it’s time it’ll be obvious to me.

Check out the State Championship standings at