Editor's Note: For the 4th installment of the recruiting series, I had the privilege of interviewing a former coach of mine, Art Siemers. While I try and interview coaches from some of the best programs nationally, rarely do I know about their program first-hand. With Art I do. As a former walk-on for him, I know he cares about every athlete on his team. This caring attitude is why his teams perform well and why he was so willing to write detailed responses to help Milesplit readers with the college recruiting process. It is worth the read!
Art started collegiate coaching at the Colorado School of Mines (NCAA Division 2). Despite every major at Mines being engineering, or closely related, Art transformed the team from a below average squad into annual national title contenders. This was done while competing in the RMAC Conference against rivals Adams State and Western State, who are better than most Division 1 schools. In 2012 Art accepted the head cross country coaching job at Colorado State. Having already taken a CSU squad that hadn't qualified for nationals in years to 19th place, Art is in the middle of transforming another team into a national title contender, this time at the Division 1 level. Additionally, as an interesting aside, Art is one of very few NCAA Division 1 head coaches who runs with his team in practice. He occasionally competes against them unattached in meets as well. Without further adieu Coach Art:
Arizona Milesplit: The old adage is to seek first to understand, then to be understood. What are some of the challenges coaches face when choosing which athletes to recruit?
Coach Art Siemers: Recruiting at the Division 1 level is a difficult process. Each year most programs are limited in the number of roster spots they are allowed to carry. Even at the same school these restrictions can change from year to year to balance overall athletic department numbers. Currently at CSU we are allowed 48 women and 56 men. We have six men's varsity sports and ten women's varsity sports at CSU. Each fully funded school divides their men's 12.6 scholarships and 18 women's track and field scholarships in different allocations. Some concentrate more money in different event groups. For example a school may be primarily distance/middle distance oriented or split between two event groups or evenly balanced. It is important for athletes to do research on the school's they are interested in. At CSU we are a fairly evenly balanced program but are still allowed approximately twenty distance/middle distance athletes in cross country/track and field. We are located in beautiful Fort Collins, which is an amazing place to train so we receive many more inquiries to walk-on then we have roster spots to give. For a sea level distance/middle distance athlete it will typically take an athlete with track marks in the range for men 800m: 1:54, 1600m: 4:18, 3200m: 9:20 and women 800m: 2:17, 1600m: 5:06, 3200m: 11:10. These marks can differ depending on number of graduating seniors. Scholarship offers range at CSU from book and fees to a full scholarship on a percent basis. A tough aspect of recruiting is that most recruiting is finished before an athlete's senior year so we are going off of junior year marks and cross country. Athletes develop at different rates and come from a wide variety of programs which makes it tough to know who has the ability to improve at the fastest rates.
AZ MS: What type of attitude/mentality do you look for in a student athlete?
Coach Art: First and foremost we look for athletes with great character. Leaders on and off the practice field. Once you attend college you become an adult and the level of responsibility rises dramatically. We want athletes that will do the right thing even when no one is watching. We are also recruiting student-athletes so academic performance is huge to us. If an athlete struggles in school their life balance becomes out of whack and they almost always struggle in athletic performance. And of course we are looking for athletic talent. It takes a very high level of performance to succeed at the Conference and National level in Division I. We want talented student-athletes that are coachable, dedicated and probably most importantly patient as it takes time to develop in a new program.
AZ MS: What type of thing sours you when you are recruiting a kid?
Coach Art: When an athlete that has been communicating with you just stops. Most college coaches want high school athletes to pick the school that they feel most comfortable in and we don't get our feelings hurt when you pick a competitor. We just want the prospect to be open and honest in the process.
Another thing that we hear a lot from high school coaches and parents is the word potential. Everyone thinks his or her athlete or son or daughter will outperform their peers. As a college coach we can do our homework but we are not fortune tellers so we try to be as fair as we can when offering scholarships and walk-on spots.
AZ MS: Colorado is high altitude and isn't known for its warm weather. Additionally, college is a big change, what adjustments should students expect to make?
Coach Art: Adjusting to altitude for some sea level athletes can be difficult. From my experience it usually takes about two weeks to generally adjust to altitude running but it can take some a year or more to adjust to hard training (especially hill work) and racing. We work with our athletes to make the transition to altitude the smoothest as possible and most of our sea level freshman redshirt their first year to adjust. We also train differently than we would at sea level as it takes more time to recovery between hard efforts. Fort Collins is located just above 5000 ft. so most sea level athletes will not feel much of a difference in recovery runs but will need to pay special attention to not over doing it. We also focus on iron and vitamin D supplementation.
Living in the dorms and away from home for the first time can be especially difficult for some students so it is extremely important to communicate with roommates and coaches when things are not going well. We try to pair up students with similar personalities but it is not always perfect.
Eating the right athletic diet can also be a struggle for some athletes. We have a certified nutritionist that works with athletes that need guidance.
Sleep is also a must when balancing college life and athletics. A lot of freshman have trouble getting enough.
AZ MS: How should athletes expect to transition with regards to coaching?
Coach Art: The transition from High School to college can be a difficult one. Most high school athletes are close with their high school coach and have only experienced one way of training. Since they experienced success it can be hard to go from the local star to struggling to keep up in workouts. Athletes that are adaptable and patient will normally have the most success at the college level. It is common for freshman to train well and the race results do not show up until their sophomore year. We start working with our freshman after they finish the last meet of their high school track career. The summer is fairly basic as we are trying to slowly increase mileage and form a strong base before we introduce quality. We build into tempo work and basic hill work by the middle of July and start adding some basic fartlek work in August. Our freshman mileage can vary greatly depending on an athlete's background and strengths.
AZ MS: If you were 18 years old again, what questions would you ask the coach? Your recruiting trip host?
Coach Art: Do you treat walk-on athletes the same as scholarship athletes? I think that question is important because it tells a lot about the atmosphere of a program. We try our best to treat all of our distance/middle distance runners the same. It fosters a better team atmosphere and in the right program walk-on athletes can develop into scholarship and top level runners. On our 19th place men's team last year, three of our top seven came in to our program as walk-ons.