Dan Deckman has been HAC’s varsity cross country and track and field coach since 2015. He has coached 2 sectional winning girls cross country teams (2016, 2015) and also 2 sectional winning girls track and field teams (2017, 2015). For his efforts, he was named the 2016 and 2015 Section V Class D Coach of the Year for girls cross country and also earned All-Greater Rochester Girls Cross Country Coach of the Year and Wayne-Finger Lakes Coach of the Year Honors.
Where did you grow up and what sports did you play?
I was raised in the city of Rochester and in Rush, N.Y. I was a mediocre athlete growing up and competed in a whole bunch of different sports: baseball, soccer, hockey, and basketball. I wasn’t as good as I wanted to be when I got to the high school level, so I started cross country in 8th grade, which was also my first year at McQuaid.
What got you into running?
I couldn’t make the soccer or baseball teams, and cross country had a no cut policy. Also, the coach at McQuaid had a stellar reputation and that appealed to me.In my very first cross country race, I finished 2nd-to-last out of over 100 runners.
I had zero natural running talent.
At that point, I wanted to quit. I was awful, but I stayed with it. One of my older teammates, our best runner at the time, sat down with me and encouraged me not to give up. Both he and my coach took me aside and convinced me to stay on the team and to just stick with it.
Because I didn’t quit, and behind stubborn determination, I eventually improved tremendously. I was fortunate to be part of a high school team that won 3 consecutive sectional cross country titles and a state championship. I was a captain of the team my senior year and went on to run at the Division I level in college.
If you had told me any of this during my 8th grade year, I would’ve said there was no way way that could happen. Running was not love at first sight with me, I fell in love with it over time.
Why do you coach?
I coach for two reasons. First, because I love the sport of running.
Second, and more importantly, I love seeing athletes make progress and redefine expectations for themselves. I love helping them achieve their goals and helping them grow not just as runners but as individuals as well. I have a tremendous amount of respect and love for the members of my teams and that makes coaching incredibly enjoyable.
What motivates you as a coach? What inspires you?
Helping athletes set goals and achieve those goals definitely motivates me. Runners occupy a feedback-rich environment and using those tools to track progress can be wonderfully powerful. The kids inspire me and seeing their growth and seeing them discover the potential within themselves is huge; having the opportunity to provide a positive experience for kids, regardless of where they are when they start running.
Running can be a lifelong sport, so I feel fortunate that I can continue running recreationally. I derive my motivation from seeing the hard work pay off for the kids that I coach. They motivate me personally and inspire me to be the best coach I can possibly be for them.
What’s your general coaching philosophy?
My coaching philosophy was influenced greatly by my own high school coach, and it is rooted in a genuine sense of caring for each athlete. My aim is to provide support and encouragement to athletes and keep us focused on growth. Part of my role as a coach is to show the team that hard work pays off in terms of improvement, which is especially the case in our sport. I always want them to know why we’re doing what we’re doing each day. I want the team to have an understanding of and a hand in their training. I want those on the team to know that it’s a safe environment to make mistakes, to reflect, and to try new things. I want to enable a community where athletes are constantly re-defining what is possible, and I try to keep things goal-oriented all the time.
I also try to encourage and have systems in place that foster a strong team culture – from athletes to coaches to parents. It’s really important to me that the whole team community is bought in.
It’s all about being a part of something bigger than themselves – the team should be something special, it’s a privilege to be a part of it. This sport is painful at times, but it should be a joyful experience.
As a coach, what are some things that go through your head prior to a race?
I just try to stay calm and have a reassuring influence on the runners. I want our runners to be on the starting line feel confident and as prepared as possible for the race they are about to run. Even still, I get nervous, regardless of what type of race the team is running in. It’s funny, I get more nervous for races as a coach than I ever did as an athlete.
And similarly, at the end of a race, I am more excited than I was as an athlete in any race that I ever ran in. I’m just so pumped when our athletes do well and the kids’ successes are important to me.
How did you hear of HAC and what were your first impressions when you became the Varsity Cross Country and Track and Field coach?
I’ve always loved coaching and had a long-held sense that I wanted to coach at the high school level at some point.
My first experience was running against HAC in high school. My knowledge and understanding of HAC was rudimentary at best until I became coach.
I remember the first time I met our track and field coaching staff I called us, ‘HACK’ instead of ‘H-A-C.’ It was the first and last time I would make that mistake. Meeting the athletes that first day was tremendous though. My respect for them was almost instantaneous – the kids were engaged, willing to work hard, gave the me a chance to lead, and they were focused. I was impressed from day 1 and quickly fell in love with the HAC community.
Students are naturally drawn to you and those who typically wouldn’t do cross country or track and field are now taking interest and are actively participating and joining the teams; How have you created such a magnetic culture and what is it that has our HAC students calling you the “best coach they’ve ever had?”
Team culture, I think, is largely driven by the athletes and their motivations, not by me. Our team culture attracts students across the board – lifelong runners, those who haven’t tried running before, and everyone in between. The positive team culture here is special and it’s what sells people on giving the sport a try.
Getting comfortable with pain and overcoming discomfort are what we strive to work on in order to perform at our best and, together, through those team experiences, the students find something very rewarding.
It’s also being a part of something that’s bigger than the individual athlete. It’s being part of something that has a history of success and has been a positive experience for other athletes that have come before the ones who join the team. There is a place for everyone to be a part of that here.
Of course, I’m also fortunate to have a stellar and engaging coaching staff and they make the positive experiences possible.
At this point in your HAC career, what are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the dynamic team culture that we’ve built and the personal growth our athletes achieve. When I get to the end of the season and I look through all the race review sheets and all the results and put together a season summary and I see that every single kid has achieved a personal-record, that is what I’m most proud of. Although, it’s important to remember that the athletes are the ones who do all the hard work…I’m just their biggest cheerleader.
What’s one thing your runners would find surprising to learn about you?
A few runners found out that when I was in college, I was in a rock band called ‘Mother Bacchus.’ I was the bass player and also sang. My ears were also pierced and my hair was so long?
Who will win the Super Bowl this year?
Will the 2-hour mark ever be broken for a marathon?
Yes, I think it’ll be broken, but maybe not in my lifetime. With the perfect day, the right conditions and the right athlete, I do think it can be broken and The Nike Project proved that it’s within reach.
An equally great question is: Will the 2:10.00 mark will ever be broken by a woman? At that distance, the difference between elite male and elite female performances is incredibly minuscule. A woman breaking the 2 hour and 10 minute mark would be amazing and great for the sport.
Who are some of your favorite athletes and why?
Meb Keflezighi and Gretta Waitz. They overcame tremendous obstacles in their lives and careers in order to break new boundaries and achieve athletic excellence. Both are extremely humble and caring despite extreme hardships and successes. They are both just really great people.
What do you order on your pizza?
Onions, mushrooms, and sausage.
What is one song or album that you could listen to on repeat?
The B-side of Abbey Road by The Beatles.