Reedy boys lifting up a fallen (or just fun) comrade
Coach Lauren Watts enters her second year of coaching at Reedy High School in Frisco, Texas after a successful stint at Forney. Under her guidance, the Jackrabbits secured three appearances at the UIL State Cross Country Meet.
No stranger to success herself, Coach Watts hurdled and sprinted at Stephen F. Austin University where she acquired enough Southland Conference Championship rings to cover every index, middle, ring, and pinky finger.
Off the course and outside the track, Coach Watts serves as the President of the Cross Country Coach's Association of Texas, teaches graphic design to aspiring young professionals, and keeps her boombox blaring with soulful Whitney Houston ballads from the 90s that would make any generation long for a grungy flannel and a trip to a nearby Blockbuster.
We caught up with Coach Watts to pick her brain on coaching, running, and life.
"Cross Country may be considered an individual sport, but that's not what makes it unique. It's the family dynamic, the village or what we would call the Pride - that makes it like no other sport." - Coach Watts
TX Milesplit: Summer miles are huge for the success of any cross country runner. How was summer training and did yall participate in any running camps?
Coach Watts: Summer training was great! We actually teamed up with Wakeland and Independence for all-district practice 3 times a week during the summer. We meet up at the same park, do a group warm-up, and then split into our team training groups. It's such a great atmosphere for the kids - there's always someone to run with! Plus, showing up to xc summer practice and seeing over a 100 of your fellow competitors holds everyone accountable.
We don't necessarily do a team camp - I work the Boulder Running Camps in July with Jay Johnson and many other great coaches across the country; it's by far one of the best cross country camps of the summer! Our Reedy Lions, meet me up there!
Reedy girls after a big day at McNeil
TX Milesplit: Brynn Brown, Colleen Stegmann, Natalie Cook. 1-3 at McNeil and not one of them is even a senior yet! The future is bright for girls distance running in Texas. Where have you seen the biggest evolution in female distance running from your days as an athlete at Forney to you now coaching at Reedy?
Coach Watts: Switching to the 5K has definitely made the biggest impact on girls distance running in Texas. It has even transferred to the track with their faster 3200/1600m times - we now have more ladies representing Texas at the national level and has made our State meets more competitive.
The CCCAT pushed for the 5K for many years, and it was finally passed in 2013 for the large schools. Since then we have seen growth in the girls distance running in Texas; girls are competing at a high competitive level. This is one of the many topics discussed at the CCCAT clinic in the summer and at board meetings during the year. Many coaches across the state want the small schools to move to 5k as well. Making changes to better the sport start with the CCCAT.
Young Watts and Forney teammates pose with hopes that they'll be on TX Milesplit in 15 years
TX Milesplit: Postseason is around the corner. What goals have you set out for your team?
Coach Watts: Well we have a team full of possibilities - it's a good mix of experience and fresh legs; so the sky's the limit for our Lions. State has been part of our discussion since we fell short going as a team last year. I'm really excited to see how it all stacks up at District, Regionals, and State!
Reedy XC Team poses in front of their big yellow chariot
TX Milesplit: What is the biggest lesson you've learned in your coaching career?
Coach Watts: Well, I'm just in my 7th year coaching, I'm sure I'll have plenty of lessons to learn ahead of me, but I would say the biggest one I've learned is that "it takes a village". Not just in coaching but in life, you need people who can hold you accountable, keep you motivated, and help pull you through those rough patches life hands you.
I've been blessed to have a great mentor, Sandy Cook, who has been all of the above for me. She introduced me to this sport, opened the door to college running, hired me on as her assistance at Forney, and pushed me to take over my own program. Our boys head coach Brady Stone has helped build up our program; he brings so much energy and guidance for our athletes. His passion for coaching is contagious, and he pushes me to be better everyday. This is our second season working together but feels like we've known each other for years.
Our parent support at Reedy is phenomenal; they make the whole experience for our athletes one they will never forget. And the team itself brings it all together. We have the best group of kids; it's never a dull moment with them. Our JV boys are definitely the hype of the team, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Cross Country may be considered an individual sport, but that's not what makes it unique. It's the family dynamic, the village or what we would call the Pride - that makes it like no other sport.
Coach Watts with her Forney head coach and mentor Sandy Cook
TX Milesplit: What is the one thing you want each and every one of your athletes to walk away with after four years under your wing?
Coach Watts: I don't know if I can name one specific thing I want every athlete to walk away with. One individual may take away life-long friendships while others may take away perseverance in chasing their dreams. Each athlete is different - but overall - when our athletes look back on their high school cross country experience, I want them to have the confidence needed to overcome any obstacles they may face in life.
There will be roadblocks, hurdles, and dead-ends throughout their journey as they find their purpose in life. I hope they learn to not shy away from the uncomfortable path of rising to the challenge that's before them.
TX Milesplit: You are president of the Cross Country Coaches Association of Texas. Can you tell me a little bit about the association and what motivated you to become a board member?
Coach Watts: Just like TX MileSplit, the CCCAT promotes the sport and runners throughout Texas by growing awareness for knowledge, coaching, safety, nutrition, and athletic performance. We honor our coaches with Coaches of the Year and Hall of Fame awards for each division; we honor our athletes with All-Region/State and academic honors; we offer outreach leadership service with Zoe Empowers; and now with the partnership with MileSplit, we offer more scholarships for the runners going to college.
The association hosts a clinic each summer in New Braunfels that gives coaches the opportunity to not only learn from each other but also from notable speakers. Years past we have had: Dr. Jeff Messer, Coach Jay Johnson, OSU Coach Dave Smith, Nutritionist Amy Goodson, Dallas Jesuit Coach Doug Robinson, and many more speakers. The summer clinic also gives the coaches an opportunity to share their thoughts on how to better the sport or maybe get more involved in the association.
When I first started coaching, I was eager to hit the ground running. I attended many clinics with my head coach, Sandy Cook, where she encouraged me to be more involved with the sport. I signed up to help any way I could with CCCAT; first as a regional representative and then as a State meet volunteer which led me to this past summer where I set up the line of speakers for the coaches clinic. I've really enjoyed working with so many great coaches across the state.
Our board of directors is stacked with so much success and knowledge of the sport; I feel lucky to be in the same room with them. Our Executive Director, Ray Baca, has been a huge game changer for cross country in Texas and has pushed for the betterment of the sport for many years. This association has grown to what it is today because of him and his passion.
TX Milesplit: Congratulations on recently PRing with a blistering 1:39 half marathon! Do you find it hard coaching yourself?
Coach Watts: Thank you - It can be hard coaching yourself, but I've grown to love it. I don't put too much pressure on the runs; I try to take each run for what it is and just enjoy it. I'm training a little more serious for my next half in November. I'm still "coaching" myself, but I'm being held accountable by our Reedy XC girls team. They're not afraid to tell me if I'm slacking on training. They have even offered to design a few of my workouts - they are so sweet!
Coach Watts crushing the course
TX Milesplit: Lauren Watts... coach, athlete, educator, president... what is one random fact about you that you'd like to share with the TX MileSplit community?
Coach Watts: I have the world's cutest pup! His name is Rex and he actually ironically hates running. He is a lab mix; so would think he would love to run with me - absolutely not. We will be walking by the lake, and as soon as we start jogging, he hits the brakes pretty hard and is ready to go back inside.
TX Milesplit: Thank you so much Coach and good luck this postseason!!!
Coach Watts: Thank you!