The Skills and Success of the Long-Distance Coach

Bill Coren wasn't the best runner in the 1960s when he was part of the Springfield High School track and field squad. The 57-year-old has suffered from Crohn's disease his entire life, which he said prevented him from building the muscle necessary for the bursts of speed and strength most track events require.

But the Delaware County native and longtime member of Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley always had an appreciation for the mental aspects of the sport – the concentration, focus and confidence that are required for athletes to beat their best time or surpass their personal-best throw or jump.

For more than 30 years, Coren has brought his emphasis on mental preparation and physical technique – as opposed to relying on pure athleticism – to coaching, and earlier this month, he was honored as "Coach of the Year" for all his efforts by the Pennsylvania Track and Field Coaches Association.

This past season, his Strath Haven girls squad tied for first place in the PIAA state championships for division AAA, which is for the largest schools. They have also won the Delaware County championship three of the last four years.

"The state meet is just the best of your best," said Coren, explaining that while 92 athletes were on the team this year – roughly one-sixth of the girls in the school – only seven competed at the state meet in Shippensburg. "When you've trained all year, you go to these meets and you see amazing feats."

Coren said that he needs about 40 solid athletes to have a competitive track team.

"In track, you can't run that many high-caliber races," he said.

If he used his stars in every meet, they would tire and fall flat by the end of the season, when it counts the most.

And perhaps because he wasn't a star himself, cutting an athlete just isn't in his coaching vocabulary.

"Anyone who's willing to stay out and work can be part of the team," said Coren, whose many awards and trophies are displayed throughout his Wynnewood home.

Coren teaches history at Beverly Hills Middle School in the Upper Darby School District, where he began his coaching career.

He was an assistant coach at Upper Darby High School, but 14 years ago was offered the head coaching position at Strath Haven and jumped at the chance, even though he'd never coached girls before.

"The girls competition has gotten so good," he said, adding that this past season one team member ran a mile in 4:57 seconds, beating the previous school record by a full 23 seconds. "It's amazing how girls now get as much publicity as boys."

He admitted that coaching girls requires a slightly different approach than coaching boys.

"The difference is that the girls are very tough on themselves. You have to tell them to be proud of themselves," he said. "Guys sort of rely on their macho ability to do well. Girls seem to listen more. That might be a ridiculous stereotype, but girls seem to work at it more."

Coren said that the enduring appeal of track and field is that it is both a team sport – with all the camaraderie that entails – as well as an individual endeavor.

"If you are a runner, the question is: Can you beat the clock – did I beat my time?" he noted.

Coren said that he expects to teach for a few more years and then retire.

But will he keep up the coaching?

"I'm not going to retire from coaching until they kick me out," he proclaimed. "If I couldn't be a head coach, I'd be an assistant coach somewhere."



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