Inspiring Coaches Finalist John O'Malley

Carl Sandburg High School - Orland Park, IL

Number of years coaching: 10 years coaching both Cross Country and Track and Field

At a glance: Coach John O’Malley is known to put the needs of his team and the welfare of his runners well before his own. He teaches that running is not just a program but a passion and shows students what it means to be truly dedicated. At the start of each cross country season, Coach O’Malley gives each of his runners a Champions Manual. Each manual contains school records, race tips, anecdotes about former Sandburg runners, information on workouts and tips about how to prepare for races and treat opponents with respect. He wants to not just motivate his athletes, but teach them how his workouts will help improve their performances throughout the season.


What piece of advice does Coach O'Malley give an athlete having a bad day to inspire them?
Bad days are a part of the risk of trying. As runners, we accept that from day one better than any athletes on earth. Responding to bad days is a huge part of the sport and our team culture. It’s all part of the process of us becoming the best possible versions of ourselves. We are in it for the challenge, so we welcome those moments. We crave them. We know that the challenges and setbacks are the catalyst of discovering our greatness. It is through the challenge that we learn about ourselves. We tend to find our proudest moments and most enriching days when we are pushed, and running has taught us that the most comfortable life often doesn’t lead to the most meaningful. So, why do we run? Maybe it’s to push our barriers, to find out what we are made of, to learn who we are and what we are capable of. We don’t find that out on the couch, we find it in the miles. So when the bad days come, we say, “Welcome.” All I ever have to do is remind my athletes who they are and they quickly realize that they are up to the challenge and it’s what they signed up for—it’s the price of admission. So I’ll remind them that the enormity of the challenge doesn’t compare to the enormity of their ability to conquer it.

If the bad day happens to be a season-ending bad day, I probably tell them the most authentic and genuine things that I know: that I love them, that I am honored to have coached them, and that while trophies gather dust, decency and caring for others grows richer with time.

What makes Coach O'Malley Run Happy?
Those two words are a redundancy! All you need in this sport is a pair of shoes and an open door. Every run provides a different purpose. I run to heal, to rise up, to reflect, to release, to socialize, to connect, to check in, to problem solve, to be free. Running is, in an age of distraction and comfort, a return to basics. It’s where we find where our greatness lies.

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