Part 2 of our conversation with Speed River Track & Field/Guelph University coach Dave Scott Thomas. Part 1 here.
On the morning we speak, Dave had just returned from the Canadian Track and Field Championships in Ottawa. Dave reports, “I’m really happy with how it went based on our projections. We had some of our junior athletes punch above their weight and make big breakthroughs.”
Dave still gets fired up at seeing young talent flourish. Highlights included Josh Kellier claiming 4th in the senior men’s steeplechase in his first year as a senior. Josh and teammate Mark Patton both had strong showings in the senior men’s 1500m finals, the youngest runners in that final.
On the under-20 side, Kyle Madden took top spot in the final at that same distance, demonstrating great speed reserve. Ashlan Best also topped the women’s 100m and 200m races and took second at 400m.
Dave describes Speed River as a “complex entity.” The trip to Ottawa alone included a contingent of 60 and at any given time, the Speed River team is spread across multiple countries and continents. While big guns like Eric Gillis and Krista DuChene gear up for the IAAF World Championships and major fall marathons, junior members of the stable are looking ahead to the Pan Am Youth Games.
Dave estimates total membership to be around 200. When it comes to the growth and development of those athletes, Dave says his philosophy is not that unique. “Relationships are at the core of it,” he says. “In very few cases, perhaps the technical aspect of coaching matters more, but trust between the athlete and the coach is crucial.”
The relationships between the athletes prove crucial as well. While Dave humbly claims that good coaching is available across Canada and that with his background in sports management and science, he can “hopefully program good workouts,” athlete development is just as much an artform. “You have to refine these workouts so that it makes sense and fits together. There’s a need to see threads between athletes who can enhance each other,” Dave says.
The density of talent within the club provides endless opportunities for athletes to play off one another and Dave is happy to let the group mix it up. “We’ve had Eric Gillis on the track with our younger 1500m athletes. Eric actually came to me and said he thought it would be good for him and I trust him to know that,” Dave says. National XC champ Ross Proudfoot also enjoys, “having the young guys chomp away at the bit and finishing feeling like they pushed him.”
While admitting that it’s impossible to have a tight knit relationship with every Speed River athlete – which makes Dave extra grateful for his Speed River support staff – there’s hardly a day on which Dave doesn’t have “at least a few athlete meetings where we might just meet for coffee and talk shop, maybe plotting out the next few weeks and working on motivation.”
It’s no secret that running isn’t a bastion of multi-million dollar contracts and lucrative endorsement deals. Dave recognizes that while his athletes have a deep passion for their sport, they know they need more to live a well rounded, more fulfilled life.
Dave takes his role as a mentor very seriously and his sessions with athletes can just as well involve discussions about education, work, and volunteering. “They need more than just ‘living the dream,’” Dave says of his athletes. “You can’t just do track and field. That leaves you thin as a human being.”
In his mind, Dave Scott Thomas hasn’t changed much in thirty years. “My goal is to serve the people I coach as someone who supports and gives them feedback,” Dave concludes. The best he can do is to create an environment where, “People with like attitudes and common minds can come together to brew into this stew of excellence despite differences.”
- Ravi Singh