Coach looks to build connections, Cougar cross country program

Saturday, April 7, 2012 | 7:18 p.m. CDT; updated 8:52 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 7, 2012
Tim Cornell watches runners on Friday at Central Methodist University Friday. Cornell recently became the head cross country coach for Columbia College.

COLUMBIA — When Tim Cornell needs to get something off of his mind, he calls up Christian Reed to see if he wants to go for a run.

"Running with Christian is often a therapy session for me," Cornell said. "There are things I’ll talk to him about when we’re running that I won’t talk about when we’re just sitting down." 

The pair have been running together since Cornell was a student-athlete and Reed was the assistant coach of his track team at Hickman High School.

Now Cornell is preparing to become a mentor as he prepares for his first season as head coach of Columbia College's new cross country team.

Being only a few years removed from his collegiate running career, Cornell will have the opportunity to get to know his athletes while he trains with them.

"There are a lot of things that come out on a good hour-long run," he said. "People are more honest with you in that scenario than they would be sitting across the desk from you."

He said runners are often more comfortable out on the trail than in a more formal setting.

"There’s sometimes a lot of tension between coach and athlete sitting across a desk," Cornell said. "When we’re out running, problems can work themselves out a little more naturally. I do think it’ll go a long way in developing trust."

Cornell's plan to run with the athletes on his team ties into to his goal of establishing connections that go deeper than running.

"A lot of 17- and 18-year-olds come in not knowing who they are," Cornell said. "It's our job to help them find who they are as a person, be at peace with that, and then take them to athletic achievement afterward." 

Cornell, a Columbia native, will be taking the helm of the new program when it begins competing in August. He was a two-time state champion in cross country for Hickman High School before going on to become an all-Big 12 runner at MU.

Cornell said it will be a top priority to find out what makes his athletes tick. When he was competing, Cornell enjoyed the daily grind of training, but he says others may thrive while performing in the spotlight. 

"Making that breakthrough, finding out what engages them as a person is very key to finding out what will make them a better athlete," he said.

Cornell, who is currently in graduate school at MU studying medical pharmacology and physiology, will be able to apply the scientific knowledge he's gained to help develop training schedules and techniques.

He said he doesn't want the technical side of the sport to overshadow his role as a coach. 

"I don't want to rely too heavily on (science) because we lose the personal aspect and communication," he said. "We have to understand those things, but choosing when and where to apply them is also key, and that's where getting to know the person comes in handy."

Cornell has four men and three women committed to run for the Cougars thus far.

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