Xavier College Preparatory Cross-Country and Track Coach Dave Van Sickle has earned some impressive accolades over his 40-year career. And this year he can add to that list after being named the 2020 National Girls’ Cross-Country Coach of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Associations – the governing body of high school sports in the United States.
Van Sickle was chosen by a panel of judges from the roster of coaches of the year from all 50 states. Van Sickle attributes his longevity as a coach, community service to the sport and a number of championships and wins as factors that led the judges to choose him.
“Coaching defines me; it’s what I am and what I do,” Van Sickle said.
Whether he’s at work or at home, Van Sickle says he is always running. His wife runs every day, and his friends are all runners to some degree. When he’s not at track practices or meets, he’s teaching physical education and weight training, or speaking at running clinics and attending running events.
Van Sickle’s love of running started when he got a stopwatch as a child and also when he had to start training for football.
“I participated in track in 7th grade to get in shape for football and have been involved every spring since. However, when I was 10, I fell in love with a stopwatch someone gave me, so I timed myself running different loops in my neighborhood,” Van Sickle said.
As for turning his passion for running into a career of coaching, it was always a no-brainer.
“I never considered anything else. Both of my parents were career educators. I told my friends in high school, my goal in life was to have keys to a gym,” Van Sickle said.
When he was 18, he got a summer job working with his college track coach, coaching in Iowa. Since then he has coached for 42 consecutive seasons and has been at Xavier for over 30 years. Van Sickle has also worked at McClintock High School, Mesa Community College, Yavapai College, Bradshaw Mountain High School and Go the Distance Track Club.
After four decades, Van Sickle is still as enthusiastic about coaching as he was on his first day at work.
“Teaching kids what it takes to get better, then seeing them follow the plan and get better; I still get a thrill out of kids getting personal records,” Van Sickle said.
Van Sickle believes every good coach should possess seven important qualities, including holding kids accountable athletically and academically, leading kids through example, good sportsmanship and positive life skills, being able to process not winning in a positive way and being able to laugh at yourself in front of your athletes.
Van Sickle said watching his athletes grow has been the highlight of his career experience.
“Seeing the kids that I coached growing up into outstanding men and women. To think that I may have had some part of their maturation is really rewarding,” Van Sickle said.