“My goal is to be your last coach”
Unlike many who are unsure of the origins of their passions, new upper school cross country coach Robert Lopez knows exactly when he fell in love with running.
When he was young, his father was an avid runner, and between the ages of four and five whenever his father went out for a run, he would beg to go along. Despite his constant “nagging,” as Lopez put it, his father never let him.
One day, when he was around five years old, his father came home and asked him, for the first time, whether Lopez wanted to go with him on a father-son, Father’s Day run. “And I said, ‘Of course, yes,’” Lopez recalled. “It was at the mall, and it was a 10k, or 6.2 miles. I had no idea what that was. So we got there, the gun went off, and my dad just started running. Didn’t look back at me. I’m struggling to catch up with him, and he eventually, you know, leaves.
“It’s what I’ve always loved to do, it’s been a passion of mine ever since. I’ve never lost that passion.”
I just start crying for the next hour, and I’m just miserable. Runners were just running by me, they just looked at me like ‘sucks to suck,’ and just kept on going.
“My dad finishes the race, and comes back to find me, and was like, ‘Why are you crying?’ And I was like, ‘You left me!’ and he said, ‘You’re OK, you’re still going!’ So he ran the rest of the way [with me] and then took me out for breakfast.”
Lopez says that the fact that his father ran the rest of the race with him sparked his interest in running. “It’s what I’ve always loved to do, it’s been a passion of mine ever since,” Lopez said. “I’ve never lost that passion.”
From then on and until temporary injuries prevented him, Lopez has been dedicated to running. He described himself as an “average runner in high school,” running a 4:05 mile, but was 10 minutes shy of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. In his college years, however, he became interested in running as both an athlete and a coach. His first coaching job came when he was 18 and studying kinesiology at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.
“I saw a new dimension to running, because I was on [one] side of the fence as a runner,” Lopez said, “and now I’m on the other side and seeing it from a coach’s perspective.”
“They were successful before I got here.”
Lopez said that his first job was his first time understanding why coaches coach.
“To know all the challenges and yet all the things that go into developing a team intrigued me to pursue that even further,” Lopez said. “I developed a new passion for running. And I wanted to continue [coaching].”
Due to this experience as both a coach and a runner, Lopez believes that a key part of coaching is “just listening.”
“A lot of times, you see individuals just talk to their athletes, but I don’t know if they’re actually listening,” Lopez commented. “You can learn a lot from your athletes by just listening to them. And sometimes it’s not even listening to what comes out of their mouth but just listening to what’s happening in their life.”
Lopez is an avid believer in understanding and communicating with his team both about running but also about their outside lives: “You find out what drives them, about their struggles, because if they’re battling with something and your putting even more stress on them, that’s not going to make them successful. It’s going to make it very difficult to achieve the thing you want them to achieve, if you’re not paying attention, if you’re not listening.”
“I didn’t know this team, and then all of a sudden I looked at the results and saw that the girls had finished third. I was like, ‘Wow, this is going to be a team to watch. They’re definitely going to make a name for themselves.’”
Before coming to Nueva, Lopez cross country-coached at several schools. He was at La Reina High School for almost 18 years. His long tenure allowed him to watch the program, school, and runners grow. As such, he says that although he has been at Nueva for a few months now, he feels that isn’t enough time to really get to know the school; but from his experiences so far, he he is “very impressed” with the student-athletes.
All four teams—JV boys and girls, and varsity boys and girls—are undefeated and have placed in the top half of runners in every single race so far. Lopez is looking at the League Finals as the culmination for the junior varsity team, and the CCS Championships and the State championships for varsity.
Moreover, he isn’t too worried about the team. Although in previous schools, like Oaks Christian, Lopez has assumed the role of remodeling teams, Lopez believes that the Mavericks don’t need it.
“They were successful before I got here,” he stated.
He remembers the first time he saw Nueva runners was at the state meet two years ago, and thinking, “‘Who is that?’ I honestly said that. Because I didn’t remember this team, I didn’t know this team, and then all of a sudden I looked at the results and saw that the girls had finished third. I was like, ‘Wow, this is going to be a team to watch. They’re definitely going to make a name for themselves.’”
“My goal is to be here. I wanted to see myself long term. My goal is to provide them with tools to succeed and to help them take that and run with it, both figuratively and literally.”
If his job isn’t to turn around the team, then what is it? Lopez knows that the the biggest one for him is to provide “some stability.”
“My goal is to be here. I wanted to see myself long term. My goal is to provide them with tools to succeed and to help them take that and run with it, both figuratively and literally,” says Lopez. “I’ve told my athletes before, ‘I might be your third coach in high school, but my goal is to be your last coach.’”
Written by Willow T. C. Y.