coach bander with runnersCongratulations to MPA Cross Country coach Nate Bander ’09 for being named the Section 4A Assistant Cross Country Coach of the Year! To celebrate his accomplishment, we interviewed Coach Bander about why coaching and athletics are so important to him.

What led you to coach at MPA? And why cross country? 

Remembering back on all the joy that I had competing for MPA, I knew I had to come back and give that opportunity to the next generation of athletes. Coaching cross country is totally unique because it’s such a distinct sport. It’s an interesting blend of team and individual competition where athletes are competing as much against themselves as against one another or other teams. I coach cross country because I love our team’s culture of emphasizing collaboration as much as competition.

Why is coaching rewarding for you?

Coaching is rewarding because of the little moments. We had a student athlete on our team who was out for cross country for the first time. At the beginning of the season, she walked more than she ran. By the end, she completed three 5K races, getting faster in each one. This student athlete was far from going to state, or earning All-Conference, but my relationship with her was just as rewarding as the connections I made with her state bound teammates.

Who inspires you?

Actually, the parents of our cross country runners are quite inspiring. Often former athletes themselves, they are knowledgeable about the sport and passionate about supporting their athletes and our team. I am amazed by their acts of generosity and commitment, from bringing snacks for our small army of runners, to arriving at meets early to reserve the prime spot for our team’s camp, to braving the wind, cold, rain, and snow to watch their kids compete, even if they only see them run by for a fleeting second.

What advice do you always give to your athletes?

Live in the moment. Our athletes won’t remember every race or every personal best, but they will remember their teammates, the joy and laughter that permeate their experience on our team, and the sense of pride and accomplishment they feel in improving on past results and accomplishing what they thought previously to be impossible.

What is your favorite coaching memory?

My favorite coaching memory came at the 2017 state meet at St. Olaf. I witnessed an extraordinary display of empathy and genuine care coming from our senior captain to a Middle School runner. Declan Dahlberg ’18, who was the defending Class A State Champion and number one ranked runner in Minnesota gave a wonderful, heartfelt pre-race pep talk to a very nervous seventh grade teammate in the moments before her first ever race at the state meet. Declan knelt down and I watched as he inspired his younger teammate until she was beaming with confidence. Then he leaned down, gave her a hug, and sent her off to the starting line.


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