Meet Lexington Coach Tanner Graham

Tanner Graham talks to scrunners about the 2022 Cross Country season and his coaching journey.

Name: Tanner Graham
Years coached: 7 years (5 as the head coach)-Lexington High School

How and why did you get involved with coaching?
I ran cross country at Irmo High School under Coach Mike Moore. He instilled me a passion for running and showed how when a coach cares, he or she can change thousands of lives. After college, I was missing that competition and contacted Coach Oberly at Lexington High School about volunteering. I wanted to get involved because I wanted to have the same impact on athletes' lives as Coach Moore had on mine.

Did you run or compete in hs or college?
If so, how did this experience help now as a coach I ran for five years for Irmo High School under Coach Moore. His creativity when it came to workouts was vital in my training philosophy now, but more importantly, the culture he created and the way he truly cared about his athletes was the most important lesson I learned.

How did it feel for you at the day of the state championships to have your team win a state title?
I was just so happy for the girls. They have put in so much work, time, effort, and mileage and to get to that to point and they deserved every bit of it. They are the ones that deserve all the credit. I am the one that is just lucky enough to say that I get to coach this amazing group of athletes.

What steps did you take to prepare for the state meet yourself and your runners?
My biggest message to the girls the weeks leading up to State was just to treat it as any other 5k. I reminded them that they have run so many 5ks already this season, and State was just another one on the schedule. We also stressed repeatedly to have fun. XC can be such a tough sport, but if that love for running is lost, the love for competing is lost and you will be unable to perform at the level that you want to.

What was your main focus throughout the season?
Team culture. We have such a great group of girls and cultivating a culture where every athlete feels involved, supported, and cheered for, is so important to me. If the girls come to practice each day, knowing they will be known and supported, the running and workouts become that much easier. Don't get me wrong, we push our athletes, but they are so willing to support one another and have fun, we as coaches are able to have fun as well and it becomes less of a job, and more of something we are all wanting to do.

How many hours a week would you spend training your team?
I think the better question is how many hours a week would the girls spend training themselves. We would meet Monday-Friday for about two three hours each day to get the runs, workouts, and lifting sessions in, but the girls would take it upon themselves to meet on Saturdays and go above and beyond what we asked them to do.

What is your favorite memory from practices?
I have two: One are the themed practices we did throughout the season. Every pre-meet day, Lydia Metz would come up with a theme and the girls would dress up and do our pre-meet routine. The looks we got from people driving by, and other sports practicing was hilarious and the girls really got into the themes. Second, the team dinners. As I said before, a caring and supportive culture is so important. At these team dinners, we got to see the girls be themselves, play football or corn hole, eat good food (thank you to our amazing parents!), and just hangout. I always looked forward to team dinner days.

How was the team chemistry throughout the season?
The best I have ever seen. We had 38 girls on the team this year and every single one of them bought in to the culture. They all were there to support one another and make the person in front of them better. This State Championship was earned by every single girl on the team, not just our top seven, and they would say the same thing.

What do you say to your runners before a race?
It's just another 5K. Trust your training. Compete with the girl in front of you. And most importantly, have fun!

if you could give a statement to others striving for a state title, what would it be?
Treat every athlete on your team like they are your number one runner. Learn what they like to do, connect to them, and let them be kids, not just running robots.

What's it like on the course for you during the state championship races?
I tend to hide myself in out of the way places where there aren't many spectators or other coaches so my girls can hear me clearly and listen to the advice I am giving them.

What is the most challenging part of being a coach? How do you work around it?
The most challenging part was changing the mindset of the team and getting it to one where everyone has bought in to the idea of every athlete matters. It definitely took time, and it is by no means perfect all the time, but every day the girls showed up ready to work and get better that day.

What do you find most satisfying about being a coach?
When an athletes sets a new PR, hand down. We celebrate every PR the day after a meet and whether the athlete runs a new PR of 29:00 or a new PR of 18:30, we celebrate them all the same.

Overall, where do you see the sports going in S.C. in the future? What will it take to achieve this?
Cross Country is becoming a more popular and more known sport. Thanks to people like you, John, and other photographers and journalists in our state, it is becoming more known. At Lexington, I am fortunate to have a ton of support from my AD and assistant ADs, and this has been a huge benefit. This is what it takes; every coach, athlete, parent, journalist, and AD, supporting our largely forgotten sport.

What does it mean to be named coach of the year?
Honestly, it is a huge honor that I do not feel like I deserve. There are so many other incredible coaches in 5A from Kimbrell at Dorman, to Prochaska at J.L Mann, and so so many others, I am just humbled that I was named the 5A Girls Coach of the Year. My assistant coaches deserve this award more than myself, my athletes deserve this award more than myself, my athlete's parents deserve this award more than myself. I am excited and humbled.

What's the next step as a team?
To continue to get better and stay as a power in the State. When I first took over we finished 16th in State, the next year we were 6th, then we had back-to-back Runner-up finishes, and now we are Champions. Our goal will be to continue to stay at the top for as long as we possibly can.