High School Chemistry Teacher & Boys’ Cross Country Head Coach George Flatau receives statewide distinction for the 2019-2020 season.
By Sierra Smith, Communications Specialist
What does it mean to be a good coach?
Senior Nick Sieders contemplates the question.
“I think being a good coach means being able to rally a team, being able to get people to work toward a common goal, and being able to get people excited about the sport they signed up for,” Nick replied.
Neil Narayanan ’21 offered his own definition, “Someone’s a good coach when they’re dedicated to their whole team, and really pay attention and work hard, and they put in as much effort as the athletes do.”
Both Nick and Neil have spent the past four years running on the High School Boys’ Cross Country team. The season is long with practices typically starting in June and competition going through the fall. During that time, they’ve both gotten to know the team’s head coach, George Flatau, well.
In October, Flatau — who also teaches HS chemistry — was named the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s Boys’ Cross Country Coach of the Year for the 2019-2020 season.
When asked if Flatau embodied his view of a good coach, Neil responded emphatically, “Flatau goes above and beyond that.”
Neil talked at length about his coach’s expertise on the sport. Flatau frequently shares articles on developments in the sport with his runners and he’s constantly researching new methods and workouts for improving performance. He’s developed relationships with other high school and college coaches all over the country to continue learning about the sport.
Moreover, when discussing his coach, Neil emphasized Flatau’s unwavering commitment to his team, “Last year I was injured and couldn’t run; all I could do was pool run and he’d get here early every morning to let me into the pool.”
Flatau’s counterpart running trails and in the HS Science Department, HS Girls’ Cross Country Head Coach Tamara Berthel, echoed Neil’s words.
“George’s greatest strength as a coach is that he genuinely cares about the boys. He invests himself into the sport and the team and it shows,” Berthel said.
Flatau has been coaching cross country at USN for almost 20 years. When asked that same question — what does it mean to be a good coach? — Flatau’s answer demonstrates that investment.
“It’s really about team culture,” Flatau said. “We’re not going to be state champions every year, we just know that. The goal is to be as good as you can be, but not at the expense of supporting each other and enjoying our time running together, and if you can instill that mindset into the students, I think the success is a bit self-perpetuating.”
HS English Teacher & HS Boys’ Cross Country Assistant Coach Robbie McKay confirmed Flatau’s commitment to creating such a culture of support; it’s a bond that McKay said lasts much longer than an athletic season or even a high school career.
“It’s a community not just of current team members, but of those from the past, too. We’re always having alumni come back to run with us and they’re still checking in and following our results at meets. It’s really like a little family,” McKay said.
The time and focus Flatau dedicates to each student-athlete undoubtedly lends itself to creating the strong bonds that have built that family of lifelong runners. He expressed that his goal for each student who joins the team is simply that they’ll leave knowing that they matter.
According to his student-athletes, Flatau’s impact is nearly boundless, setting them up for success in the future and supporting them as they tackle challenges not just within the realm of athletics.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from Flatau isn’t even specific to running, it’s just to fall forward instead of backward,” Neil shared. “Just like a race, everything I face, whether it’s a test or a bad grade or a new challenge, it’s still a learning experience; it’s an opportunity to grow and get better.”
Nick expressed his own gratitude for Flatau’s influence over him as a coach.
“Especially these days, when we need one, he’s been a beacon of positivity. He’s been so helpful, and he’s really been, not only a great coach, but a great human being. I don’t know where we’d be without him,” Nick shared.
Flatau is unsurprisingly humble about being named TSSAA Coach of the Year. His response further reflects his team-oriented way of thinking.
“This is an ‘us’ award, not a ‘me’ award. It’s indicative of a reciprocal relationship of the whole coaching staff, families, athletes, and administration, not to mention, the many mentors we’ve all had that make us better coaches,” Flatau said.
The Cross Country team will compete at State on November 6 at Sanders Ferry Park. Being named TSSAA 2019-2020 Boys' Cross Country Coach of the Year means he is in consideration for NFHS Section 3 Coach of the Year; Section 3 includes eight Southeastern states: Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Tennessee.