We have seen that the freshman attraction rate and the runner development rate are the two most important metrics for a cross country coach to manage. There are other metrics that are at least theoretically important. Attracting sophomores to the team can certainly help; however, on average, the runners who join as sophomores will not progress as much as those who began their careers as freshmen. There is a final metric, the retention rate, that is at least theoretically important. Whereas it is not a particularly good predictor of performance, it stands to reason that it is a good idea to retain many of those runners you spent so much time and effort attracting.
I chose to measure the freshman-junior retention rate and found that most team were performing similarly. The podium teams at the 2010 state meet were averaging 67% (i.e. two out of three elite freshmen were still running as juniors). For the rest of the state, the metric was only slightly worse(62%). I will need a couple more years of data to determine the benchmark program. With only the classes of 2011 and 2012 available to measure so far, all of the programs that exceed 67% could just be statistical noise. If your program is retaining far fewer than 2/3 of your freshman runners into their junior year, that is an area where you should strive to improve. If you can keep everyone happy (100% retention), that should give you an advantage.
Now let’s put it all together. We will study Westminster, arguably the most successful program in Georgia and for whom finishing second in the state is an exceptionally bad year. In a typical year, they will get six freshmen who run under 20:00, with the median of these six boys somewhere around 18:45. That is an unusually high 6% of their freshman class. Their yr/yr improvement rate is a respectable (but not outstanding) 15%, and they retain a typical 67% of these six runners through their junior year. Applying a 10% standard deviation in the improvement rate, their typical team each year would look like this:
#1 senior 16:25
#2 senior 16:40
#1 junior 16:45
#1 soph 17:00
#2 junior 17:15
#3 senior 17:35
#3 junior 17:55
and that will be a competitive team at any level and a tough team for any AA school to beat.
If I were a coach and wanted to improve my team, I would be asking the coaches of some of the benchmark programs how they improve
Freshman Attraction Rate:
Metric: # freshmen on team/# boys in freshman class
Benchmarks private Wesleyan (16%), public Brookwood (6%)