When Chris Miltenberg became the director of the North Carolina track and field and cross country programs last June, he wanted to build the Tar Heels back to prominence in the ACC.
The core the Tar Heels would build from was not established immediately. Miltenberg spent most of his first fall in Chapel Hill getting to know his athletes and looking for potential captains.
It was not until Thanksgiving that he identified those leaders and began to rebuild a team that had finished in the bottom half of the ACC in both the men's and women's conference championships the year prior to his arrival.
In team meetings with his captains, Miltenberg said he laid out the values through the term “Tar Heel Tough,” urging his athletes to remain present, positive, selfless, steady, consistent and relentless.
Miltenberg said the team's improvement is about continuing to build in each day of training, not individual results.
“We’re not about the results, this is about the process,” Miltenberg said. “How we do things every day, and most of all who we are every day.”
Miltenberg said each value was printed onto a wristband and given to the athlete who demonstrated each quality the most after every meet throughout the indoor season. These values embodied the process he wanted at UNC, Miltenberg said, and any athlete could live out their meaning if they committed to improvement.
“If you look at what these values are, they’re about the process, about who we are and what we do every day, not the results,” Miltenberg said. “You don’t need to be an All-American to live up to these core values, you don’t need to be a senior.”
When the NCAA canceled all spring and winter competition in early March, Miltenberg said he was devastated because the team was building momentum entering the NCAA Indoor Championships, but he remained positive.
Prior to the NCAA's cancellation, North Carolina was showing strides toward improvement for a previously fledgling program. In the ACC Indoor Championships, the Tar Heels set four school records, won two conference titles and saw its athletes accomplish 14 personal bests.
Miltenberg met with his captains via Zoom and told them to continue emphasizing these core values throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and pointed toward their importance in a time where life for many is especially difficult.
“The two things I really asked them to think about or emphasize were attitude and resilience,” Miltenberg said. “Having an attitude of gratitude through all these challenges right now we all have in our life.”
Miltenberg emphasized the value of remaining present, but believed the pandemic may have helped define the other core values for his team.
“I think through this experience with COVID, it’s crystallized those values maybe even more than having a track season,” Miltenberg said. “I think we may look back on this experience and realize this is when we defined ourselves as a team in some of the most important possible ways.”
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