Skip to content

Creating a new dynamic

KU sophomore Samantha Whittlesey & Michael Whittlesey add coach/runner relationship to father/daughter bond

4 min read
Kansas sophomore Samantha Whittlesey competes at an outdoor meet during the 2023 track and field season. [Kansas Athletics photo]

Most student-athletes don’t finish up training, go home, and sit around the dinner table with their coach. But for sophomore cross country runner Samantha Whittlesey, it’s a different story.

Michael Whittlesey, Samantha’s dad, has been the assistant coach for cross country and middle distance/distance running at the University of Kansas for 13 years and, for the last two, he has been able to coach his daughter.

“Honestly, running wasn't something that I thought I was going to do collegiately,” Samantha recently told R1S1. “I loved the sport in high school, but I never thought I was going to take it past there.”

From a recruiting perspective, Coach Whittlesey describes the process as long and slow. He knew that if he tried to push Samantha too hard to continue her running career in college, it might not have happened at all.

“Recruiting had to be bit by bit and no pressure at all,” Coach Whittlesey told R1S1. “That's kind of the way we had raised both of our kids. We never sent them to running at all. We just wanted them to be involved in sports and they did a lot of different things. Find what you love and do it, and we're gonna support you and be at everything we can be.”

When Samantha finally made the decision to run at KU, she didn’t verbally express her decision to Coach Whittlesey.

“She was in choir, and they had this production at the end of the year,” Coach Whittlesey said. “I got to go to a last dress rehearsal for it. They have a senior song at the end of the production, and the seniors wear the shirt of where they're going to school. I didn't know anything yet. But my wife said, ‘Hey, tell me what shirt she's wearing.’ So, when they came out and she was wearing a Kansas track and field shirt, it was a pretty awesome moment.”

Now that Samantha is in her second season at KU, she’s had time to contemplate everything that running for her dad entails. In her eyes, they’ve done a great job creating a new dynamic, rather than letting it affect their existing one.

“We can really separate our coach/athlete relationship from our father/daughter relationship,” Samantha said. “The way that Coach Whit coaches, he just has such a warm relationship with all of his athletes and jokes around with them a lot. So, it's very similar to our relationship at home even.”

KU sophomore Samantha Whittlesey, left, talks with her coach and father, Michael Whittlesey, before a recent KU track practice. [R1S1 Sports photo]

Before college, they’d already had to learn how to navigate these types of boundaries and situations. When Samantha was in high school, Coach Whittlesey made sure to talk to Samantha about her running as her dad, not a running coach.

“I never tried to get involved at all in terms of what they were doing from a training perspective, whether I agreed or disagreed,” Coach Whittlesey noted. “It would be more like, ‘Hey, next time you need to be able to do this, or try sticking this out.’ I would never necessarily discuss what you should do in a race because she had her own coach.”

Looking ahead, Samantha is excited to keep doing better. She says that her freshman year was more of a transitional year, and even without doing the full training, her times have changed drastically. She ran her personal best at the Rock Chalk Classic in the 2023 outdoor season, finishing the 800 in 2:21.69.

“I’m really excited for this year and to really get the full experience of training, and just continue to get better,” she shared. “I want to continue to see my times drop, travel more with my team, compete for them, and help the team score points at meets.”

From a coaching perspective, Coach Whittlesey says his focus is on team dynamics, because a supportive environment is needed to allow each athlete to reach their full potential.

“I think that the team commitment and the team focus has been a lot better this year,” he said. “They're getting along great, and really supporting and encouraging each other and trying to be the best they can be. And that, to me, is the ultimate goal — to get every athlete on the team to be the best they can possibly be. And we're doing a really good job right now.”

Fresh off of the iconic Kansas Relays and another home meet last Saturday, the Jayhawks will head to the Arkansas Twilight meet on Friday to close out the regular season before gearing up for the postseason, which begins May 9 at the Big 12 Outdoor Championships in Waco, Texas.

— For tickets to all KU athletic events, visit