I may be a bit biased, but I think running cross country is one of the best things your daughter can do to develop as a person. When I design a season, my plan includes workouts but it also includes all sorts of hidden objectives. Here are the seven things I hope each season I coach accomplishes…
- Introduction to a lifelong activity. In a time when we are bombarded with messages about inactivity, obesity and lifestyle diseases, learning to love running and movement is an investment in her future health.
- Time management. Daily practice, weekend meets, summer runs. All of these commitments teach her how to balance her time long before she goes to college, holds a job, raises a family and/or participates as an active community member.
- Goal setting. Cross country is objective in many ways; time elapses from the start to a defined finish and you earn a place with every finish. Through formal goal setting activities and informal statements about goals for each race, girls learn to set appropriate goals, work towards those and celebrate when they or their teammates reach those goals.
- Body acceptance. Go to a road race or a cross country meet sometime and observe the body types participating. Tall women, short women, girls with tiny legs, girls with strong legs and everyone in between. Cross country is one of the only sports where people of literally all abilities cross the same start line and the same finish line.
- Self awareness. During our summer training camp, one of the lessons I emphasize is learning to set limits for yourself. The freshman are blissfully unaware of what I’m talking about while the juniors shift uncomfortably because they are all too familiar with the overwhelmed feeling that comes with high school these days. Before school starts, I give permanent permission for athletes to take the day off when they feel that they need it. This may be because they are sick or it may be because they have too much homework or are feeling too stressed to be focused on the team or the workout. In five years, this has never been abused and in fact is rarely used but exists as a reminder that none of us can do it all all the time.
- Public speaking. Regardless of future plans, the ability to be articulate in a public speaking setting is critical. A team setting with girls you consider more like sisters is a safe place for young women to practice these skills. I introduce it by asking different athletes to lead drills or cool downs. We practice it after almost every race where we sit in a circle and go over what we did well individually and where we could improve. (This also gets at the goal of personal accountability.)
- Open conversation. This is one place where I see cross country leap ahead of other sports, all of which offer varying degrees of the first six objectives. Unlike a team sport where you are focused on drills or running plays, we spend a lot of time just running together. To pass that time, we talk. Sometimes we talk about small things like our favorite gummi candy (we all hate the giant gummi bears, FYI). And sometimes we talk about big, serious issues. These issues bubble up naturally and I’m always astounded at their insight and observations about the world around them. Below is a sampling from the last week. When was the last time these were offered up at your dinner table or in the car?
- The Common Core/overtesting (an athlete has a sibling struggling with the former and finds herself frustrated with the latter)
- Cultural appropriation (we’ve been really into A Tribe Called Red but worried that playing the songs at States could be construed as such. Thankfully, A Tribe Called Red has spoken frequently and passionately about this and welcomes everyone to enjoy their music as long as they don’t “objectify, fetishize or mock Native tradition.”)
- Racism (a classmate made an offensive comment about an ethnicity. Discussion around whether it was intentional or a reflection of ignorance ensued)
- Gender identification (how do we adjust our language to accommodate everyone)
- Pressures of social media (This is constant. Be reassured, your daughters do an excellent job of policing one another about appropriateness and are generally well aware that all the things portrayed on social media should be taken with a grain of salt.)
In a time when teenagers are overloaded with all the things they “should” do to be competitive for college, it can be tempting to cut cross country or other sports from their to-do lists. Before you do, however, consider all the hidden objectives that all good coaches (in all sports) tuck into the 90 minutes we spend with your kids each day.
If you ran cross country, what did I leave out? Where do you have your best conversations?