I’m not a competitive person. I didn’t do many sports in high school, and I haven’t encouraged my children to be overly involved in sports. It’s a world I know little about and, frankly, sometimes I’m too intimidated by youth athletics to even get up the courage to register my children to participate.
One notable exception, however, was my time spent running cross country. I loved my time in that sport and was tickled when my daughter – completely unprompted by me – declared she wanted to run cross country this year.
If your child is considering running cross country, here are my thoughts on why you should let them give it a try.
Nothing in this world is truly free, least of all high school sports, but cross country running is extremely affordable in comparison to other athletic endeavors. All your child needs to get started is a nice pair of running shoes, athletic clothes, and access to the great outdoors. Cross country meets tend to be free or low-cost to attend, and the season is short, making travel costs less substantial.
I started as a Freshman but my daughter didn’t join her cross country team until she was a Junior, yet we were both welcomed with open arms. There aren’t many high school sports teams that have the capacity to welcome an upperclassman novice, but because of the strong individual component, my daughter’s performance in no way hinders the hard work of the runners who are top finishers. Everyone, regardless of skill level, gets to run at most of the meets. There is no such thing as “sitting the bench” in this sport.
It’s a Team Sport and an Individual Sport
The finishing positions of the top runners are added together to determine a team score, then, as in golf, the team with the lowest score wins. Individual medals are awarded as well. Runners set personal goals and work to achieve them at each meet. I remember the first goal I set for myself, as a Freshman (who had never run before), was not to walk at all during my first competitive meet. By my Junior year, I was a top runner who was able to help my team secure a second-place finish at state.
It Has the Best Coaches
I thought I had the world’s best cross country coach. He was encouraging, welcoming, goal-oriented, and he treated those of us at the back of the pack with the same level of respect and patience as those who regularly took home top finisher medals. Then I met my daughter’s coaches and realized they were just as amazing. This has led me to the definitive conclusion that cross country coaches are simply stellar individuals. I’m thankful my daughter has trusted adults in her corner who will challenge and encourage her as I was when I ran cross country.
It’s a Community
I’m a rah-rah extrovert. The more people the better. So, the community aspect of cross country was instantly appealing. My daughter, by contrast, is a textbook introvert. Still, she appreciates the support and comradery her cross country team provides on and off the course. They share meals, carpool, volunteer together, and cheer each other on in life as loudly as they do at their meets. My team experience was the same. Sports come and go, but learning how to celebrate others and enjoy working together are lessons that our kids will carry with them forever.
It’s a Life-long Sport
I don’t run anymore, but I love to walk outside. I credit my love for long strolls to my cross country days. Through my time in the sport, I learned goal-setting, patience, perseverance, how to pace myself, and to appreciate the simplicity of being active without a gym or a track. Many people engage in running as a form of exercise for their entire life, continuing to chase individual goals and competing in local races.
Cross country may be a lesser-known sport, but I think it’s a great opportunity for kids and encourage you to let your child give it a try.