As a sportswriter for almost 17 years, I have covered lots of high school sports. While I can find compelling reasons to like all of them, and I do, two of them really stand out to me: cross country and track.
Now, to get full disclosures out of the way, I must also say that I have also been a runner for 17 years and am currently a volunteer assistant coach at Aurora Central Catholic High School. My two sons, Matt and Kevin, are runners too. Matt was a three-time state qualifier between cross country and track in high school, and Kevin is a sophomore at Aurora Central who was part of a frosh/soph conference championship team this season.
Seeing the sport from all different angles has given me a unique perspective, that’s for sure. One thing I can also admit is that cross country and track aren’t as thrilling to follow as, say, football, but if you have a child who is a runner, they need your support all the same.
If you have a young runner in your life, here are a few suggestions to keep in mind that will not only help in their enjoyment of the sport, but yours too.
- Learn About the Sport
If you are reading this, you’re probably thinking “I’m a runner (or a competitive athlete), what else is there to learn?” Lots. Cross country, contrary to the opinion of many, is a team sport. It involves scoring and strategy – every pass in a race represents a change in the team standings, and we tell our runners to focus on place instead of time. Learn about how meets are scored, what pack racing is about and why the one-to-seven split time is so important.
- Attend the Meets
Over the years I’ve heard lots of people complain that “They run into the woods and we never see them” or, “Track’s so boring, they run one event and sit for two hours before they can run again.” All true, but that doesn’t mean they are less deserving of your support. They want to see your face when they come out of the woods and they want to look up into the stands and see you when they line up on the track. It matters to them, and this is about them, so do your best to be there
- Coaches Don’t Play Favorites
The great thing about running is that it is a participation sport; if a boy or girl comes out for track or cross country, they will race everywhere we go either in the varsity, frosh/soph or open races. What’s also great is that the sport is merit based, so when it comes to setting the lineup for the varsity races, the fastest runners run. That’s what I love about the sport – we as coaches give everyone the chance to run at the highest level they can. If one weekend they don’t make it into the lineup, encourage them to run their best in whatever race they run and to have a good practice the next week. We’ll notice.
- For Goodness Sake, Don’t Yell “Push It!”
If you go to a cross country or track meet, this may be the phrase most used by parents during a race. Really, what does it mean? If your kid plays basketball, would you constantly scream “play harder!” during a game? I’ve probably seen 500 high school basketball games in my life and never heard that one. If you aren’t sure how to cheer on your runner, think of the encouraging words you hear while running a 5K, or talk to other parents or coaches. Because here’s the scoop: I watch these kids every day in practice, they are all running as hard as they can.
Cross country and track are wonderful sports that kids can do for the rest of their lives. There is a good chance that many of the people you line up next to at a local race were runners in high school who still have a love and passion for the sport. How can you keep that love and passion going in your kids? By being their biggest fans.