"There are no stressful situations, only stressful reactions." - Coach O'Malley of Sandburg High School in Illinois.
What Are We Actually Training For?
The boys know I'm a proud nerd of the sport, constantly looking to learn and grow as a coach. Looking for the best training to get each kid to achieve at a high level and push past any perceived limits (because, of course, we know there are no limits). It's a blast, I love that part of it. But if anyone asks me why I coach, the answer never goes toward the training and running aspect. The reasons I coach are very clear. I coach people, not runners. I coach to teach and guide, but also to give space and let kids make decisions, and sometimes, mistakes. I coach that stress is a good thing, and that grit and hard work are more important than talent in any activity. I know our other coaches value these same things. So our training is more than just training to be great runners, it's training to be great people.
Below are just some of the qualities we train.
We train to enhance our grit. Talent is overrated in every capacity, whether it be inherited talent in sport, music, writing, math or anything. Every person is given a different starting point or skill set, but it's how you work to develop and the consistency you put into your life to be better that will dictate where you end up. Grit is the ability to fail and not be deterred from continuing on. If you rely on talent only, the first time you fail may cause you to give up and forget that it's not only talent, but also grit and consistent work that will help you become better.
As a personal story, I earned a D in calculus my senior year of high school and was really struggling with math. Many other kids had better grades and were initially more gifted at learning the material. But, I knew I had a passion for the subject and took the failure as a learning lesson. Instead of giving up, I improved my studying skills and the amount of time I put into studying. I graduated college with a B.S. in math and now work in a math related field as an actuary.
With grit, it's important not to compare. Don't worry about how good others are now, and don't compare to where you think you'll end up. You don't have that answer. Just bring a purpose and commitment to being the best you can be.
Consistent, purposeful training is part of developing a strong work ethic and the grit that can help you overcome and succeed no matter what any critics say. How much are you willing to work to be successful in math, music, running, and whatever else you choose to conquer?
We train to embrace and handle stress. It's unfortunate that many children are growing up today without being allowed to have stress in their lives. Our culture is always quick to paint stress as a bad thing that should be avoided. But as we all know, hiding from stress can have poor consequences.
On our cross country team, we don't hide from stress. We love stress. In running, our harder workouts stress the body to adapt and grow. We understand that the workout will be harder but it won't last forever. We come excited and happy to do workouts, knowing we will get better. We even enjoy the challenges presented, and react in a positive way to elicit the best adaptations.
It gives perspective on stress in real life. How you react to any situation is extremely important. We learn to balance busy days and understand that some moments may be harder than others. And when bad things happen, you can choose whether you react in a stressful way or in a thoughtful manner.
Adaptability (I think that's a word)
Change in life is inevitable. You could change jobs, move to a different city, meet new people or gain new responsibilities. With any change, you'll need to adapt to it. Humans, and most animals, are formed through habits. When a change occurs, it can be an obstacle for us to overcome. Some things you can't prepare for and happen rather quickly. When we train as runners, we are preparing our bodies and minds for these sudden changes.
Training in running creates adaptations to our bodies that make us stronger and faster. We also train to adjust to hot summers, cold winters and different racing scenarios. Lastly, we learn to adapt and adjust if we need to at any moment. When we are sick, we can adjust the workout. If we have a busy weekend, we adjust what time we get our long run in. When our tent was about to blow away at sectionals, we calmly responded and adjusted our team location, not letting it affect our objective for the day. We were trained for that moment. Without thinking, we are training to adapt and respond in a positive way to different situations or barriers.
"Winter is cold! It was a long day, I think I'll go home and relax. Missing one run won't hurt me." Until it does.
We train willpower. Success as a team or individual is not going to be easy. Some days and moments will challenge you more than others. You will always have a choice to do what is right, or do what is easy. Easy can be sleeping in and missing part of first hour, skipping a run because you are too busy, or not properly studying for an exam. You may think it will be a one time occurrence, but these actions can also become habits.
Though it may be harder to convince yourself at first, you'll never regret doing the right thing. Find a way. Bundle up and get out the door, you'll have a great run and be more productive and happier after. Get up and go to class, you'll gain understanding and build a good relationship with your teachers. Study for the math test instead of playing Fortnite, you'll like the results of the short term sacrifice for the effort you put in. We are lucky to have a team to motivate us and be with, so continue to support and love each other in an effort to doing right.
Training is time to be together with some of your best friends. It's cherished time every day to catch up, laugh and feel safe within a group.. And yes, some days, motivating and pushing each other through faster pace workouts. Through chasing common goals, you build friendships that go beyond running. I'm now 31, and many of my best friends are people I had run with in high school and college.
With cross country and track, you naturally learn how to work together as a team, and also develop leadership. You learn how to listen and be respectful to a diverse group of people. Those social skills, developed through the sport, can translate to any career aspirations of pursuits you may have. Along with this, it's the team atmosphere that let's you know it's okay to be who you are. Be supportive and accepting of those that show up and put in their best efforts.
Through it all, be a kid. Play games, go biking, play sports, hang out and enjoy the friendships the sport can create.
As a coach, I have aspirations of continuing our tradition and winning another state title. But, true winning occurs with our daily actions, our consistency in life, and our work ethic. We build a winning program through character and class. We are consistent with all of our actions, as this is what truly represents who we are. Everything we do is training, and how we choose to respond to different situations is up to us. Training is not just becoming better runners, training is becoming better people, and together, a better and more loving family. Make the most of today, and know that you are striving to be the best you. If we can do that, we are winning.