I am a multi-passionate mom helping all parents become the best version of themselves and build positive relationships with their kids.
I never expected to love cross country as much as I did when I joined the team in my freshman year of high school. As someone who had dedicated most of her childhood to sports like softball and basketball, my intention was to spend the fall running solely to stay in shape for those sports.
With my unrealistic visions of playing college basketball (I’m 5’0—being short doesn't means that you can’t play, but it definitely hinders your abilities), running cross country was merely meant to be something I just did. Never did I expect running to turn into something I am.
But that’s what happened. I instantly fell in love with the sport and the team. I eventually quit softball and basketball to pretty much dedicate my whole year to running. I later went on to run cross country and track in college, and now I have coached cross country for the past 11 years at the same school where I teach. What’s more is that my teammates throughout my running career have become lifelong best friends.
It brings me great joy to see the athletes I coach having the same positive experiences I had on my high school cross country team. If you are a parent of a teenager or a teenager yourself, I have seven reasons why I strongly encourage you to join the cross country team.
#1 Running Is a Lifelong Sport
When you join the cross country team, you’re easily picking up a skill that can translate all throughout life. Running is a sport that you can continue well into your later years as long as your joints stay somewhat intact.
In your adult years, you can easily find a running community in your area. For me, after I graduated college, I ran road races, went to running clubs, and did all those fun runs out there.
What other sport can you find on any given weekend a chance to participate in or hop right in like you can with running? What’s great, too, is that if you are somewhat decent you have a chance to win money or a prize at all of these races. Again, not too many sports offer that once you are no longer a student athlete and decide not to venture into the professional field. Running always stays with you.
#2 Cross Country Is an Individual and Team Sport
Cross country is a sport that is both individual and team oriented. You could be one of the slowest on the team, but you’re still celebrated when you break your personal record (PR). For my team that I coach, we shout out the runners who placed high in the race and the runners who PR no matter what place they got.
Likewise, there is a lot of focus on pack running in order to improve as a team. We group kids based on those individuals who are slightly faster and slower than them, and they have to work together to help each other get better.
Also, in cross country, you can advance to the State meet either as a team or an individual. For example, if your team doesn’t do well at the Regional meet, but you do, you can still run in the State meet. Conversely, if you don’t do well individually, but your team does, you can go to the State meet with your team.
Lastly, cross country is one of the few sports I know where everyone cheers for everyone. That includes even if you’re on a different team. During races, you’ll find fans and teams standing on the sidelines rooting on each and every runner no matter what color uniform they’re wearing. They cheer just as hard for the last place person as they do for the first place person. Because each runner in the race is helping another run faster. It’s one of the most supportive sports I know, and if you don’t have the most competitive teenager, this sport is for them.
#3 Cross Country Will Teach You Mental Toughness
Running long distances will teach you a lot about mental toughness. Runners spend a lot of time with just themselves and their thoughts willing themselves to keep going. In fact, running is just as much a physical sport as it is a mental one.
Back in my competing days, I could easily take myself out of a race mentally by not self-regulating my emotions and my thoughts. I’ve seen the same kinds of things with my runners whom I coach.
Runners have to have strategies to use when the race gets tough and people start to pass them. Some of these strategies include positive self-talk, controlling their breathing, repeating a mantra, visualization, and the will to persevere. Because in cross country you don’t just get to stop and take a break when you get tired. No one is subbing in for you.
Also, cross country teaches you about self-discipline and goal-setting. Self-discipline to go out and run on your own since many long runs take place on the weekends during training season. And goal-setting by writing down your goal times for races and figuring out the splits you have to get at each mile or kilometer.
Runners have to be incredibly mentally tough, and that mental toughness translates to other areas of their life. Cross country will help teenagers get there.
#4 Cross Country Builds Deep Friendships
One of my favorite things about running cross country is all the friendships I made. For incoming freshmen, they will have instant friends since cross country meets and practices before school starts. It’s also one of the few sports where everyone practices together - freshmen, sophomore, junior, and seniors, males, females.
For me, I remember that I loved having a connection to the upperclassmen who could show me the ropes and essentially help me adjust to high school.
Also, cross country allows for hours of just chatting. It’s not rare for runners to go on 40 plus minutes of running at what we call easy or conversational pace where essentially they can spend the time chatting while running with their teammates. These mindless conversations are what lead to deep connections between runners and essentially produce lasting friendships.
#5 Cross Country Is Cheap
Cross country is cheap. It basically requires a pair of running shoes and a watch (no fancy one needed). No one has to pay to go for a run outside. This reason is a win for the parents who aren’t looking to spend exorbitant amounts on equipment, gear, and clothes.
#6 Cross Country Is Objective
Athletes or parents do not have to worry about any coach being subjective when it comes to cross country. The stopwatch doesn’t lie, and whoever has the fastest time is the one who gets to earn a spot on varsity. It’s as simple as that, and it’s hard to argue that the coach is playing favorites. I also don’t know of too many cross country teams that make cuts.
Of course there are some exceptions and coaches keep in mind if runners are showing up to practice and working hard. But overall, cross country is mainly objective.
#7 Cross Country Helps With Mental Health
Lastly, running improves mental health. There is a lot of science to back that up. Cross country gets your kids outside, connecting with people, and exercising.
Still to this day, running is my free therapy. Going through a run helps me work through problems and fears. It allows me to think and come up with creative ideas. And it overall makes me happy.
We have a lot of kids on the team who are purely doing cross country to cope with mental health and isolation.
Teenagers will get numerous benefits from cross country.
Every time fall comes around and the air turns crisp and there is a slight chill, I’m transported back to my cross country days, and I miss it. There’s something about lacing up your shoes and just running. It’s truly freeing. Join cross country—you won’t regret it.