September 10, 2019

The Best Cross Country Practice Ever

Hardcore speed work today.

I wish I could say that I am referring to my own speed work today (I haven't done speed work in FOREVER), but I am actually referring to my cross country kids. I cannot even describe how proud I am right now as a coach!

I've been having a hard time getting them to run faster at practice (we do a long easy run day, a short tempo run day, and a speed-work-at-the-track day each week). The tempo runs have been even slower than the easy runs lately, and it's been driving me crazy!

Our first race is next Tuesday, and I really wanted to get the kids moving FAST at least once before then. So, today I gave them a choice--a timed mile or 100-meter sprints. The kids all hate the timed mile (because it's so hard!) so they chose sprints (I was laughing inside because I knew they'd regret that decision--not to mention hate me--by the end of practice, haha).

The incentives that you guys have donated from Amazon have been so so so helpful, and today was the best. To earn the awards (socks, headbands, running jewelry, wrist bands, wrist water bottles, shoelaces, key chains, and all sorts of goodies) they have to use a point system that I made.

They earn points for:

  • Two points for giving their best effort at practice
  • One point for each mile run
  • Five points for each consecutive mile run (no walking, no stopping)
  • Five points for hitting their goal at practice (I give each of them a personal goal based on their abilities for each practice)
  • Points for milestones like: 30 cumulative miles, 40 cumulative miles, etc.; running a personal best at a time trial or race; and any "bonus" points I come up with to motivate them on something that is particularly tough.

I keep a balance of their points earned, and then at each practice, they can "spend" their points on the awards (I've given each award a points value).

So, today I told them that they will do 12 x 100 meters with a 100-meter walk to recover in between. I said they would get two points for each sprint that they did their best on (I stayed at the "finish line" and yelled--so much that I lost my voice!--to keep them going strong. I also kept a tally of each sprint for each kid.) I want them to really work on perfecting that last kick of the races, where they need to give it everything they have.

I explained how running is 90% mental, and I demonstrated that to them by the fact that each and every kid did 13 or more sprints (when they only had to do 12).

Before they started, I told them that after running three sprints, they were going to wish they picked the timed mile; after six, they were going to want to quit; after nine, they were going to hate me; and after 12, they were going to want to quit cross country altogether. Haha!

After the 12th sprint for each of them, I pushed them to do one more. I told them they have to dig deep to find that even though they want to quit, they have just a little more in them to push hard and do more than what they think they can do.

I also told them that if they do more than 12, they could pick one prize for "free" (not having to use their points on it).

All the kids were drenched in sweat (and from pouring water on themselves) by the end of practice, and I loved it! I think today was my favorite practice I've ever done. I feel like I really got through to them.

As I yelled during their sprints, I was telling them things to keep them focused--don't look around, don't talk, DO NOT SLOW DOWN BEFORE THE FINISH LINE (always a problem at races--they tend to slow their pace just steps from the finish line and get passed at the last split-second), pass the person in front of them, focus on a spot straight ahead and don't think about anything except cross that finish line.

Sometimes, coaching fourth and fifth graders feels less like coaching and more like babysitting; but today I felt like a genuine coach, and it was great!

The kids were thrilled to choose their awards after finishing their sprints. I can't thank you guys enough for sending them! I know I've said it several times, I want you to know that I genuinely mean it and I am so touched by the generous people in this world. You are making a big difference for these kids! I'm so excited each time I hear one of the kids say that they "love cross country". Cross country is running--not exactly a "fun" sport--so getting them to love it is a challenge ;)

Anyway, I don't have any pictures for today's post, so here's an old favorite of me coaching (in 2017). When I was thinner and in better shape ;)  I had told the kids that if they did extra intervals, they could each pour a cup of cold water on my head!


  1. I like your points value award system. I bet the kids are having a lot of fun with cross country as they learn what they can do.


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