August 22, 2022

First Cross Country Practice of the Season

A few months ago, I started thinking about cross country; if you're new here, I used to coach cross country (as a volunteer) with my friend Renee for third through fifth graders. My last season of coaching was in 2019, and Renee took over for two years. When I started thinking of it recently, the idea kept nagging at me--should I coach again?

I mentioned it to Renee and we both got excited by the idea of coaching together again. We talked about it when Jerry and I went to Dave and Renee's house and as the weeks passed, I started to feel regretful that I said I'd do it. I was really nervous to start fresh with a new group of kids (the other kids I coached have all moved on to middle school).

Renee and I work really well together--she is great at gathering information, passing info to the parents, setting up the meets, etc. I thrive on creating running plans and creative ideas to get kids motivated. Also, Renee is very sweet to the kids while I am a slightly toned-down version of Jillian Michaels ;) 

I absolutely LOVE coaching kids who love to run and who want to get better at it. Of course, not all of the kids who join are there for those reasons--there are usually only three or so--but they are my favorite to coach. There was one boy today who asked me after practice if he could run at home as well and count it toward his mileage. He is one of the kids who is serious about running, so I told him to talk to me at practice tomorrow and I'd help him figure out a plan to safely get some extra running at home.

Anyway, a rundown of today's practice:

It was my second-favorite practice of the season--a one-mile time trial! It's awful and everyone hates it because it's SO challenging (the kids run a mile as fast as they can). My favorite practice, then, is the time trial at the end of the season--we get to see how much the kids improved their time from the first day!

Today, we did a short warm-up jog (I didn't want them to get worn out before they even started) and some dynamic stretching. Then I explained the time trail.

Side note: If you're a coach (I get a lot of coaches who read my cross country posts) I have a life-changing way of keeping track of mileage--the humble rubber band. Just a regular old rubber band that are like 100 for $1. Each rubber band represents one lap of wherever they are running; where we practice, three laps around the park is a mile. Since I wanted the kids to run one mile (three laps) I gave them each three rubber bands to wear on their wrists. Each time they pass the starting point, they take off a rubber band and drop it in a bucket. That makes it easy for them to see how far they have left. 

Also, the rubber bands work great for long runs--instead of giving them the bands before they start, they take one and put it on their wrist each time they pass the start. Then at the end, we add up their rubber bands and figure out their mileage that way. If I have a goal for one of them to run X number of laps, then I'll start them with that number and see if they can do it. There are so many ways to use them!

For the time trail, I gave them each three rubber bands for their wrists. Then Renee blew the whistle and they were off! As always, some of the boys took off like a bat out of hell (that phrase reminds me of Mark so much) and then they slowed WAY down just a minute or so into it, haha. Teaching kids how to pace themselves is the hardest part about coaching them--seriously.

To keep track of each kid's time requires a little more effort. I had some index cards and I wrote a number on each one (1-20, because we expected about 15-20 kids). I kept them in a stack in order. I used a stopwatch app to keep track as each kid finished--when they finished their third lap, Renee handed them the card (the first kid to finish gets #1, the second gets #2, etc.). The laps on my app are numbered, so when everybody is finished, I look at their card to see what place they were in and then compare it to the times on my app. That way, I can get accurate times for them without trying to write anything down while the trial is going on. Sounds complicated, but it's actually much easier than trying to shout out numbers that the kids don't understand at all.

I was very impressed with this group of kids! They all put in a great effort and there was very little walking. I told them that if it feels too hard, they should slow down, but keep running.

After the time trial was a game of Sharks & Minnows (a version of tag) and then some static stretching. I explained about prizes this year--last time, I did a points system where they could earn points and spend them on prizes. It got tedious trying to keep track of their points, so I'm going to keep it simple this time: as they accumulate miles, there will be awards for reaching numbers like 10 miles, 20, etc. I figured that this will motivate them to run more at practice.

I have a few prizes left from the last time I coached (I cannot thank you enough for donating prizes/reward!! It was SO helpful! And your retired Garmin Forerunners--the kids love using them and it makes them feel so special to wear a "fancy" running watch.) The Amazon wish list for the team a couple of years ago was so fun--the kids loved seeing the prizes people donated--and I *think* I may make another one for this season. I always feel bad asking for donations for anything, but I feel like donating rewards for kids' cross country is a selfless wish list ;) 

The first practice went great and I think we have a good group of kids this season. It'll take me forever to learn their names (I wish I was good at that!). We have practice tomorrow and again Thursday (I'll be coaching on my own on Thursday).

Anyway, today's practice was just what I needed to forget about all the stress I have going on right now. Hoping for a fun season!


  1. I love "I'm a slightly toned-down version of Jillian Michaels." I can see that. Good work here.

  2. My son just entered 6th grade and agreed to try cross country, but told me last night he wants to quit. I'm so bummed! He said it's boring because all they do is run (HA!). I think the coaches are good, but I don't think they're quite as engaging as you!


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