“That’s, like, just running, right?” Those were my exact words to Josh when he suggested we start cross country (XC) at our school. He argued that it wouldn’t be too hard to start and that we already had the athletes for it. “I don’t know, man.” I said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to do that in high school.”
Five years and eleven XC league titles later, it’s clear that this was one of the best decisions Josh ever made for our school. Watching the XC explosion while we worked together convinced me that it was a great sport for Christian schools. The first sport that I added to the program when I took the athletic director position at my current school was cross country. One year and one league title later, now I look like the genius. If cross country isn’t on your radar, then it needs to be. Here are seven reasons why.
Easy to Start
XC die-hards will hate this next statement, but here it goes anyway:
Cross country is just running. How hard can that be?
Seriously, you can practice anywhere; run around campus, run in a park, run down the street, or just run in a neighborhood.
You also don’t need a full team to start the sport, although we would recommend getting at least five runners since this is the minimum number required for scoring in an official race.
If you run one competitive fall season of about five meets, you’ll pay at most about $800 for the season, including the cost of a basic uniform for your runners. That may sound like a lot of money, but remember you won’t have to schedule officials — a huge expense in other sports.
Your actual cost will vary depending on what league you enter. Some leagues charge an up-front rate and then provide all the meets for you. This is ideal, since you won’t have to worry about paying entry fees into meets every week. Other leagues charge for the championship meet and let you worry about scheduling other meets on your own. This is more costly, but still cost-effective.
Runs Concurrent with and Independent of Other Sports
Cross country season is typically in the fall of the school year. Some teams run in the winter as well, but they’re hard core (and kind of nuts).
We’ve seen cross country operate at the same time as volleyball and soccer, sharing athletes with those two teams, and still be successful.
One way to manage this is by having your XC runners practice before school. This is a hard sell, though, to those who might not be overly-motivated to join the XC team. You can also practice XC after school. Some schools send all their volleyball and soccer players to XC practice for forty-five minutes at the beginning of their practice. After the forty-five minutes, the XC-only runners stay for some extra training while the volleyball/soccer athletes go to their practice.
Meets are typically on Saturdays while team sports rarely play on Saturdays (excepting tournaments).
Camaraderie and School Spirit
If you’ve been to an XC meet, then you likely nodded your head as soon as you read that heading.
Cross country meets typically start Saturday mornings at 8:00 am with a the varsity boys race and end around noon with a middle school race. Teams usually spend down time together, sharing snacks and drinks. Parents typically hang out with the team as well.
The team tent does more to create school spirit in your athletes and families than any banquet, trip, or fundraiser that your school will ever do.
Parents can casually watch all the kids compete and spend time getting to know one another. It’s also a time to build relationships with coaches. Athletic cultures of schools change at cross country meets… for the better.
Trains Mental Toughness
Christian school athletes, stereotypically, are not as tough as athletes at other schools.
Running three miles, against both other runners and the clock, is a great way to develop the mental toughness that all coaches desire in their athletes. After a season of cross country practices and races, you’ll see kids that are less likely to check out or quit on you in other sports seasons.
Runners are tough people. Create runners and you create toughness.
You’ll be hard pressed not to enjoy a cross country meet.
The cross country crowd is a fitness-oriented crowd, and they are happy to see anyone doing their best. Coaches from other schools are worried about their kids competing at their personal best. They don’t necessarily care about beating other teams all the time. They just want their athletes to get the best times that they can.
This attitude creates the most encouraging sports atmosphere you’ve ever been in.
Our kids were blown away by the friendliness of opposing teams, coaches, and fans at their first cross country meet.
We had kids who hated every minute of practice who said after their race, “Cross country might be my new favorite sport.”
Seriously, do you want to feel good about yourself? Go run with some XC runners. Those people are so positive and encouraging.
Unique Opportunities to Excel
We all have athletes that just aren’t cut out for coordinated team sports. Introduce them to cross country. If they can run, then they will take to XC, guaranteed.
It’s a sport where they are totally in control of their success. There’s no pressure from others counting on them to guard someone, make a pass, or keep the ball from dropping. There’s no in-game anxiety, and they’ll be pushing themselves to be a better runner. It’s a win-win.
Warnings Regarding Cross Country
We’ve made XC sound like a can’t miss, but understand that there are some drawbacks as well.
The biggest thing to be on the look out for is overuse injuries.The following overuse injuries may occur, especially in dual-sport athletes:
- Shin splints
- IT band
- hip flexors
- arch pain
- knee pain
Athletes can cope with most of these injuries; however, they are serious and need to be treated carefully. The best way to avoid them is to stretch properly.
Once they occur, then rest and rehabilitation are necessary. If a kid misses one day of XC practice, it’s not the end of the world.
Injuries are tricky, and you certainly don’t want to harm an athlete’s future.
Hopefully, you’ve seen the benefits of cross country at your Christian school. What are your thoughts on cross country in the Christian school athletic department?