Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cross Country

Maybe it's the three cups of coffee I've had this morning or maybe it's just the anticipation of a good race...probably a combination of the two....but whatever the reason....

I'm antsy.

I'm amped.

I'm nervous.

I'm proud.

I'm a cross country coach with three teams that could win a trophy at today's district meet and the coach of one young lady that can certainly place in the top ten overall in a very competitive 8th grade race.

Cross Country is a weird sport and not one that I ever pictured myself coaching.  I never understood why those soccer girls would purposely run around in the cold weather for such a long distance!  Needless to say, I am not a runner.  That's why I played basketball and volleyball - small courts + time outs = not a lot of running.

But for whatever reason....I really love coaching cross country.  I love seeing kids set personal goals and grow in speed and confidence over the course of the season.  I love watching kids fall in love with a sport that they initially thought they'd hate because in their mind it's just RUNNING but in reality there is so much more to it.

We have five meets total starting right before Thanksgiving and ending the week before Christmas.  The first four meets are between three different schools in the district and each meet is hosted by a high school XC team.  In the regular meets all the runners in each division run together but only the top seven places are scored per team.  The team with the lowest score wins.  Confused yet?  Here is a quick example.

School A:
Runner 1 places 1st = 1 point.
Runner 2 places 5th = 5 points.
Runner 3 places 9th = 9 points.
Total points = 15

School B:
Runner 1 places 3rd = 3 points.
Runner 2 places 4th = 4 points.
Runner 3 places 6th = 6 points.
Total points = 13

School C:
Runner 1 places 2nd = 2 points.
Runner 2 places 7th = 7 points.
Runner 3 places 8th = 8 points.
Total points = 17

So which team won?!  School B because they had the most kids at the front of the race which means the lower point values.  Even though School A had the individual winner of the meet, the other runners did not do well enough to cover the spread.  The district meet is a little different because all 15 middle schools are competing at one time and if ALL the 7th grade girls ran in one race there would easily be over 250 girls running which would be very overwhelming to keep track of.  For the district meet, each school selects seven top runners in each grade and gender division.  Each grade and gender division "Elite" race consists of the seven top runners from each school and their scores are the only ones that count towards our overall place in the district.

There's actually a lot of strategy to coaching cross country - we want our kids to run fast obviously, but the key is having the athletes bunched up in groups.  You want to have a lot of your kids come in at a time because that causes the teams behind you to have higher places which equals a larger point total.  We also focus on starting the race off strong, settling into a good pace and saving JUST enough energy for that final kick of speed right at the end.  A meet can easily be won or lost in the last 100 yards depending on who has enough gas left in their tank to sprint ahead and take the advantage.

At our school we have two coaches working with the cross country kids - myself and the head football coach.  We have different strengths and use those to our advantage - I take care of all the paperwork (creating and handing out info packets and calendars and collecting t-shirt money, etc.) while the football coach takes care of planning practices and varying the routes we run through the neighborhood.  Cross Country is easy to coach because the practices are short (45 minutes) and they're relatively hands-off (make sure they're stretched and send them on their route).

So where am I going with all this technical stuff?  Well...we're a small school.  We only have about 650 kids total in the three grades and only the 7th and 8th graders are eligible to participate in athletics like Cross Country.  We compete against schools that have over a thousand kiddos (my husband's school is one of them) and that means those coaches have a lot more athletic depth to choose from when selecting kids for their teams.  We are automatically at a disadvantage just because we don't have the numbers - our pickings are a lot slimmer.  But this year.....we might not have the QUANTITY but we sure have the QUALITY.  Our 8th grade boys are absolutely phenomenal kids.  Definitely a group of special athletes - they aren't just great on the court, the field or the course, they're also hard workers who are polite and funny.  Most of them also happen to look me straight in the eye (and I'm 6'0 tall!) if not DOWN at me because they're taller!  The 8th grade boys won district last year as 7th graders and they completely blew away the competition - out of 100 boys running in the Elite race, we had THREE place in the top 10!  That's totally unheard of in a pool of that many athletes.

I know.  I'm getting really specific and detailed in this post.  But there is a point!  I promise!

Our seventh grade girls totally blew me away this year by being fast little runners and they've won every single meet of the season!  I didn't know what to expect from my 7th grade boys and they too are awesome winning three meets and getting second in the fourth.  And the 8th grade girls?!  Well....they certainly try hard and I've got one girl who can place in the meet and win a ribbon.

So.  That leads me to this afternoon.  We are poised to really do something special and something that has never been done at Forestwood in recent history - bring home THREE trophies from the district meet.  I have tried not to put TOO much pressure on the kids because I don't want them to freak themselves out, but at the same time I want them to understand how great they truly are and to live up to their potential.

Okay.  I wrote this blog earlier but didn't publish it.  Here are the results from the meet - 
7th grade boys: 3rd place overall, one in top ten
7th grade girls: 2nd place overall, three in top ten
8th grade girls: 12th place overall, one in top ten
8th grade boys: 1st place overall, first place individual, three in top ten

Holy cow.  I am one proud Mamma Bear Coach.  It's funny - last year I was proud of the boys for their win.  I like winning and I was excited to bring home the trophy.  But this year....maybe it's because of Natalie or maybe it's just because I know these kids so well having had them at school for three years....but I was almost in tears when I found out the results.  They worked so hard all season and really dedicated themselves to achieving their goals.  I got such joy out of watching them hoot and holler in the pavilion about their total domination of the meet.  What a great lesson for these kids - to see their hard work and dedication really pay off.  I can't wait to celebrate with everyone at school tomorrow.

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