Learning from High School Runners

I was a high school cross county and track coach for two years. In this position, I had a unique perspective on what makes different runners excel and fail. The most gratifying experience during my coaching years was to see a runner understand the value of hard work and dedicate himself/herself to becoming as good as possible. It was so fun when a high school student got the “running bug” and had the motivation to train during the weekends and summer months.

On the other hand, it was also a huge disappointment when a student with supreme running talent did not have the will power to take his or her talent to the next level. All too often, the runners with the most natural ability refused to train hard, while the runners with little talent ran seven days per week and gave everything they had. This always seemed so unfair to me – why couldn’t the hard worker have the gift of natural running ability?

During my coaching days, I would happily take seven guys on a cross country team who had no talent, but liked to work hard, over seven guys who had tons of talent but no work ethic. The talented guys might win more meets, but the frustration caused by their wasted ability would drive me crazy.

In my opinion, high school runners – and all runners for that matter – can be broken into two groups. The members of one group only go to practice and runs because their parents told them to go. They run races not for themselves, but so that their coaches and parents won’t get mad at them. This group has no running goals besides the desire to be somewhere else.

The members of the other group go to practice because they want to be there. They run races for themselves in order to achieve their own personal sense of accomplishment. No one has to tell them to run on the weekends or during the summer – in fact, they often must be told to take it easy. They have specific time and place goals and are driven to achieve them.

Unfortunately, in my experience, members of the first group are much more prevalent than members of the second group. With that said, when a team has a few members of the second group, their attitude can rub off on other members of the team and create a great atmosphere. I don’t coach anymore, but my observations of different running attitudes has really stuck with me. My takeaway is this: successful runners run for their own personal fulfillment – not so that they can impress other people. If you run only for external reasons there is no way that you will be running for very long.

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