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A Parent’s Guide to Cross Country

Pointers for supporting your student athlete in and out classroom this fall!

Currently, your child is on their journey through 20,000 hours of school. Yes, you read that right. When he or she graduates from high school, they will have been in the classroom for 20,000 hours. Oftentimes in the classroom, your child has decisions being made on their behalf. In fact, their lives are currently filled with choices being made on their behalf. Cross Country and/or Track & Field is probably one of the first (or only things) that gives them the freedom to make their own choices. They choose to be on the team and they choose to do the work, and they choose to allow us to be a part of their world. Receiving praise or affirmation from a parent or loved one after a race or training, probably makes them feel like a superhero. On the contrary, a student athlete may experience criticism and pressure, which can lead to negative emotions toward the sport. Providing your kids with positivity, trust, love, and space - can allow them to take ownership of their running and grow in passion for the sport. 


After coaching high school runners for 11 seasons, I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of student athletes and their parents. Being the parent of a student athlete is a critical role and can oftentimes leave one wondering: “am I doing it right?” Cross Country season is upon us and I have come up with a few pointers to keep in mind as you cheer on your runner this fall!




Progress is Not Linear


This part might anger or disappoint my friends who are engineers and math teachers. No biological or physiological adaptations in the human body grows in a linear slope. Unfortunately, running is not a TPS (Testing Procedure Specification) report. We seek new ways to push bodies further aerobically, anaerobically, and muscularly. Data proves that as the body rests, rebuilds, and adapts to handle these stressors better over time. Somewhere in there are roadblocks and detours such as school, relationships, family, hormones, standardized tests, and friendships (to mention a few). In addition, our children have instant access to their personal rank, team ranking, and competitors which can ultimately lead to unnecessary comparison and race anxiety. As a running culture, we define growth by the year-to-year or week-to-week comparisons and the BIG, bold, red numbers. Fact of the matter is, we have to stop emphasizing and chasing times and focus on exploring the limits of their competitive makeup. 



Sleep is The Ultimate Training Tool


In my first ten years of coaching cross country, we practiced in the mornings. 8:00 AM start meant 8:00 AM start and the team was to wait for no one including myself. This year we practiced in the evenings at 6:00 PM. I thought it was ludacris and foolish! Who wants to go through the whole day (during summer break) knowing they have to practice under the afternoon sun? I was terribly wrong, this schedule allowed for the runners to sleep-in all summer and have a good night’s sleep on a consistent basis. After all, it is summer break! Not to mention, injuries have been minimal-to-nonexistent because the bodies are rested and more alert. There’s time for quality HGH growth. Do you know what the biggest trend amongst professional runners currently is? NAPS! 60-90 minutes naps on a daily basis to allow for maximization of HGH growth. 


School is an Added Stressor


If your student-athlete does two running workouts a week, school can easily be considered the  third workout (and most important). School is stressful. I mentioned the 20,000 hour journey earlier, but it’s important to acknowledge all that is on a student athlete’s plate BEYOND the academic workload. Social pressures, relationships, varsity teams, school clubs, music obligations, weekend tutors, etc. This is a lot on anyone’s plate, let alone a teenager. As a coach, I have to recognize this and adjust individual training plans accordingly. As an adult, I have to recognize this and make sure they’re treated as a young human being, not a robot with a tasklist. 



Thick as Thieves!


The best teams I have been fortunate enough to coach were the ones who were the closest friends! Some great ways to bond a team are pasta dinners and encouraging your athlete to ride the bus back to school after every meet. The truth is, they may never have an opportunity to create these moments later in life. What happens in XC season is something truly magical. The team learns to invest into something bigger than themselves or their own agendas. They invest in relationships, learn the true value of a team, and want to see others succeed more than themselves. It’s a natural pathway of leadership development. 


Best of luck this cross country season and I will see you on the course!



Takashi Gould grew up in Ann Arbor and moved to Okemos in August 2018. He ran at Eastern Michigan University and has been a XC and T/F coach for 12 years.

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