A Parent's Role In Cross Country

An athlete competes at the 2021 The Woodlands Friday Night Lights Inv.
Photo Credit: Shelton Jolivette/MileSplit TX

-Written by Lori Wilcox, MileSplit writer and mother of a scholarship runner at Oklahoma State University

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Cross Country is a unique sport - one that requires consistent training and discipline. Parents and fans line the course on race day to cheer on a favorite runner and their team.  But what are the best things parents can do throughout the season and high school career of a cross country runner?

For starters, be as involved as you possibly can and get to know the coach and team.  XC coaches are very unique, in that they coach their kids year-round.  Most aren't paid for the summer training they provide, but they realize that summer can make or break a season.  It's also a more relaxed time for the team to bond.  And important note - if your athlete doesn't train consistently over the summer, they will be miserable when the season starts.   

Learn about the sport.  There are individual stars, but it's a team sport.  There are introverts, extroverts and everything in between.  And it's one of the only sports where all team members compete at each meet.    

Cross Country is not subjective.  Kids put in the work and they can see improvement throughout the season.  It's inspiring to watch kids blossom, as they realize the merits of consistent hard work and discipline.

It's a fact - high school kids don't always communicate effectively.  Go to parent and booster club meetings and listen to the coach.  Read team emails and talk to veteran parents.  Learn the importance of terms like "carb loading" and "electrolytes."  Understand that training shoes need to be replaced after a certain amount of mileage, and that those shin splints could have been prevented.  Coaches tell athletes these important things, but the message doesn't always make it home.

Photo Credit: Shelton Jolivette/MileSplit TX

Trust the coach.  Don't think that you know more than the coach.  Encourage open lines of communication, as high schoolers should be able to speak for themselves.  Be adamant that your child report pain or injuries immediately.  Nothing positive comes from hiding issues.   

No matter the talent level of your athlete, he or she is part of a team and should act accordingly.  Remind them - locker room shenanigans, inappropriate social media posts and behavior on and off campus should reflect positively on the student and the team.  A coach never wants to bench anyone.  And athletes don't want to miss part of their season due to a self-inflicted scandal.

Help your child find balance.  A core value of distance running is discipline.  Some high school athletes achieve early success and want to take things to the next level.  They begin taking extreme measures with certain things they can control, like a highly restrictive diet.  The teen brain doesn't comprehend the short and long-term physical damage this may cause.  And when a highly trained, disciplined athlete can't perform - mental health can suffer.  So encouraging a good life balance is important. 

College athletic aspirations?  Athletes should consult with their coach for realistic expectations with regard to recruiting.  And yes, grades do matter.  Most XC/T&F scholarships aren't full rides, but can be combined with academic money.  Keep coaches in the loop, as your athlete emails coaches expressing interest in their program.  Many high school coaches have competed and coached at the collegiate level.  They are an invaluable resource.   

Most of all - enjoy this time with your kid and their teammates.  One of the best parent tips is that sometimes volunteering to "help the team" is a good cover story, as a way to make your presence acceptable.  And you might make some great friends along the way.