Cross Country Running Tips for Parents

Cross Country Running Tips for Parents

A Parents First Cross Country Meet

If your child has decided to join the high school cross country team, you may be wondering what to expect from this sport that involves running long distances over various terrains. Cross country is not just a physical challenge, but also a mental and emotional one, for both runners and parents. Here are some tips and insights to help you prepare for your first cross country meet and support your child’s passion for running.

What is cross country running?

Cross country running is a sport that originated in England in the 19th century as a way of training for track and field events. It involves running over natural surfaces such as grass, dirt, mud, hills, and sometimes obstacles like logs or creeks. Cross country races vary in distance, but typically range from 3 to 6 kilometers (1.9 to 3.7 miles) for high school runners1.
Unlike track or road races, cross country races are not based on pace, but on effort. Runners have to adjust their speed and strategy according to the terrain, elevation, and weather conditions. They also have to compete against other runners in a crowded field, sometimes with hundreds of participants. Cross country races are usually scored by team, with the top five finishers from each team earning points based on their place2.

Why is cross country running beneficial?

Cross country running is a great way to improve your child’s fitness, endurance, strength, and coordination. It also teaches them valuable life skills such as discipline, teamwork, goal-setting, perseverance, and resilience. Cross country runners learn how to cope with challenges, overcome obstacles, and deal with failure and success3.
Cross country running can also boost your child’s self-esteem, confidence, and mental health. Running releases endorphins, which are natural chemicals that make you feel happy and reduce stress. Running also provides an outlet for your child’s energy and emotions, and helps them develop a positive body image and a healthy lifestyle4.

How can you support your child’s cross country running?

As a parent, you play an important role in your child’s cross country experience. Here are some ways you can support them:

  • Encourage them to have fun and enjoy the sport. Don’t put too much pressure on them to win or perform well. Praise their effort and improvement rather than their results.
  • Help them find the right running shoes and gear for their foot type and running style. Visit a local running store for advice and recommendations5. Some cross country runners wear spikes or trail running shoes for better traction on uneven surfaces.
  • Provide them with healthy and balanced meals and snacks before and after races. Avoid foods that are high in fat, sugar, or fiber that may cause stomach upset or cramps. Hydrate them well with water or sports drinks.
  • Attend their races and cheer them on. Be respectful of other runners, parents, coaches, and officials. Learn the rules and etiquette of cross country racing. Bring a camera or a smartphone to capture their moments of glory.
  • Help them cope with injuries or setbacks. Cross country running can be physically demanding and sometimes lead to injuries such as shin splints, stress fractures, or sprains. If your child gets injured, consult a doctor or a physical therapist and follow their advice on recovery and prevention. Encourage your child to rest, ice, compress, and elevate their injured area. Be supportive and empathetic if your child feels frustrated or disappointed with their performance.
  • Celebrate their achievements and milestones. Whether it’s finishing their first race, setting a personal record, or qualifying for a championship, acknowledge your child’s hard work and dedication. Reward them with something they enjoy, such as a movie night, a pizza party, or a new book.

What to expect from your first cross country meet?

Your first cross country meet may be overwhelming at first, but it can also be exciting and fun. Here are some things to expect:

  • The setting matters. Races can range from small meets with just a few teams lining up in a parking lot, to large invitationals with colorful tents, banners flying and packs of kids running around in every possible shade of bright matching singlets. It can feel more like a medieval fair than a modern day sporting event.
  • The course varies. Each cross country course is different in terms of distance, terrain, elevation, and difficulty. Some courses are flat and fast, while others are hilly and challenging. Some courses have loops or out-and-back sections that allow you to see your child multiple times during the race. Before the race starts, walk or jog the course with your child to get familiar with it.
  • The weather changes. Cross country races are held in all kinds of weather conditions: sun, rain, wind, snow, or anything in between. Dress appropriately for the weather and bring extra layers, umbrellas, hats, gloves, or blankets. Be prepared for mud, puddles, or slippery surfaces on the course.
  • The start is chaotic. Cross country races usually start with a mass start, where all the runners line up in rows behind a starting line. When the gun goes off, they sprint to get a good position and avoid getting boxed in or tripped by other runners. The start can be loud, crowded, and hectic, so make sure your child knows where to line up and how to pace themselves.
  • The finish is thrilling. Cross country races end with a finish chute, where runners funnel into a narrow lane marked by flags or cones. They cross a finish line and receive a place card or a chip that records their time and place. The finish can be exhilarating, exhausting, or emotional, depending on how your child feels about their race. Give them a hug, a high-five, or a word of encouragement.
Cross country running is a rewarding sport that can enrich your child’s life in many ways. By following these tips and insights, you can make your first cross country meet a memorable and enjoyable experience for both of you. Happy running!
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