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As a cross-country coach and as someone who simply adores the sport of long-distance running, I’ve had many opportunities to witness the incredible benefits that the sport has on adolescent women.
Some girls come in on that first day of practice, hoping to get into and stay in shape for the year. Others come with a weight management goal. Yet others join the team so that they are conditioned for their next sport. Some come with the pure desire to run, and then run some more.
It’s always interesting to see how many continue in cross country after the first few days of practice. The ones that stay often discover a newfound love and respect for running and will then recruit their friends to join the team.
To witness the growth that happens once a girl is on my team is exciting! A few years ago I coached students at an all-girls’ school, some of whom were fairly new to athletics and joined with tentative and somewhat scared looks on their faces. Once they got going, however, they never looked back.
I noticed that in addition to their increased willingness to try harder things in all areas of their lives, their confidence levels in all areas improved exponentially. Since I also taught and supervised these young women in both classroom and dorm, I was able to see changes first-hand. These girls were also more likely to seek out ways to continue their exercise regimen outside of practice because they loved the powerful feeling of moving their bodies through nature without worrying about a ball or a stick, or playing a team sport that required them to sit on the bench and be spectators. Perhaps most importantly, was the fact that these girls began to exhibit a very healthy body image, an awareness of their bodies in space, and increased self-esteem.
Participating in a sport, whether it’s running or something else, can enhance their lives drastically, preparing them to be just as badass in their adult lives as they are when running a hard 5K race as a freshmen or sophomore.