So there I am, sitting in a restaurant in San Diego with my co-worker, June, when my phone lights up and I see a text from my sister. I hadn’t talked to her in a few days, so I checked the message and saw this:
Immediately I remembered the 45 minute phone interview I had with Peter Sagal in January and the long run he, myself and my friend Vic had done in January of last year and got excited. It was out! The Runner’s World article Peter said he had been trying to write for a year (afterall, he is a busy man with all of his engagements, including hosting my favorite NPR show, Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me!) was finally done and in print in the May 2013 issue.
Last year, Peter, Vic and I had met for a long run when Peter was in Phoenix for an NPR fundraiser and our conversation traveled all around, covering things like our backgrounds, our college experiences, insane love for Michigan sports (more so Vic and I) and how we began running. Peter wanted to know if we had any advice for him in terms of getting his musically and artistically inclined daughters into athletics of any kind. This conversation lasted for at least three miles with discussion of how sports for kids and teens have become so competitive that they are more intimidating than exciting for those who may just want to participate, rather than seek a college scholarship from their achievements.
How to make everyone feel important or welcome? My answer wandered into the territory of making the whole athletic experience more fun, light and social. Not everyone wants to be the best athlete on the field, track or pitch, and I think that some coaches and parents may have forgotten this along the way, given the insane sporting competitiveness that exists at such a young age. Pre-teens and teens are inherently social creatures, so what is wrong with allowing a team of girls and guys chat and gossip while they warm up or stretch before that day’s workout?
Is a coach yelling at his or her athletes necessary? No. Not ever in my book. The coach sets the tone and if he or she is able to understand where his or her athletes are coming from, the athletes will be able to connect better. Besides, who ever really responds to yelling, anyway?
In my line of work we are constantly talking about knowing your customer, understanding their needs, and engaging them. I find it ironic how similar this idea is to coaching young adults. Though teenagers may be difficult sometimes, I can assure you that if they are spoken to in a way that conveys understanding of their perspective, situation and (sometimes perceived) plight, they will be more responsive. We all want to be understood and feel welcome, so I think that is the key to getting anyone, of any age, motivated to get involved in some endeavor. Especially in athletics at a young age.
I’ve always been an athlete; my parents didn’t need to force me into all of the sports I played (OK, maybe one or two), so my intrinsic motivation differs from someone whose parents “made” them try out for a team. By being forced to attend a daily practice, feet drag even more. If only a sport existed- and it does!- that welcomed everyone, fosters team bonding through a common goal and encourages self improvement not just through athletic prowess, then I really feel like we’ll be on to something.
It’s called cross country. While there is a varsity and JV team, everyone practices together and in many races, everyone toes the line at the same time, so you get to race with your teammates, feel that pain at the same time and bond over the struggle of completing an exceptionally hard course. Nothing grows a bond between people more than experiencing a similar struggle and celebrating the highlights together.
But I digress.
I relish my memories of middle school through collegiate cross country and some of my best friends came not from being forced on the same team, but by coming together and being open to each other’s differences, lightening heavy moments, being present when a race or workout didn’t go as well as planned and allowing ourselves to enjoy being young, competitive, strong female athletes. I can only hope that young women and men approaching high school get to experience the fun and camaraderie that sports can bring to an individual’s life and feelings of fear or nonacceptance will go the way of the dinosaurs.
While it can manifest in different ways, we all just want to have a good time. That Carly Rae Jepsen really does have the right idea. Man, I just said that, didn’t I? Whatevs.