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Why cross-country's positive culture works for kids

Like every sport, cross-country certainly has winners. But unlike other sports, it doesn't have any losers.
Rob Jenkins, Deseret News Modified: July 7, 2014 at 9:27 am •  Published: July 7, 2014
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Every sport or pastime has its unique culture. Sometimes we’re drawn to an activity partly because of its culture — and sometimes we participate in spite of it.

As a life-long basketball player and coach, I’ve been saddened to watch the dominant culture of that sport grow increasingly belligerent, violent, narcissistic and misogynistic. Last spring, I stepped away from coaching basketball after 26 years at various levels. I still love the game. I just couldn’t stomach the culture.

But you know what they say: one door closes, another opens. When my youngest son discovered a talent for running and joined his high school cross-country team, I was introduced to a culture of support, caring and camaraderie such as I never expected to find in the world of competitive sports.

And make no mistake — cross-country is competitive. It’s not some mamby-pamby after-school activity where everybody gets a trophy. The kids want to perform well, and they train as hard as any athletes I’ve ever been around. As my son, who also plays basketball, put it: “Compared to cross-country practice, basketball practice is nothing.”

It’s just that, in cross-country, competition is reserved mostly for the athletes. One thing that soured me on basketball was seeing how invested the parents can get, and how that leads to anger and even violence. I’ve watched basketball parents yell at their kids, yell at other people’s kids, yell at each other, yell at the coach. I’ve even seen them confront coaches or other parents after a game, which can create some pretty volatile situations.