The Ultimate of Team Sports
By Mike Smith
“I don’t see how cross country is a team sport.”
As a coach that has been in the sport for more than twenty years, I hear this a lot from many people. As they see it, it’s one person out there, alone, trying to run as fast as they can around the prescribed course. Yes, they understand the top five score points, but they see it as five individuals counted up to make a team score. Not really much of a team effort there.
But I beg to differ.
In the past I tried to explain how you could strategize, run as a group to get the benefit of the pack and help each other out when someone is having an off day. All great examples of how the sport is a team sport, but also easy for those outside the sport to think of as not real reasons. I’ve learned when someone like that says, “I don’t understand…”, they are usually right. They don’t understand.
But to be truthful, those examples are probably the worst examples of what makes cross country a team sport and possibly the ultimate team sport.
Let’s look at what makes a group of athletes a team. They work together to try to finish with the best outcome they can on that day. They do their part, pay their percentage of the cost so to speak, and the results are what they are. But that really doesn’t get to the heart of what makes a group of athletes a team. While racing is the outcome of the entire season, it’s not what being a team is about.
In cross country, more so than any high school sport, everyone on the team is working for the exact same outcome, their fastest time over the 5 kilometer course. In turn that means everyone on the team is training together, day in, day out. While other teams practice together, most teams have their specialties and team members break up into groups to train or practice at their different disciplines. In cross country, in most cases, all the athletes on the team are doing the same workouts, maybe adjusted to meet their needs, but essentially the same workouts. They encounter the same race conditions, have the same prep work, coached by the same person, getting the same instructions. Day in, day out, through the entire season, working side by side, stride by stride, with their teammates. What other sport does this? Not even track.
I believe this is why many athletes gravitate to cross country, for the brotherhood and sisterhood hard to find in other sports. Nothing like hill repeats in 80+ degree weather to help forge soul mates. Nothing like lacing up your racing spikes, unable to feel your fingers due to the cold to build camaraderie. Nothing like the never relenting work day in, day out to build the framework of an ultimate team. No other sport can claim this fact. No one can fully comprehend it, unless they live the experience.
So the next time someone says to you that they don’t see how cross country is a team sport, I suggest you nod your head and say, “You’re right.”
Good luck to everyone this upcoming cross country season.