Anybody who has played sports has run at some point. But what about running as a sport? Cross country season is underway now, and it's a sport that attracts many athletes eager for its unique blend of competition and camaraderie.
Tom Cuffe is a former All-American steeplechaser who has coached cross country and track at the high school level and is now a volunteer assistant at Duke University. He believes that more parents should look at running as a quality option for their child. It’s something he thinks most people are simply missing out on.
“Without knowledge of this thing, we cannot build upon it,” said Cuffe, who has more than 30 years of experience as a high school coach. “We need to market the sport at the grassroots level and to get as many young people involved in the sport so they can see the beauty and the great benefits of a lifetime sport of running.”
Cuffe not only talks the talk about running being a lifetime sport but he also runs the run. He is still an avid runner, assists with many running camps and works as an administrator in the running community. This is one of the distinct features of running, he points out, is that athletes can remain involved later in life, whether on a competitive or recreational level.
The New York native says that running attracts a kind of person who has an innate ability to motivate athletes through rigorous training. This helps when it comes to leading in cross country, track and later in life.
“What’s interesting about our sport is that a good number of our coaches are these really charismatic people that young people gravitate to as well as the parents,” Cuffe said. “A lot of those coaches just exude confidence and buoy their charges by motivation, life lessons above everything else and then the training and competition.”
Most states generally have three running seasons: cross country in the fall, indoor track in the winter and outdoor track in the spring. The athletes who are the most committed perform in all three, while others can pick and choose, leaving certain seasons open to play other sports.
Sports like baseball and basketball naturally hold more cache for their team environments, but it’s lesser known that cross country is a team sport in its own right, Cuffe notes. While individuals run their own races, their scores count together as a team. There is also a special togetherness created in enduring difficult workouts and simply in bonding together.
“When they are in something as simple as a stretching routine and they are bantering about or talking about the events of the day, it becomes about young men and young women coming together,” Cuffe said.
And while running has its unique challenges, there is a significant payoff.
“We’re going to work on getting your youngster fitter, faster and also give them all of these things – life lessons, discipline and loyalty," Cuffe said. "(We’ll) create this culture of excellence academically, athletically, socially and spiritually. That’s what we’re about.”
From GameChanger and Santosh Venkataraman