The Beauty of Coaching Cross Country

My background is in other sports, but I can't seem to get enough of this cross country thing - or at least being a part of it. Maybe it's because it's a sport where there are so many ways to win. Even if you finish 89th overall, if you ran your best time that's a victory. If your team places 7th among 10 teams, there are probably some who still ran a pr.. another win. 

 In most sports, things seem cut and dry, left or right. Often you either win or you lose.. period. I get you can do well, improve, and still lose, but still, as one who has coached other sports, I never run out of ways to be and feel positive than when I'm standing at a cross country finish line or addressing my kids the following Monday.

 And about those kids, if I beat you at most other sports or lose to you for that matter, it's easy to feel a sense of superiority over or beneath your opponent. In cross country, whether you run a 15 minute 5K or a 30 minute one, you still both sweated, suffered, endured, persevered. Each finish line is a bond of brother and sisterhood. Mutual respect all around, sweaty hugs and handshakes. 

I can still remember my "rival" when I lived in West Palm, how we'd turn in about the same times, kept each other on each other's radar screen during every step. Fifteen years later I still haven't forgotten him , and it's all good as he made me better. I'd like to say I did the same for him. If I saw him now, I'd hug him in appreciation for seeing him again, sharing stories of finish lines, hills, and humid race conditions.

These thoughts aren't to put anything down. I spent 40 plus years as a tennis guy, some of my best friends to this day I met through cross courts, down the lines, serves, and volleys. So be it and God bless each and every one of them. Still, it's summer as I write this and at the end of this very month, 100 kids will gather before me. Skinny, gangly, angles andelbowed youth, some nervous, some serious, some signing up just for something to do or maybe opportunities to flirt with the hot girl in chemistry class. I welcome them all. Some will cross the finish line almost before I can walk there from the start. As for others, I could watch an episode of the Goldberg's and still have time to find my pen, turn to a blank page, wait on them. So be it, bring them and it on.  

And last but not least, this is a sport where often I admire the slow runners as much as the fleet of feet. Most of you know the type, the ones who show up every day, do the workout, toe the starting lines and cross the finishes. No hype, No PRs, No collegiate coaches waiting to sell you their campus. Just sweat. Guts. Perseverance... 'something' keeps them going. Something I feel will make them successful in life if they'll only let it. Something that makes me glad the last place finisher gets as much applause as the first.

Enough for now, I must go. There are starting guns going off inside my head. I hear the pitter patter of 100-plus adolescent feet. Time to reset my watch. Time to get ready.,  have a great season!

- Dunn Neugebauer
- Co-head coach at Holy Innocents' Episcopal School