Sadly, my final year of assistant coaching the West Bend West girls cross country team has closed. In addition to running coach, pop psychologist, and relationship guru, I sported a new bit part this season as comedian-in-residence. My girls demand one stupid joke a day, and they also found out I write a sports book blog, thinking that was pretty damn solid comedy as well.
Anyways, they begged me to include them in a blog post, and I will do one better--I will write one for them(A serious one!! Gasp!)--and of course recommend some books!
Coaching high school girls has been an experience for sure. Moreso than guys, a coach of high school girls needs to provide a shoulder to cry on, a place to vent, infinite advice on the male psyche, and a really high tolerance for crappy music played loudly. There are moods galore; the highs after good races are boundless, and the lows after poor races are stiffling. Nobody gets down on themselves more than female runners. I can use a "get em next week" speech with any guy, but females usually burst into tears at the sound of a good pick-me-up. In a very serious way, their confidence is fragile to start, and can often spiral out of control until parents, friends, and coaches can no longer provide rationalization or support.
For that reason, my parting advice and suggestions to you, my beloved runners, follows the sentiment in the book Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor. Since you probably weren't paying much attention to the running world until recently, Kastor's background is summarized as such:
Deena Kastor was a star youth runner with tremendous promise, yet her career almost ended after college, when her competitive method—run as hard as possible, for fear of losing—fostered a frustration and negativity and brought her to the brink of burnout. On the verge of quitting, she took a chance and moved to the high altitudes of Alamosa, Colorado, where legendary coach Joe Vigil had started the first professional distance-running team. There she encountered the idea that would transform her running career: the notion that changing her thinking—shaping her mind to be more encouraging, kind, and resilient—could make her faster than she’d ever imagined possible. Building a mind so strong would take years of effort and discipline, but it would propel Kastor to the pinnacle of running—to American records in every distance from the 5K to the marathon—and to the accomplishment of earning America’s first Olympic medal in the marathon in twenty years.
In translation, this book takes a peek inside the mind of an elite female runner. You may say, "I'm not elite, so this wouldn't work for me." Wrong. Elite or not, the mind works the same way. While the achievements of Kastor are worth reading about, the idea of cultivating a positive attitude and self confidence is the true nugget of wisdom here. In all my years and wisdom (and yes, I had teenage daughters who ran) I have found the mind of a female runner to be perfectionist, highly reflective, and intelligent. While these are great qualities, when channeled incorrectly, they can turn that same brilliant mind against itself into a monsterous self critic.
I have dealt with many female runners who had trouble climbing out of pits of debilitating self doubt. When your belief in yourself has abandoned you, there is not much left to lean on. Such was the case this past year with a graduating runner(you probably know her). Luckily, Kastor's book had just dropped, and as a graduation gift, I wrapped up the book and wrote a little note hoping that there might be one thing gained from reading the book that would stem the tide of self doubt and alter her mind's course as she headed to college.
A month later, I was met with a gratefulness that was genuine, and introspection that showed maturity. Clearly this girl had not just read the book, but was able to relay how it had literally changed her life. There were revelations that perhaps poor performaces were not due to physical shortcomings, but rather mental wavering. There was a sadness that mental bumps may have derailed seasons of promise--that full potential was being stiffled by a mind that wouldn't let the body believe that the next level could be attatined. Through Kastor's book, this runner was armed with a new confidence heading into her new college running experience. There was a greater awareness of the power of positive thought and the fact the building a sharp mind to promote self confidence was as important as building miles on the road.
Another book in the same vein that just came out, but I have not seen yet, is Strong: A Runner's Guide to Boosting Confidence and Becoming the Best Version of You by 2 time Olympian runner Kara Goucher. This book looks to give the same type of confidence boosting advice to female runners.
Those of you who aren't freshmen remeber the great article Coach J pulls out every year during the championship phase of the season about "Talking Back to the Voice." In it, runners are coached to not let voices of negativity into their heads. And when those defeatist thoughts do creep in, you need to "talk back" to that voice with affirmations and positivity that override the bad sentiments. By training your mind to say no, you are blocking those rogue emotions that say "You can't do that!" and talking back with "I CAN!" and "I WILL!"
I would get you all copies of Kastor's book, but on a teachers salary, I'd be eating rice for the rest of the year. Do yourself a favor and read it. Mark it up; pull some inspiring quotes and stories out and set out to improve. Don't be so hard on yourself and believe in the best version of who you are--because it is a pretty great one. I should know--I've run alongside you for many miles.
Best hopes, dreams, and wishes to all of you and thanks for the memories! Coach S