In the September/October issue, 2009, of RunOhio, “Life Lessons from Cross-Country” first appeared. In this month’s issue, an updated and revised version of the original article is presented. In an attempt to keep our wonderful sport vibrant and relevant in our athletic world, we must sell it and communicate how special it truly is to parents, coaches, athletic administrators, and others who are involved.

Cross-country is a sport that teaches many life lessons that our current culture does not promote or fails to emphasize. These traits not only will help athletes perform better, but they will make their lives better, long after they have crossed the finish line for the last time. The following are examples of many of these life lessons:

    •    Patience, not instant gratification – It takes months and years to develop a distance runner. Instant success is rare.

              “I’ve learned anything in life worth having comes from
               patience and hard work.” (Greg Behrendt)                       

    •    Hard work – There are no shortcuts to success. The magnitude of the rewards are proportional to the effort that is put into the sport.

“There may be people who have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.” (Derek Jeter)

    •    Intrinsic rewards – Unfortunately, many times there is little public recognition given to even the elite performers in cross-country; however, the satisfaction that an athlete receives if he or she is truly passionate is immeasurable. Extrinsic rewards should not be neglected, but they cannot become the primary focus if long-term success is to be achieved in this, the loneliest of sports.

              “It wasn’t the reward that mattered or the recognition you
               might harvest. It was your depth of commitment, your quality
               of service, the product of your devotion – these were the
               things that counted in a life.” (Capt. Scott O’Grady)

    •    Responsibility for personal health – The body is a temple, and you are given only one; therefore it is paramount that we take care of it. Eating correctly, getting the proper amount of rest, and drinking fluids are important to success in cross-country, and they are some of the key ingredients to living a healthy life.

The obesity rate in the 12-19 year old age group is 20.6%.

    •    Not placing first – Being the very best that you can be, regardless of where you finish, is the goal of every runner. Getting the most out of your ability will lead to success in nearly all your endeavors.

“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths.” (Arnold Schwarzeneger)

    •    Team success – Cross-country is truly a team sport. Without all of the team working together, the team will not succeed. This is also true of anything else in life.

             “No man is more important than the team. No coach is more
              important than the team. If we think that way, all of us,
              everything that you do, you take into consideration what
              effect it will have on my team.” (Bo Schembechler)

    •    Structure –Any successful team will have rules and will be well-organized. This will carry over into the personal lives of each team member.

              “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high
              intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful
              execution. Quality represents the choice of many   
              alternatives.” (Willis A. Foster)                    
    •    Finishing a difficult task – This is one of the most demanding of sports. Long-term success requires the runners to have a vision and to be able to focus on both the present and the future, in practice and in races.

              “Those who turn back never reach the summit.”
               (H. Jackson Brown Jr.)

    •    Mental toughness – Anyone who has ever run cross-country understands the mental toughness that is necessary to complete a work-out, a race, a season, regardless of success. The carry-over of mental toughness later in life is invaluable in a job, in raising a family, and in dealing with adversity.

              “Do you want to win? Then get tough. Mentally tough. It
               takes more than muscle, more than sheer determination to
              get to the top. It takes the mind of a champion.” (Anonymous)

    •    Self-discipline – This trait is the key to success in anything. Our sport requires a great deal of self-discipline. Unlike many other sports, the coach is not always with each athlete, such as when they are doing a long run. OHSAA rules limit the coach to the number of coaching opportunities in the off-season; therefore, the runners must have self-discipline. One of my favorite quotes reflects this life-lesson. “Character is what you do when no one is watching.”

              “The only discipline that lasts is self-discipline.”
              (B. Phillips)
    •    Passion – Having passion for what you do is critical. It     
     will help overcome the “bad day.”   When the task has
     been completed, the sense of accomplishment will be even
     greater, because you loved what you did.

     “Merit begets confidence; confidence begets enthusiasm;
     enthusiasm conquers the world.” (Walter Cottingham)

    •    “Every person needs to have their moment in the sun,
      when they raise their arms in victory, knowing  that on this
      day, at this hour, they were at their very best.”
      (H. Jackson Brown Jr.)
When I hear the statement from an athletic administrator, “But this sport doesn’t generate income,” I often wonder if those who profess this idea ever stopped to consider the twelve Life Lessons pointed out in this article. If they did, I doubt that would ever repeat those words, because the impact of these lessons on the lives of those who take part in our sport is immeasurable. There is not enough money in the world to buy the life-changing importance of these traits.

Yours in cross-country and track,

Rod O’Donnell

Read more of Coach O’Donnell’s articles on www.runohio.com  

2021 Track & Field - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/200-keeping-track-2021-track-field

2020 OHSAA State Cross Country Championships - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/news/134-keeping-track-by-rod-o-donnell-2020-ohsaa-state-cross-country-championships  

Keeping Track - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/173-keeping-track-2 

COVID 19 and Sports - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/news/120-keeping-track-covid-19-and-sports-by-rod-o-donnell   

Critical Time for Cross Country and Track & Field - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/96-track         

Facts - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/100-keeping-track-facts      

Track - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/67-keeping-track        

Football and Track & Field - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/78-keeping-track-football-and-track-field       

Marc Bloom’s Amazing Racers - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/43-keeping-track-marc-bloom-s-amazing-racers-by-rod-o-donnel 

College of William & Mary – http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/news/121-keeping-track-college-of-william-mary-by-rod-o-donnell    

Life Lessons from Cross-Country - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/10-life-lessons-from-cross-country-updated-2020

Take care and I hope to see you at a race soon.


Matt McGowan