From the Coach: 10 Life Lessons from Running

Today I have been preparing the paperwork to hand out to my potential cross country runners when we have our first meeting next week. It’s hard to believe that I am getting ready to coach my 14th season of high school cross country!

From the Coach - life lessons from running

Over the years, I have seen many young people join the team as freshmen, just out of middle school, young, small, a little scared as they embark on the journey that is high school. They don’t know it, but joining the cross country team in one of the best, albeit one of the toughest, things they can do to help them succeed, not only in school, but in life.

This is a quote from what I tell the parents at our preseason meeting:

We know your kids are tired. They are under pressure. They have school all day, a lot of homework in the evening, and then we have them up at 5 am to run. Fortunately, running is a great stress reliever. They are with their friends and teammates. They are learning so many things: Being a team player, good sportsmanship, responsibility, and accountability. Running Cross Country will have an impact on the rest of their adult lives.


There are many lessons that high school students will learn from running. Over the season, as they work hard, enjoy some successes, suffer some failures, push through their discomfort, they grow as human beings, mature into responsible young people who are well on their way to becoming successful adults.

These are lessons that we as adults can learn (or be reminded about) too. We just have to pay closer attention and let it happen.

Life Lessons from Running

Don’t Stop When Things Get Tough

When we are young (or immature) we tend to give up when things around us get hard. Running teaches us that the reward comes when we keep going even though it is difficult.

Achieving Your Goals Takes Hard Work

If you want to win the race, you have to put in all the preliminary mileage and training that is needed to get you in top condition. Likewise, if you want to graduate from college or run a successful business, you need to put in the work to accomplish your goal.

You’re Stronger Than You Think

With hard work, training, and dedication to your goals, you might surprise yourself with what you can accomplish.

Everything is Mental

Running teaches you that your mind is your best tool. It can get you through those times when you feel like your legs can’t carry you one more inch.

You Do “Have the Time”

If you want something badly enough, you will find the time.

Working as a Team Will Lead to Success

While running is generally thought of as an individual sport, success in cross country and even marathon racing comes from working as a team.

If You Wait for “Perfect” You’ll Never Accomplish Anything

Whether it is perfect weather, race course, or time of the year, if you sit around waiting for it you won’t go anywhere.

You Define You

You get to choose the person you want to be. Not your parents, your teachers, your friends, your spouse, not even your coach. You can choose to push yourself to success, or to stay where you are.

Just Because You Lose Doesn’t Mean You’re a Loser

In running, most people don’t win. Yet they still strive to improve, work hard to achieve their goals, and challenge themselves to accomplish more. That sounds the the definition of a winner.

There are No Shortcuts, Hacks, or Tricks

To succeed in running, you have to put in the work. It is as simple as that.

One of the joys of coaching, even more so than teaching, where your students come and go in a school year, is the bond that develops between athlete and coach over the course of the four years of high school. I get to get to see them change from those scared little freshmen into interesting, responsible, dedicated, and usually taller young adults. Many stay in touch after they graduate and share their accomplishments and joys, as well as the challenges that they face.

In fact, Alan and I will be attending the wedding of one of our former cross country students in June (the same day as the Rock and Roll Marathon, which will be interesting). He came from an at-risk situation, a single parent family, four brothers, several of whom did some jail time. Now he has finished college, has a career, and is about to embark on a new phase of his life. He will be the first one to tell you that if it wasn’t for cross country, in particular, Alan, who was the boys coach, he wouldn’t have made it and would very likely be in the same situation a his brothers.

What life lessons have you learned from running?

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    • says

      I really think that athletics are one of best things a kid can do in school, even if they’re not particularly talented at anything. The nice thing about cross country is that everybody gets to run, from the fastest to those that can barely make the three miles. So everybody gets the benefit of these life lessons.
      Debbie Woodruff recently posted…From the Coach: 10 Life Lessons from RunningMy Profile

    • says

      I think that just generally being involved in sports is good for young people, cross country, even more than track, offers a lot more that will benefit them as they become adults. Especially here in the desert, where all summer long they get up every day at 5 am and run for a couple hours, even when the temperatures get above 110! That’s got to take some dedication.
      Debbie Woodruff recently posted…From the Coach: 10 Life Lessons from RunningMy Profile

  1. says

    what a great story about one of your former runners. I’m actually going to start coaching this fall – I’ll be the head XC coach at a community college and I’m so excited for it. Do your runners practice in the AM AND PM or just the AM? I’m trying to figure out a good practice time.
    I ran XC all through HS as well and can attest to all of these. Some days I really hated it, and every season would vow I’d quit the next year, but I always came back. I have some great memories from HS XC and still continue running to this day!
    Patty @ Reach Your Peak recently posted…Runner’s WishlistMy Profile

    • says

      It is so true about hating it sometimes, yet still coming back. That’s where we learn our life lessons.

      I’m so excited for you that you will be coaching! It is so rewarding!

      Because we live in the desert, where it soon will be up to 110 or more in the midday, we have a lot of morning practices. And because I’m a walk on coach who has weird hours, the schedule reflects that. I have to work at 5:30 am on Mon, Thur, & Friday, so we practice at 5 in the afternoon. Tues, Wed, and Sat, we will practice in the morning, usually at 5:30. The afternoon practice is hard but necessary any way because in September when our meets start, the temperatures will still be over 105.

      Good luck with your coaching! If I can be of assistance, let me know.
      Debbie Woodruff recently posted…From the Coach: 10 Life Lessons from RunningMy Profile

  2. says

    Love this post! I always tell people how much I learned from high school cross country and still learn from running today. I think the adult lesson that I learned that would have helped my high school self is that they don’t pay you to do this so you may as well have fun. I smile and enjoy all of my races. Also, one bad race does not make a bad runner. And, you will have another chance to do better.

    Thank you for sharing this post and lessons!

  3. says

    As a parent, I have so much appreciation for the value of participating in sports. These are great lessons that really will stick with you. My son was lucky to have really good coaches who focused on the big picture and life lessons on the field and off.
    Coco recently posted…Five Reasons I Love Strength TrainingMy Profile


  1. […] From the Coach: 10 Life Lessons from Running Debbie is preparing for her 14th season coaching high school cross country. Here, she shares 10 life lessons that high school students will learn from running. I wish that I had learned these lessons at an earlier age. I’m still learning them now. […]

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