In my previous post, I talked about the advantages of running for a small high school. The dream scenario would be to find a small school that is the right price and has access to a track, a positive culture, and administrative support for track and cross country. However, I ran for a large high school. Coming from that background, I see three key advantages to running for a large school.
Reason #1 - Facilities
My high school in Ohio had an all-weather track, a weight room, and even added a field house with a track for those cold Ohio winters training for indoor track. This was in the 1990’s! Additionally, the school was adjacent to a park with a four-mile jogging path. Couldn’t ask for a better situation for distance training. Very few small schools are going to have anything like that available. Although not all large schools have these kinds of facilities, chances are the best ones in your district will.
Reason #2 - Competition
When you have forty kids on a cross country team competing for seven varsity positions, your practices are going to be a bit more competitive. Once you get to the track season, and that same group is competing for four spots in each distance event, the intensity increases. While all-out efforts on a weekly basis will kill a runner, there is something to be said for practices being challenging and on the competitive side. In a small school, often times it doesn’t take all that much to make the varsity team. If I’m a girl running twenty-one minutes for the three-mile run, and that’s fast enough to make varsity and to get all-league, then I’m probably not concerned with dropping down into the 19’s or 18’s. If I am at a large school and have to be in the 19’s or 18’s to make the varsity team, then I’m probably going to work a little harder in practice to make sure that is happening. I’m probably going to eat a little different, get the sleep I need, and do everything I can to ensure that I’m able to compete at a higher level, as well.
Reason #3 - Culture
Small school cross country cultures can be toxic. The student body as a whole can be very negative towards running, as other sports probably don’t do nearly as much running as larger schools. Again, there are less people in the school, which means less competition, and less effort needed to get a varsity position. Coaches don't want to risk losing warm bodies from their teams by over-emphasizing conditioning. At all of the small schools I’ve coached and taught at, the greater majority of students were just plain lazy. They had bad attitudes about putting forth hard physical effort. On a lot of small school cross country teams, this general school culture is hard to overcome. Students complain a little bit more about practice than they do at large schools, and none of their peers are saying, “Quit your whining, you wimp, and get your butt moving out there!” It’s more likely that the complainers are going to drag the workers down with them. After all, the overall school culture often favors them at a small school. Again, this does not characterize every small school, but I would say the great majority of them do have a toxic running culture.
The running culture at my large high school was great. I loved all the guys that were older than me! They made every practice so much fun, even though I’d be puking my guts up on the side of the track from time to time afterwards. We had some really crazy guys on the team, from the All-State wrestler who literally punched an overly tame doe in the face in the middle of a run (not advocating animal cruelty, just saying it was quite a stunning experience for everyone involved), to my friend who got slingshotted into the woods on a bungie swing and spent months in a halo afterwards. The younger guys were awesome, too. So much bantering, so much talent, and just an overall encouraging environment. No one wanted to miss practice. If you did, you knew you’d be ostracized for it! You weren't going to let your mom schedule a haircut during practice hours. Everyone wanted to compete, and we celebrated each of the little victories with one another. You are a lot more likely to find this at a large school than a small school, where hard work is the key ingredient to making varsity in any and all sports.
So the question is, do the advantages listed above outweigh the small school advantages? I will reflect more on this in my next blog.