Ask Coach Mick

About Coaching a Cross Country Team

Hi Coach Mick,

I don't know if you can help me but here's my problem. My daughter's elementary school had a cross country team this year and she loved it, however the teacher that coached the team says she can't do it next year but if I will volunteer to coach, the team can continue.

The problem here is, I have no idea how to coach 9 to 11 year olds that run 1 to 1.5 mile races. Is there any resource material out there such as a book or web site or something that will tell me how to go about this?

I can teach them basic running (warm up, cool down, stretching, etc.) but what about speed work, or hill work? What do kids this age, at this distance need? Can you help?

Please help,

Eileen California

Dear Eileen,

You have the single most important ingredient; kids who want to run!

In a developmental program, you should start by gradually increasing distance running. Your challenge is to have the kids increase their workload while still having fun. As soon as the sport ceases to be fun, the kids will leave.

I like to use cross country to work on strength for the following track season. My long term objective is to teach my kids how to run as fast as they can. Cross country helps develop the strength to reach my objective.

My suggestion is to have a 4 day schedule as follows:

  1. Have lots of easy running early in the season with one day of 6-8 x 100m strides (to keep some speed) at about 80% effort( 100% is all out sprinting.
  2. The stronger kids can run farther than the weaker kids, but try to have them run together as much as possible. I think 10-15 miles per week is OK for most kids. As strength improves you should see training pace improve.
  3. In the middle of the season have one day of hill reps (maybe 10 x 20 second hills) on a moderate hill loop and one day of pack fartlek running games where the kids chase each other around a designated course for a distance of not more than 600 meter reps (vary the distance from 200m to 600m). One fartlek game is to make relay teams, except the entire team must finish together. The strongest kid runs first, the second strongest runs second (with the first), then the third (with the first and second).
  4. . Near the end of the season, go back to easy running with one day of strides and one day of 4 x 400m-600m tempo intervals on grass at mile pace with a lot of recovery.

This is a very basic training plan for beginning cross country runners. The most important thing you can do is show your kids that running is fun. If your training plan is fun, your team will do well over the long term and the kids will improve.

Get some videos on plyometric drills for running form, strength, flexibility and balance. Do plyometrics for 10 minutes at every practice.

Fun first, Coach Mick