By John McKinstry
When I came to Lansdowne Friends School in the fall of 2013, I was eager to start a running program. That academic year, the school began offering cross-country in the fall and track & field in the spring for grades three through six. As with any extra-curricular activity, there are numerous benefits to these two sports. They help to build the so-called “soft” noncognitive skills that include strong work habits, self-discipline, grit, teamwork, sociability and leadership. They are associated with positive outcomes that include higher educational aspirations, greater self-esteem, more psychological resilience and character. Running also provides numerous health benefits.
Cross country and track are consistent with our identity as a Quaker school. Students learn agency, self-reflection, good sportsmanship and community. We emphasize that our opponents in meets are people against whom they will be running for a long time and that it is important to get to know them and the larger community of runners. Running does not create the tensions that often go with other sports, nor does it elicit the anger and frustration from athletes and spectators towards opponents and officials. The rules in cross country are few in number and very clear. Like meeting for worship, running has both an individual and a communal component. The measurements of success are based on positive outcomes, not necessarily the triumph over an opponent. I emphasize that the three primary ways you measure success are having fun, doing you best, and improving your time. Running is also a practical and useful form of recreation. I call them the transportation sports because they are ways to one place to another without leaving a large carbon footprint.
Cross country and track & field also support the school’s diversity goals. Running is inexpensive. All it requires are shoes, a shirt, shorts and an open road or nearby track. These sports are open to all older children free of any charge. The practices happen after school and are deliberately scheduled after the extended day program’s homework club so that practices do not impinge on academics. The meets are after school so as to not interfere with the academic program. They buttress our testimony of equality being co-ed and a lifelong sport.