This Sunday, a group of elementary school students that I coach participated in a city wide 5k race in Washington, DC among various elementary schools. The race was part of a program called Girls on the Run, in which girls learn about wellness and healthy lifestyles through running.
The Girls on the Run race was quite a contrast to a typical race in which most of the participants are adults. There was no nervous pacing or tense faces near the start. Perhaps unlike adults, the girls were in blissful ignorance of trying to achieve a personal best time, run perfect splits, or use the race to test their fitness. The girls were running for pure enjoyment. They treated the race like play. The girls could not wait to get to the line. Instead of the nervous pacing before the race, the girls were greeting each other and decorating their hair with ribbons and colored hairspray.
As I watched the girls finish the race, I saw looks of enjoyment and happiness. The students were waving to their parents and smiling. Not one of the girls asked me what their finishing time was. They were just proud to have finished a 5k, time had no meaning to them. Post-race they were more concerned with cheering for their friends that were finishing, grabbing snacks, and having a good time. Even the winner, one of my own athletes, was just excited to have been out there.
All of my girls had stellar races. It made me think that if adult runners took a more playful attitude towards racing, just like the girls, and took the unnecessary pressure off, they would probably have much faster, stronger races.