It’s a tough ask, but a cross country run (just short of a mile) for 7 to 11 year olds is a part of our school’s year of sport. And this year’s house cross country came at the end of a very busy week of sport at our school which has included winning a local U10 prep school netball tournament and having all of our Junior year groups involved in hockey, netball and football.
One of the more bitter-sweet aspects of our lives as educators and as parents is seeking to encourage children to push themselves up to and beyond their limits – physical, intellectual and emotional. It is not easy to watch a child get angry, frustrated, exhausted, disappointed, upset or otherwise have to wrestle with their physical and emotional state. And it is a challenge for us to allow it to occur yet support them in the safest and most appropriate way that will allow them to learn and understand how to cope with that physiological and psychological pain.
Elsewhere it has been called “grit” or resilience – the ability to cope, learn and remain positive in the face of challenge and adversity. Whether it is learning to sing a new song in the choir, learn your first 100 hundred high-frequency words or face the competition in examination hall for entrance to senior school, possessing the skills to be able to recognise how you need to behave at times of high stress is essential in overcoming these obstacles.
And there is no other way to learn these skills than to experience those moments hand-in-hand with the support that is aware of the learning that is taking place. So back to our cross country for a moment: There are lots of staff and vocal parents on hand to support every child, to give encouragement and to will everyone to do their utmost. Each child is competing for their house and every effort counts towards the final total and end result. Everyone belongs, everyone is congratulated yet everyone has to try, many get exhausted, most get muddy and wet and only one girl and one boy get to be victorious as individuals.
As one parent commented to me after the race, of all sports in which her children compete, cross country is by far the most emotional. I feel that this is precisely because we have to witness our children pushing themselves to those limits that, as parents, we often feel that we have to protect them from. But by using the vocabulary of effort (try, have a go, attempt, courage, dig deep, etc…) and praising the process rather than the outcome, the aim is that our children will recognise that they are able to get up to and even over the limits that they perceive. Next time, therefore, those limits will be that much more challenging and overcoming them more eagerly sought.