Sunday, October 18, 2009

Keeping the "Fun" in "Fun Runs"

In September 2003, I ran an 8K race in Jacksonville. My parents drove Tenley (then 7 years old) over to participate in the one mile “fun run” which was scheduled to occur an hour after the 8K start. As I was finishing my race, I noticed Tenley standing far away from the other kids, who were clustered together, looking ready to start the mile race. I was screaming at her something to the effect of, “Why aren’t you with those other kids?” My parents, who had selflessly woken her up early, fed her, dressed her, and driven an hour to get her there, were looking perplexed at why I was yelling at her and looking so disgruntled with them when they had stationed her precisely where the race organizers told her the 1 mile would start.

When it was time for the 1 mile race to start, what do you know? All the kids were herded over to the spot where Tenley was standing – she and my parents were right, I was wrong.

Races are held at all kinds of venues – fields, tracks, parking lots, streets. You name the venue – with the addition of some chalk and a clock, you can have a race. It is the myriad of things between that first chalk mark at “start,” and the finish line clock that make a race a “good race.” These include: course markings, volunteers throughout the course to provide additional guidance, water (for longer races), finish line staff to “strip” numbers and “string them,” and someone willing to compile all of the results after the race.

When Wayne ran the Roberts Fox Trot 1 mile “fun run” yesterday, I knew something was amiss when kids started “finishing” at the 3:30 mark. Kids are fast these days but not that fast!! It turns out that about seven kids had become misrouted and showed up at the finish line prematurely. The race directors gathered the kids and sent them back out to re-run the course, and noted when the children returned to the finish line. As a result of this mix-up, there was a related confusion in scoring at awards time. The times of the “mix-up seven” were not clear and therefore those kids did not get recognized.

I watched parents of these children talk with the race directors, and was brought immediately back to the first expletive I uttered publicly when Tenley stopped short of the vault in gymnastics (not that I have ever hurtled myself toward a stationary object and thrown myself into the air over the object). My reaction was all about me and not at all about her.

Yesterday, the parents who spoke with the race directors handled the conversations about the “mix up seven” radically differently, and in at least one interaction, the word “fun” was long gone from the “run” part.

In any athletic competition, whether between adults or children, things go wrong. As adults we (hopefully) learn to shake the minor ones off and put the major ones in perspective. There is an added dimension, however, if you feel your child has gotten shortchanged, and if you have the challenge of dealing with their disappointment as well as your own.

As a “gym mom,” I wanted badly for my child to succeed, to be appropriately (and equitably) rewarded, and to be free of any complications that might spoil her motivation to stick with the sport. With the benefit of a several years behind me, what I know for sure is that kids who truly are internally motivated to participate in a sport will weather the storms of complications, judging subjectivity and other external forces -- all they want is to be doing what they do. The trophies, medals, goody bags, etc., are nice but that's not why they're out there.

As I close out this weekend, I fervently hope that we as parents do everything we can to keep the “fun” in our child’s next “fun run.”

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