Learning Not to Quit

Dedication: GOTR LV Staff (Jess, Liz and Lisa) for all of their support of me and my coaching journey.

I posted a video last night of an overexuberant set of coaches cheering on a girl for finishing a practice 5K in our Girls on the Run program. I am sure that some of you shook your heads and thought…what’s the big deal? It’s a running program. I thought they learned how to run in it. You would be correct. It is a running program that contains lessons on self esteem, self confidence, friendship and girl power. And in a typical Girls on the Run program the participants learn how to run a 5K. I guess what I have to tell you is that this program at my school this year was anything but typical.

The young woman in the video was one of 20 girls who started the program. On her first day, she was handed a booklet that outlined the lessons we would cover in the season. She went home and read the book with her Mom and would come in for the next four sessions and tell me what we would be covering that day. When I asked her how she knew, she would smile and say that she read the book with her mom. I loved the time her Mom was spending with her and I loved her excitement over the program. So when I arrived at the school three weeks into the program and found her on the playground, I asked her why she wasn?t inside getting ready to start our session. She told me she had talked back to her Mom and her Mom had pulled her from the program as punishment.

I’ve learned a few things in my three seasons at this school and one of them is that when something happens with one of the girls, you reach out to the parent. The parents fill out forms with their email addresses and cell phone numbers on them at the beginning of the season; it is not unusual for the emails to bounce back or the cell phones not to work when you call them. But in this case, the text message went through and I asked her Mom to reconsider. She shared with me her reasoning and I told her I respected her and understood, but I asked her to give us another chance with Kayla. I told her the program would be so good for her and she would become even better at respecting herself and others. And the Mom listened, and Kayla returned.

I wish I could tell you that she was the only girl we had to save this year, but I can’t. I wish I could tell you that all the saves were successful but they were not. We started with 20 and we had three girls pulled from the program; we added two along the way; and another three quit but then one returned and then quit again. Each day, when taking attendance, we would ask where a specific girl was and often the answer was she quit. For some, this was the truth and for others, they would return, sometimes after missing multiple practices. If you asked me how many girls are in our program, I would tell you that I believe that answer is 16, but as you can see, the number is hard to track down and fluctuates.

Attendance was just one of the battles that we fought this year. And in fighting to get these girls to the program and stick with it, our consistency in getting them to run distances became secondary. So as a coach, I’ve had some battles within myself. I’ve had moments of…wait, we didn’t teach them how to run a full 5K? What will our running buddies think at the 5K next week? What will our girls think when they see girls from other schools whiz past them? Have we failed?

Yesterday, when I saw Kayla cross the finish line of our little run-down city block, I answered all of these questions for myself. While we only had 6 girls complete our practice 5K in the 65 minutes we gave them, we had all 16 girls complete much more.

While I would have liked to teach them how to pace themselves as they run, I believe we taught them how to pace themselves in life. It’s easy to start out a race when the gun goes off and be excited to run. It’s easy to start out a season ready to go. At those times, we sprint, but it’s impossible to maintain that pace. So we have to learn to manage our energy through an entire race or an entire season and not quit. This we did.

While I would have liked for all of them to experience how mind freeing a good run can be, I believe we taught them how good it can feel to be out in nature, simply moving your body…away from a screen and talking to a friend.

In the process, I hope we taught all of them how amazing it can feel to finish a race or a season that you didn’t think you could. I hope we taught them to dig in when things get tough. I hope our example taught them about the difference you can make when you show up every single session all season long through yucky weather and tough circumstances.

So did we fail? No way. We may not have taught all 16 girls how to run. But we taught our girls something much more valuable…we taught them to not quit.

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Jill Helmer

Five years ago, I was a Mom on the run. Four years ago, I became a GOTR Coach. Today, I am both and a National Coach Ambassador.