-Ok, as a coach you can be fair and open and fully understand the vulnerabilities of the kids on your team. Children face a number of risks at school, in their homes and sadly from people they do not even know. One group who is vulnerable is our young women- and as a society we seem to have weighed and assessed this risk and taken it into account when we ask our girls to run on trails or roads together or in clear daylight, or with mace. But another very vulnerable population is our runners of color and more specifically our African-American boys. This group is vulnerable to being harassed by racists, attacked by people with sheltered minds and endangered by certain groups of law enforcement. We as coaches absolutely must take into consideration the dangers our young athletes face while running on trails or streets when they are not with us. Cross-Country is absolutely a sport where coaches must factor this into training plans. The biggest reason is that one of the true pleasures of interscholastic cross-country and track and field is the long distance group run and summer and weekend training. The long run is usually completed without the coach and in remote locations. What if some of our athletes cannot take part in these runs simply because they have dark skin.
Our athletes who are black or dark skinned already know they are vulnerable. And we, as the adults in the room, need to have a plan to create safer spaces for all our athletes to train. This may mean hosting or encouraging weekend running on school campus or in groups that stay together and may include adults. Also having conversations that help kids, who may have never thought about this risk, understand the very real risks runners of color must face. Admittedly, in Middle School, this is less of an issue because many of our kids do not do much running on weekends and the long run is much shorter and controllable. But it is still important to consider how to keep our athletes and students safe.
What can you do?
-Whether you are African-American or not, let your parents and athlete’s know that you “get it” and are actively engaged in the issue to keep their kids safe. Be available for one on one talks with families and listen.
-Talk very specifically with your AD about what precautions the school can take to reduce risks to runners. For example, can conversations be had with local law enforcement about keeping your runners safer?
-When you provide weekend or summer training suggestions, offer locations that are safer (the school campus) and offer alternate workouts for any athlete that is unable to get to a safe place to run, regardless of the reason.
-Do not single kids out or put a kid on the spot. Our black athletes do not need to be isolated by being made to do things differently. Every athlete needs to be a full part of the team and welcome. If you make a change to training plans, remember the safety of your black athletes is one of the many things you consider, so do not make these athletes feel like their presence is problematic. Because it isn't.
-Lastly, if an athlete or his family decides distance running it is not a safe sport to pursue no matter how talented a kid is, you need to support that decision and mourn that decision with them. A person should never have to make that choice, but people do it everyday.
-Be the change you wish to see in the world.
-Support organizations and races that are diverse.
-Talk to other area coaches and schools to raise awareness.
-Don’t just accept that distance running in America is a “White Sport.” Internationally it most definitely is not.
Let’s work to create space for all runners.