Lessons Learned Coaching Girls On The Run

December 5, 2013

Julia Venable is a second year AmeriCorps member serving through the YWCA Central Alabama with Girls on the Run and Heart Gallery Alabama. Last year, she served in the YWCA's domestic violence department as a Healthy Relationships Instructor. A graduate of the University of South Carolina, she is currently working towards her MA in Counselor Education from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. As a Birmingham native, she was happy to return home to fulfill her years of service!

This fall I had the chance to be a coach for Girls on the Run; a program for girls in 3rd-5th grade to run and learn life skills. Teams meet all over Birmingham, and my team met at the YWCA’s YWoodlawn location. At the end of each season, the girls participate in a 5K, and this fall we met at Linn Park for the Magic City 5K. 

By race morning, the girls had completed 10 weeks of practice. Every practice we would go over a lesson and practice running. My girls loved to play freeze tag, but when it came to long distance running, we had to get creative with our encouragement!  

Each year our lessons cover a range of topics, but they all focus on encouraging girls to feel strong and confident. There are two points in the season when all of our teams get together. The first event is called Strengthening Our Connections. Planned by the YWCA, the goal is to assist the girls in embracing their differences and strengthening their connectedness. The next time the girls get together is race day!

If you were outside at all on the Sunday, November 24th (race morning), you know it was freezing! Knowing the weather was going to be cold, I was worried some of my girls would not show up for the race. Race morning is the final day of our season, and I had been warned that perfect attendance does not always happen.  

By the time the race started, I was missing two girls. As I headed back to our tent to retrieve my girls’ medals, I saw one of my girls walk up! This little girl has a smile that lights up a room, and she did not seem phased one bit that the race had started and no one else was in sight!  She needed a community running buddy and a wonderful board member graciously jumped in! I cheered her on as they raced to catch up to the other participants. 

As they disappeared around the corner, I headed to the finish line, still wondering if my last girl would be there. My girls started to trickle in, and the other coaches and I met them with smiles, cheers and medals! We were all so proud! My mind kept wondering back to my one girl, and how sad I was that she was missing this day.

All of sudden my worry went away. I spotted the missing girl crossing the finish line with her mom. I yelled in surprise and quickly placed her medal around her neck. At this point, I knew all of my girls would finish!

My joy did not come from the finish time, in fact, while in the moment, that was the furthest thought from my mind. Instead, my mind raced with all the inspiring and challenging memories of the girls.

We talk about helping the girls, but this season the girls really helped me. Every practice I was inspired by my girls’ confidence and their unapologetic pride in being unique. They taught me the beauty of knowing your worth, standing up for yourself, and not letting anyone tell you that you aren’t good enough. I just hope they learned a little from me, too!

The opinions expressed here are solely my opinions and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Girls on the Run® International.



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