The club’s first season with the running program ended in May. The second season is set to begin in late August.
Girls on the Run Southeast Tennessee Executive Director Erika Cooke and Tucker Unit coach Ashley Jones agreed the outcome of the first season was positive.
“If you want to impact people, you don’t necessarily impact people through a program or through statistics or a test,” Jones said. “It is through a relationship. Girls on the Run is a program, but it is mostly about the relationship and passing on life skills and lessons.”
The after-school program lasts anywhere from 10 to 12 weeks. This is dependent on the time restraints of both the site, often a school, and the volunteer coach. At the end of the season, girls from every site participate in a 5-kilometer race. The weeks leading up to the final event allow the girls to build muscle, endurance, friendship and self-confidence.
Every practice starts with a snack. A topic is introduced next. The lessons are on anything from bullies to negative thoughts. The girls engage in conversation with each other and their coaches. A warmup stretch begins and then the girls launch into sprint work.
Cooke explained this portion of the practice is often thought of as the ‘games.’
Added Cooke’s daughter, 5-year-old Tori, “We do a lot of running activities. Instead of just plain running, you know that’s not very fun, we make them into little games.”
Sometimes Cooke stands on one end of the field while the girls in her group remain on the other end. All of them are on the edge as they focus on Cooke. She then shouts something like, “Who likes chocolate chip cookies?” The girls this applies to then take off across the field toward Cooke.
Jones said her assistant coach, Lindsey Armstrong of the Family Kitchen, helped balance her out during the exercise portion of the practices.
“She was great. In the ways I tend to be a little more of a softie like, ‘OK, let’s focus on the lesson and let’s just spend time loving each other,’ she was out there pushing them,” Jones recalled. “Since she is a high-schooler, she was automatically a hero to those girls. She would chase after them and say, ‘I will make you do pushups, if I catch you!’”
Sprint work melds into the endurance workout. Cooke and her fellow coaches utilize items like wristbands, stickers or beads to encourage the girls to run lap after lap. Their time on long runs allows the girls to think about the day’s lesson.
Jones was surprised by her participants’ thoughts during the lessons. Sometimes the third- through fifth-grade girls mentioned they thought they were too fat. Others said their thighs were too large. Some felt they consumed too many carbohydrates.
“I feel like the program is a preventative measure in some ways,” she said. “You are addressing some of the things they don’t really understand, but they start integrating into their minds, their buildup and their identity.”
Cooke said the program could be available at more sites. The only problem is securing a coach for each site. She explained coaches do not need to know a lot about running, or even be runners themselves. More information on coaching and participation information for children can be found at girlsontherunsetn.org.