Of all the volunteerism I do, Girls on the Run of the Southern Tier is the program that brings tears of pride and joy to my eyes when I talk about it. This spring will be my third year coaching – and my sixth year involved in some way with the organization – and every year simply reinforces why I coach.
It’s not the easiest volunteer opportunity but it truly is an incredible opportunity! The 10-week program – set up to be delivered in 20 lessons – requires a lot of preparation. The lesson plans are detailed, and every element is purposeful. The intentionality of this research-based curricula is just one of the many things I love about it.
By far, my favorite part of being a GotR coach is getting to know the girls. Girls on the Run proper is for girls in grades 3-5, but I coach the middle school version, called Heart & Sole.
The best part about middle schoolers is their commitment to vulnerability. Not all the girls will get up and dance around like goofballs, but they will – every single one of them – happily answer questions about themselves if you ask them thoughtfully and show that you’re a good listener. A large part of the Heart & Sole curriculum is based on the acronym “GGI” which stands for “Get Girl Input.” Studies show that middle school is the time when girls are most likely to experience decreased self-esteem. When you focus on getting their input, you are reinforcing to them that you value their opinions, thoughts, and ideas. I’ve never had a girl on my team not be interested in sharing what’s on her mind. The girls seem to bask in the fact that practice is a safe place to share how they feel. Knowing that I can nurture their confidence and encourage their willingness to be bold makes me that much more committed to coaching.
GotR and Heart & Sole are not running programs; they are programs that focus on the girl as a whole person, and they just happen to have a running element. Topics like self-awareness, healthy friendships, and goal-setting are just a few of the things we learn as a team. By working toward running a 5K, the girls get to practice the many lessons they learn together. Individuality is valued, and they have stronger connections with one another by the end of the season. Whenever a girl I’ve coached sees me around Corning – at Wegman’s, or a community event – they always wave or come over to say hi, often with a hug.
Adolescence is hard. If listening to their opinions and cheering them on is all I need to do to make the teen years a bit easier for the girls I know, I am more than happy to do it. I don’t think I realized just how much I’d love being called “Coach Sarah.”