How do you inspire a group of 3rd-5th grade girls to get excited about exercise and health while also teaching them about how to be confident in a time when most girls begin to doubt themselves?
Girls on the Run is a national program that teaches girls life skill through lessons and running games. At the end of the program the girls complete a 5K running event and come out of the program with confidence through achievement and an understanding that the potential they have is limitless!
This fall I attended one of the Girls on the Run practices at Elm Lawn Elementary school in Madison which my friend Jennifer Beth coaches. The girls quickly took me in to their group and had me running, skipping, singing to Frozen, and learning about how gossip negatively affects everyone. Then at the end of the practice we got into a circle and the Girls gave out energy awards for other girls in the group. I happily received two energy awards that day “for trying new things and participating”. I left the practice feeling empowered by these young ladies and the strength that they had as individual people. I reflected on my own experience at that age and remembered how I began to feel self-conscious and grew quiet and wondered if a program like Girls on the Run would have helped me maintain the confidence I had a small child which I am still working to regain now that I am a women.
I wondered if Jennifer had similar feelings about the program and what insights she had after working with this group for a whole season, so I asked her several questions about the program and its effect on her life.
Schwinn: Why did you decide to coach GOTR?
Jennifer: I heard about it through a girl I babysat and when I talked with her about it and did some research on what their goals are, I knew I wanted to be a coach. I feel that girls at this age are at a really critical point, where they start realizing and discovering who they are as a person and GOTR gives them a chance to talk about issues they may be facing at school or personally and learn about great strategies to make decisions and deal with problems they may come across. The GOTR program teaches girls about how to live healthier: emotionally, nutritionally and with relationships and exercising. I definitely wish the program had been around when I was this age! I love being a part of this organization and being able to be a role model and leader for girls to live healthier.
Schwinn: What are some of the achievements that you noticed after having coached GOTR for almost a full Fall season?
Jennifer: I have loved seeing the girls come together as a team and forge new friendships, cheer each other on when they reach goals, and speak up about very real issues they are facing. I have learned so much from these girls!
Jennifer: It’s so much more than a running program. Although every lesson features a workout that helps the girls prepare for a 5k, each lesson and workout is based around a certain lesson theme that helps the girls to learn about living healthier and responding to issues and problems that may come around: whether with school work, bullying, gossiping, negative self talk, or helping other people who may need it. The curriculum is based around: self, team, and community, and each team puts together a community service project at the end of the season to help others.
Schwinn: How has GOTR effected you?
Jennifer: I haven’t had a practice or lesson yet that hasn’t somehow resonated with a situation I faced as a girl, or is one I’m facing now. I am definitely more self conscious of how I respond to issues in my life, stopping negative self-talk, bullying, gossiping, and all of the other issues that don’t seem to end with high school. I’ve definitely used our Stop and take a BrThRR (breather) strategy: Stop, Breathe, Think, Respond, Reflect. Every practice has been such a great learning experience for me as well as the girls!
Schwinn: What has been your favorite memory of this season so far?
Jennifer: It’s hard to pick just one, I look forward to going to practice every day! I think so far in the season, the best memory has been our practice 5k, and seeing the girls accomplish and exceed their goals. When they crossed the finish line, running the farthest we have all season, the excitement on their faces was contagious! It was definitely a huge team moment: every single girl was encouraging and cheering for each other. It wasn’t about who finished first or last, but rather about every girl doing the best they could and crossing the finish line.
I also love our end of practice ritual: Energy Awards and our GOTR Cheer!
If you want to learn more about the Girls on the Run, check out the videos below! I also included a link to their website where you can learn more about the program and how you can get involved!