Coach Jessica Kessel was familiar with Marathon Kids well before she wound up starting a run club. As a P.E. teacher at Copperfield Elementary in Converse, Texas, she’d attended physical education conferences for years and spoken there with Marathon Kids representatives, but she didn’t have the funds to pay for the program to come to her school. When she received an email inviting her to apply for a grant to start a run club, she knew her students would love being Marathon Kids.
Every year, the elementary schools in the Judson Independent School District hold a track and field meet for fourth- and fifth-graders. “This is a huge deal for our students” at Copperfield, Coach Kessel says. “They get to run on the track where our high school state champions run.” Copperfield students come from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities, and “range from kids who have never participated in a sport to kids who have tried out but not stuck with any particular sport, and finally to kids who are athletes and members of various teams.”
Receiving the Marathon Kids grant opened up even more opportunities for Coach Kessel’s students to train.“What has surprised me the most is how many of our students have never been a part of a club or team. This is a true treat for them.”
COPPERFIELD STUDENTS WERE READY FOR A RUN CLUB
Copperfield Elementary is in the process of building a track. When it is complete, all of the school’s 700-plus students will participate in Marathon Kids at least once a week, during P.E. class. For now, nearly 100 students in third, fourth and fifth grades are active in the Bobcat Roadrunners run club. They meet for a half-hour in the mornings before school—third-graders on Mondays, fourth-graders on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and fifth-graders on Wednesdays and Fridays—and typically run between one and two miles per session.
The group has taken advantage of the Marathon Kids Connect app, the digital lap-tracking app, in order to make it easier than ever for Marathon Kids and their coaches to track miles. Coach Kessel monitors her runners while they jog and uses iPads to scan their Marathon Kids Connect ID cards.
Initially, she says, the run club was more of a social gathering than an athletic endeavor, but soon the students began taking it more seriously. “Now they compete to see their scores rise and compare their scores with others, so it is beginning to develop a competitiveness that they lacked at the beginning.” She’s been surprised to find that participation hasn’t dropped off. Instead, it’s only increased as the weeks have gone by, proving her initial instinct correct—that Copperfield students were more than ready for a Marathon Kids run club.
THE STUDENTS KEEP EACH OTHER GOING
Runners of all ages and experience levels know that running has its easy days and its tough ones. When the going gets tough for the Bobcat Roadrunners, Coach Kessel encourages the students who are highly motivated to work with those who are less motivated and help them keep moving. “They seem to respond to peer assistance,” she says of her students, “and don’t require much redirection from coaches.”
Physical activity is important to Coach Kessel on several levels. “This is our business and our passion,” she says. She works out “religiously,” and her students respect the fact that she practices what she preaches.
COACHING A MARATHON KIDS RUN CLUB IS BOTH FUN AND GRATIFYING
There are plenty of benefits in Marathon Kids for everyone involved, starting with the students. Coach Kessel has seen significant boosts in self-esteem in her Marathon Kids runners, stemming not only from the pride that comes from developing their athletic skills and reaching milestones, but also the sense of belonging that comes from being part of the club.
As for herself, before starting the Bobcat Roadrunners, Coach Kessel wasn’t sure how much of a challenge it would be to head up the run club. She’s been relieved to find it hasn’t been a chore; in fact, it has turned out to be something she appreciates. “Teaching the kids how to compete without pressure and that life is a competition” through building their mileage one mile at a time—these, she has found to be unexpected joys.
For others who are thinking of starting a Marathon Kids run club or becoming a coach, Coach Kessel gives two enthusiastic thumbs up. “For coaches, there’s pride in seeing that something you do is working. I would highly endorse pursuing this program because [other run club coaches] will be surprised at the gains of previously non-athletic kids.”
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