Saddleback College maintaining cross-country online

Several pairs of running shoes rest on a rack, waiting to be picked up again. Catherine Norby/Lariat

The transition of physical sports to an online classroom has not been one without challenges. Some athletes, especially those in team sports, have struggled with the loss of face-to-face interaction with their fellow teammates and feel they lack the motivation that comes with that comradery. 

Coach Matthew Sherman of Saddleback College’s cross-country team has noted this with many of his athletes. It’s been difficult to keep the runners motivated as they train individually.  

We do Zoom meetings weekly with our cross-country team every Monday,” Sherman said. “I think that’s probably one of the biggest parts of being part of a team is coming together as a group, it’s your second family. Just to have that taken away, it’s hard for those in athletics, especially those in high school or the college level, to understand the dynamics of what that group brings to you and the individual.” 

While cross-country is an individually competitive sport, it’s the comradery provided through team members that makes it possible to get through the tough days. These runners train for three mile races in the heat of Southern California, running hills, performing mile repeats and challenging distance runs of more than six miles to name a few of the grueling workouts they face. Though currently the team is only running for minutes, the new challenge is meeting those minutes alone. 

Running for minutes as opposed to miles means athletes are asked to run for a certain amount of time, how many miles completed in this time is up to the athlete. If they were in the competitive season right now, Sherman said they would be running for miles. 

Alexis Park, a previous runner for the team, stopped running competitively after the school shut down and sent students into quarantine. 

“I’m no longer running competitively and it’s been pretty hard trying to keep up with it only because the motivation that was once there isn’t really there anymore,” Park said in an email. “I still love running, but I’ve mostly been staying in shape by limiting myself to core workouts.” 

Sherman has had to get creative in order to keep his team motivated. Everyday, athletes are asked to report their progress on Canvas. They log their miles, how they felt on their workout, what they ate, how much sleep they had and their water intake. An in-depth log allows Sherman to keep an eye out for progressing injuries and the well-being of his team. 

“I had a Zoom meeting where we did a cooking session in my kitchen and then their job was to go back in their homes and cook a meal and share it with me and share recipes,” Sherman said. “Just trying to keep things interesting with them is the challenge right now.” 

The future for the team remains uncertain. The current plan for spring 2021 is to have cross-country and track competitions. Many athletes play on both teams so what the future will look like is unknown as the training for each sport is very different. 

For now, Sherman shared that a fellow coach at Hartnell College has suggested doing a virtual competition using the tracking app Strava. Runners would be asked to run a two mile distance anywhere they want and then report their times to Strava. Sherman and the coach at Hartnell would then compile the times into a list and announce a winner.