The Variety of Personalities on a Cross Country Team

Posted by Scott Christensen

A team is a collection of individuals attempting to accomplish like goals.  On a cross country team, the coach is responsible for providing the leadership skills necessary to bring individual personality traits together into a functioning unit that has selective group goals.  Goals vary between cross country teams under an array of context situations and circumstances, and many goals do not even involve running.  There are even a number of goals that are similar from sport to sport and likely extend to such organizations as business and educational teams.  It is through the activity of running that the cross country team exists in the first place, but goals for the most part involve the human variety of personalities and motivation, and not the actual sport.

A coach will recognize these individual personality differences and will try to modify some of them to fit the needs of the team.  Other traits are pretty well set in one’s behavior and a coach will try to incorporate these rather than try to modify them.  It is the recognition of various personality traits and the desire and ability to work with all individuals that make for a strong leader.

Wisdom of the leader is the result of years of experience.  New people and situations are seldom really new, but are more about repeating and recycling the old.  Wisdom means you have seen it before and can deal with it effectively.  The important piece is: you recognize it.


* Training Resource: Speed Development for Distance Runners


There are six different personality traits that would be helpful for a cross country coach (or any coach) to recognize among team members.  Once you see them again and again, one becomes pretty good at modifying or just accepting the traits as part of team dynamics in a positive way.  It is also important to carefully recognize these personality traits because it will directly correlate to how the coach motivates the different athletes over both the short and long term.

Coaches are taxonomists and are always classifying things as to this or that.  This involves personality traits as well as workouts. When a cross country coach spends time with their runners it becomes easy to observe that they are a, b, or c for a particular trait.

The six different personality traits that follow are common among team members and can be classified in a particular way.  How a coach motivates the different personality combinations make all team situations unique.  The first step is recognition.

  1. Denier, Believer, or Builder. Does the athlete always question what you do, question if they need to do it, think they can take days off, etc?  Or, does the athlete accept what is expected at workouts, at competitions, generally just gets along with you and teammates, etc?  Or, does the athlete try to come up with new positive ideas for workouts, team situations in the off-season, asks for things to read, gets to know younger teammates immediately, etc?
  2. Ignorer, Observer, Focuser. Does the athlete put their head down and not seem to follow the daily workout, no real pace recognition, does not understand recovery, etc?  Or, does the athlete see and wave at everybody in yards and cars on the run, talks the whole way, describes things they saw after the run that amaze you and this includes racing situations, etc?  Or, does the athlete never notice cars getting to close on runs, the weather, people clapping for them at races or even what the coach is saying at meets or practice including split times, etc?
  3. Socializer, Runner, Racer. Is the athlete on the team because of friends, parents made them go out, they just want to be part of something that is organized and structured, etc?  Or, does the athlete just like to run, the daily act of running, may or may not even care about racing; just enjoys the process, etc?  Or, does the athlete love to compete and because they are pretty good at endurance activities they chose cross country running for their competitive experience, frequently talks about runners on other teams, school records, etc?
  4. Historian, Living in the Moment, Futurist. Does the athlete frequently talk about past experiences, old races, old stories, miss long gone teammates, etc?  Or, does the athlete live for that workout that day, listens to their body on recovery issues, seems relaxed but slightly anxious at races, etc?  Or, does the athlete frequently talk about next season or next year, put things off, make wild boasts about some future time drop, claims next time will be different, etc?
  5. Taker, Helper, Leader. Does the athlete suck the life from the team with frequent high drama situations, hold up practice, late for busses, always seems to collapse in the chute at the end of races for attention, etc?  Or, does the athlete frequently lead setting up the team camp and tent at meets, will run into the school for something you forgot, will always have an extra something along with them, etc?  Or, does the athlete instinctively start team daily warmups, know the right thing to say in situations, encourage young runners, is never late, etc?
  6. Headwinds, Calm, Tailwinds. Dose the athlete always seem to be struggling against something such as teammates, parents, old shoes, lost uniform, bad grades, etc?  Or does the athlete have an air of collective cool about them, unflappable, low maintenance, steady teammate, etc?  Or, is the athlete always ahead of the game with new shoes, supportive parents, never gets injured, always seems to be progressing, always new shoes, right spot at right time, finds time to run in a crowded schedule-always, etc?


The combination of three choices for the six personality traits results in thousands of different possibilities for the way athletes will interact on a team.  There is no right or wrong choice for each of the six traits, it is just the way the person is at the moment.  Some of the more negative traits can be modified, and being a member of a team will naturally modify some of them.


* Coaching Resource: Advanced Topics Symposium in Cross Country


It will always be the coach’s responsibility to recognize the differences in team members and to get individual attitudes and goals of the team pointed in the right direction.





Scott Christensen - Scott Christensen’s teams have been ranked in the national top 10 eight times. He won the 1997 High School National Championship and his squads have captured multiple Minnesota State Championships. Scott has coached 13 Minnesota State Championship-winning teams and 27 individual Minnesota State Champions. He was the USTFCCCA Endurance Specialist School junior team leader for the World Cross Country Team in 2003 and the senior team leader in 2008. Scott is a 14-year USATF Level II endurance lead instructor.

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