As Sunday’s Super Bowl slowly wound down with Patrick Mahomes being chased around the backfield by multiple Tampa Bay defenders — again — it brilliantly brought home a belief I’ve long held: Running is a superior sport. Case in point: this Super Bowl was widely billed as a showdown between two great quarterbacks. But the reality ended up being that one of the quarterbacks, through no fault of his own, had little chance to do much but scramble. That’s the nature of the sport, but it makes for a long day even for the most resilient athlete, and is even worse for those with developing skills.
Opponents can’t stop you from running your best
It’s not just football: In most sports, it’s difficult to be able to use your skills and celebrate your effort if you’re not fairly evenly matched with your opponents. A superior defender will make you rue the day you took up the sport. It’s hard to feel good about yourself, let alone develop as an athlete, when you never get out of the football backfield, can’t get off a basketball shot, seldom return a serve, or spend the wrestling match with your face pushed into the mat — worse, get pinned in a matter of seconds. Remembering my un-athletic youth, I know what that feels like, and the defeated, unconfident self-image it creates. I’m not sure what you can say, as a coach, to a young athlete after they get stymied week after week.
In contrast, in running we get to spend a lot of time talking about progress and personal success. Yes, only one person wins, and only a few medal, but a far faster runner will just pull away from you, not block you or knock you out of the race. Every runner, no matter where they are in the pack, has the chance to develop and use their skill, to step up and accomplish personal goals every race, and to feel good about themselves, wherever they finish. You never end the day wishing you could have had the chance to use your skills — if you failed to do your best, you’re the only one to blame.
Being able to perform and succeed even when getting beat is only one way running rocks. Here are four more reasons running is a superior sport:
Everyone gets to start
Running wipes away that most frustrating and demoralizing aspect of so many sports: The politics of who gets to start and how much playing time you get. Runners never have to endure the agonizing hours of waiting and hoping on the bench for the chance to prove themselves, and then the almost-inevitable rookie mistakes they make when they do get in, full of nerves and lacking game-time experience.
You’re involved every second
Runners not only get to play every day, every week, but while they are playing, they are actively, completely involved. They don’t have to wait for their number to be called in a play, for someone to pass them the ball, or for a ball to be hit their way. They also don’t have to worry about hogging the ball or trying too hard: They can give their full mental and physical focus and effort to the task of being the best they can be, without taking away from anyone else.
Size really doesn’t matter
There are outliers, athletes with superior prowess who can punch about their weight, but for the most part, you have to be tall to excel at basketball, and you have to be big to succeed, even survive, in football. If you’re not, there’s very little you can do about changing that. Height and size are pretty irrelevant when it comes to running, and immersing in the sport will shape your physique to its personal optimum level for your running success.
You can do it for a lifetime
Few sports offer the opportunity to continue participating long after school ends, and experiencing all of the joy and satisfaction for as long as you’re willing to chase it. I know none who play football as an adult, or wrestle. Some find an adult volleyball or basketball or baseball league, or play tennis, but they can only participate when others can, and they often have difficulty finding opponents or teammates that fit their level of expertise and passion (whether lower or higher). Running can be pursued at any time, alone or with others, at whatever level of commitment you’re ready for, with infinitely variable challenges to chase.
I know there are myriad benefits to learning how to play on a team, and I appreciate that athletes, in all sports, who commit themselves to building fitness and skill year-round will see progress and be more likely to succeed. Nevertheless, while I may still be biased from once seeing the world through the eyes of a small, athletically-unconfident 12-year-old, I’m glad I found running, and I’m grateful to be a running coach.