Being new to the sport of cross country can be exciting and difficult at times. In my eight seasons of cross country I have seen newcomers succeed in the sport and on the team. I have also seen newcomers fail at the sport and ultimately end up quitting the team. Expectations that a newcomer might have of what the sport is and what it is like to be part of a cross country team can often be misleading. Being a cross country runner is more than just running fast times. You have to become part of the community in order to become a true cross country runner. I have seen runners fail in becoming a part of the cross country community for many reasons from work ethic when it counts to how a person actually runs. Many of these parts of being a cross country runner and part of the community can be difficult to learn. Learning these more difficult aspects in becoming a member of the community can help a newcomer be successful in the sport of cross country.

James Paul Gee is a linguist who explains a community as a Discourse. He says Discourses are certain ways of being, acting, valuing, and believing. A newcomer to cross country has to learn these certain ways in order to become successful in the community or Discourse. Along the same lines Gee wrote another paper on the language and activities used to give the ways of being, acting, valuing, and believing in the community meaning and calls them building tasks. In other words building tasks are how you can successfully express the ways of the community or Discourse as Gee puts it. For example I found an article about cross country that can provide further explanation of Gee’s ideas in terms of the cross country Discourse. The article I found was on a commonly known website by cross country runners called mile split. This is a website where cross country runners can go to see results of races or catch up on news within the community. The article which was written by a group of cross-country runners displays accurately the ways within the cross country Discourse. Using Gee’s paper Building tasks the article can be analyzed to understand the parts of the community that is hard for new runners to understand.

One of the Building tasks Gee mentions in his writing is the building task of Identities. Gee says in the paper that Identities are

“language to get recognized as taking on a certain identity or role, that is, to build an identity here and now.”(Gee 33).

One of the statements in the article established one of the identities a cross country runner needs to take on. In the article it said

“Cross Country is not simply about the race. Cross Country is all about what you do to prepare for the race.”.

The language in this quote really builds the identity of a hard worker that every cross country runner needs to take on the role of for tough workouts and for the amount of  work it takes to be in the best shape you can. Reading the article and Gee I have found that their are many identities a cross-country runner takes on. In another quote it said

“Cross Country is kids who are thought to be some of the smartest students in class — until you sit next to them on a three-hour bus ride.”.

This quote built another identity of academic importance to cross country runners. Although this role might seem a little stereotypical to newcomers grades and academics have always been of great importance on every team I have been on. A newcomer realizing the roles they have to play and how to express them is another step closer to acquiring the Discourse. For the a new cross country runner it is learning the identities of a hard worker and a student athlete.

Another Building task that Gee talks about is significance. He explains this building task to be

“things, we need to use language to render them significant or to lessen their significance, to signal to others how we view their significance.”(Gee 32)

Looking through the article I was looking for things that I know cross-country runners find to be significant. Pr’s and Pb’s are one thing that cross country runners find to be significant in the Discourse community and this statement from the article gives signals in the language to show the significance

“Cross Country is the never-ending pursuit of a PR or a PB.”.

The never ending phrase in the quote can be consider a signal to show the significance of Personal records because it emphasizes how big of a goal it is for a cross country runner to break them. If a newcomer wants to display the correct values of the cross country Discourse emphasizing or lessening the building task of significance is a way to use language to represent those values.

Gee brings up in his paper is the building task of activity or practices. In another article that was found on how to train for cross-country explains the different activities and practices a cross-country runner needs to perform. The article explains how racing in a cross-country race is much different than a normal road race or track race which a non fluent member of the Discourse might expect to prepare for. Pete Magill, who is a four time national cross-country champion tries to explain why cross country races are different then track and road races in the article. Pete explains

“A well-planned cross country course will do everything possible to disrupt your stride, your pace, and your focus. So the trick is to stop worrying about stride or pace. Find an effort level that you’re confident you can maintain, then make that your guide.”

So for a newcomer to the cross country Discourse they would need to understand this language and the difference between pace and effort. In the article they then list activities to help newcomers learn how to run based on effort and not pace. One of the examples is training with hills. Putting some hills in your workout will help a runner think about where to use their energy. The hills obviously require more energy to run but are only a short part of the run so it would make the runner think how to place the effort just like they would have to do in a race. A hill workout is a is an example of the building task of practice for a very important part of the cross-country runner Discourse.

Learning all of these parts of a new Discourse and ways to display them can be overwhelming for a newcomer. It is also something that would be very difficult for a new runner to learn all on their own. As a result another linguist Deborah Brandt talks about sponsorship for newcomers entering a new Discourse. Brandt explains sponsorship as

“Sponsors as I have come to think of them, are any agents, local or distant, concrete or abstract, who enable, support, teach, model as well as recruit, regulate, suppress, or withholds”.(Brandt 556)

In my experience for when I was a newcomer to the Discourse community it was through the sponsorship of captains and coaches that helped me become fluent in the discourse. Pete Magill in the paragraph above can be considered a sponsor because of the knowledge he shares about the Discourse and that he is trying to model what a cross country runner should train like. Going back to the quote from Pete in the article and his advice it is a perfect example of a sponsor. Brandt continues to explain a sponsor as

“are powerful figures that bankroll events or smooth the way for initiates. Usually more richer, more knowledgeable, and more entrenched than the sponsored.”.

Giving Pete’s background, success, and insight of the sport in the article it is easy to see that he meets the requirements of a sponsor for the cross-country runner Discourse. Brandt mentions the word entrenched in the quote. This means that a sponsor is firmly established in the ways of their discourse. With this definition that Brandt gives us it should be noticed that it is hard for sponsors to see different ways of achieving building tasks in the Discourse. In Pete’s case it might be hard for him to see other ways of achieving efficiency in a race then the practices of hills. There could very well be other activities or practices a runner can do to achieve the same goal, but Pete as a sponsor has become entrenched in the practices that have worked for him and made him a success in the discourse.  

The article also gave quotes from coaches, who are another common sponsor for cross country runners on how they prepare for races. One coach Joe Vigil who coached many national champions before says

“If possible,survey the courses you’re racing and duplicate the challenges of the course as much as possible within your surrounding geography. Make it tough, as hard as you can make it, then run a weekly workout on it hard.”.

Looking at this quote you can see fragments of language that cross country coaches use to establish their relationship with their runners. The language and the words he uses to describe the workout in the quote shows his knowledge within the community. He also presents that powerful role that brandt says spornos typically have by explaining what training makes better runners. Joe also shows the entrenched characteristic by saying that he knows what is best for his runners and what workouts will help them to perform well. Recognising this type of language used by coaches and how it defines the relationship between a cross country runner and their sponsor is recognising the relationships that can help a newcomer to the sport of cross country acquire and become part of the Discourse.

The article talked about above discusses the differences between races on the track and road compared to the races on a cross country course. The article suggests that someone who has only run track would have difficulty adjusting to a cross country race then most newcomers because they might approach it like a race on a track. It would be difficult for them to abandon their track Discourse to become fluent in the cross-country Discourse. Lisa Delpit who is another Linguist wrote an essay on the topic of Discourse. In her essay Delpit discusses the ideas of previous other Discourses that a newcomer may have when trying to gain access to a new Discourse. Based on what Delpit says in her paper she would argue against this article’s claims. In her paper she says

“The second aspect of Gee’s work that I find troubling suggests that an individual who is born into one discourse with one set of values may experience major conflicts when attempting to acquire another discourse with another set of values” (Delpit 547).

In her paper she is also able to back up her ideals with evidence of people overcoming Discourse conflicts and acquiring a new Discourse without abandoning their primary Discourse.

Along with what Delpit says I found an article for people just starting out in the sport. The article has a section that talks about using other sports as a cross train for cross country. In the article it says

“If you’ve done another sport, keep doing it as a form of cross training. Go out to shoot some hoops or kick around the soccer ball it can be a great supplement to your running.”

This quote can be considered further evidence in Delpit’s claims. The article claims that dominant Discourses and from other sports do not present a major conflict in acquiring the cross country Discourse, but instead can help in training and preparing you for success as a cross country runner. With this article’s claims it is seen that other Discourses from other sport do not have to be completely abandoned in order to become a fluent member of the cross country Discourse.

As it has been seen there are many parts for a newcomer to understand when trying to become fluent in the cross country Discourse. Learning how to run like a cross country runner through various activities, practices and how to identify the many roles a cross country runner need to perform, and displaying the right values of the Discourse are the three parts of the Discourse that I have seen newcomers struggle with the most. Looking at the building tasks in Gee’s paper a newcomer can learn to apply meaning to the ways of the cross country community. Similarly Brandts and Delpit’s papers  can be used to find ways into the Discourse with minimal conflict with their in depth analysis of sponsorship and Discourse. As a result of applying all of these concepts to the Discourse of cross country it should make the transition into this new community smoother and understandable for a newcomer.