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Cross Country | Healthy Sport Index | Aspen Institute Sports and Society Program

2nd

out of 10

Cross Country

Girls

Cross country is a sport that involves extensive running for long distances and periods of time, and it requires great endurance and the ability to embrace solitude. Recommended complementary/alternate sports for runners include swimming, soccer and tennis.

Rankings in orange circles compare this sport with nine other sports offered for this gender before customization – meaning each of the three health categories is given an equal one-third weighting. The ranking is comprised of data collected or developed from various sources (75% of score) and expert opinion (25% of score). The healthiest sports in each of the three categories – physical activity, safety and psychosocial benefits – and in each data measurement are ranked No. 1. Note: Some sports did not have significant differences between each other in the data. Learn more about our methodology.

1st

out of 10

Physical Activity

Expert Opinion Rank: 1st Out of 10

Key Characteristics: Cross country’s physical activity at practices is the highest among the 10 girls sports studied by North Carolina State University. Cross country has 57.3 percent vigorous activity; the 10 girls sports average 39.6 percent. Thirty-four percent of cross country practice time focuses on fitness compared to 15 percent on skills.

1 North Carolina State University research observing high school athletes in North Carolina, 2017-18.

2nd

out of 10

Safety

10.7

Injury Rate2

(5th out of 10)

6.3%

Injury Time/Loss3

(2nd out of 10)

0

Catastrophic Rate4

(T-1st out of 10)

0.9%

Injuries Requiring Surgery5

(2nd out of 10)

0

Concussion Rate6

(T-1st out of 10)

Expert Opinion Rank: 3rd Out of 10

Key Characteristics: Cross country has the second-lowest injury rate among girls sports, according to the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study. Leg, ankle, knee, hip and thigh injuries are the most common ailments. Very few injuries rise to the level of missing time or needing surgery.

2 Injury rate per 10,000 exposures, National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 2016-17.

3 Percentage of all injuries resulting in greater than three weeks of time loss from the sport, National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 2016-17.

4 Non-fatal catastrophic injury/illness rate per 100,000 exposures, National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, 1982-2016.

5 Percentage of all injuries requiring surgery, National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 2016-17.

6 Concussion rate per 10,000 exposures, National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 2016-17.

8th

out of 10

Psychosocial

Aspen Psychosocial Survey7

3.313

Personal Social Skills

(10th out of 10)

2.279

Cognitive Skills

(10th out of 10)

3.603

Goal-Setting

(9th out of 10)

3.706

Initiative

(T-7th out of 10)

3.628

Health

(8th out of 10)

1.376

Negative Experiences

(2nd out of 10)

Substance Abuse

Cigarette Use8
6.2%

(1st out of 10)

Binge Drinking9
13.8%

(1st out of 10)

Marijuana Use10
10.9%

(1st out of 10)

Academic Achievement

Cut Class11
22.9%

(1st out of 10)

A/A- Student12
56.1%

(2nd out of 10)

Graduate From College13
77.1%

(3rd out of 10)

Psychological health14

4.13

Self-Esteem

(T-5th out of 10)

1.97

Fatalism

(1st out of 10)

3.9

Self-Efficacy

(T-2nd out of 10)

2.77

Loneliness

(7th out of 10)

1.98

Self-Derogation

(T-2nd out of 10)

4.23

Social Support

(T-7th out of 10)

Expert Opinion Rank: T-7th Out of 10

Key Characteristics: Cross country rates ninth among the 10 girls sports in the Aspen Institute/University of Texas psychosocial survey, though the gap isn’t large compared to No. 1 softball. Low substance abuse and high academic achievement are strengths for cross country. The sport has a higher level of loneliness than most girls sports, according to Women’s Sports Foundation data.

7 Aspen Institute/University of Texas psychosocial benefits survey of high school athletes nationally, 2018. Scoring ranges from 1-4, with 4 being the best except for the Negative Experiences category.

8 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport smoking cigarettes in the past 30 days. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

9 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport binge drinking alcohol in the past two weeks. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

10 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport using marijuana in the past 30 days. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

11 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport who cut class for a full day in the past month. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

12 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport who have an average grade of an A or A-. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

13 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport who expect to graduate from a four-year college. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

14 Average scores of high school seniors in the sport in psychological health report card. Data for these six categories came from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters. Scoring ranges from 1-5, with 5 being the best for self-esteem, self-efficacy and social support.

Compare Tool

Select Other Girls Sports to Compare and Scroll Down

Cross Country (Girls)
Basketball (Girls)
Cheerleading (Girls)
Lacrosse (Girls)
Soccer (Girls)
Softball (Girls)
Swimming (Girls)
Tennis (Girls)
Track and Field (Girls)
Volleyball (Girls)

Complementary Sports

Healthy Sport Index recognizes the benefits of youth engaging in more than one sport during the year, through organized or casual play. Some youth also may want or need to find alternate sports, due to interest or roster-size limitations. There are two types of benefits to sport sampling: athletic/skill development in their primary sport, and overall health. First, let’s take a look at sports that can help develop athletic/skill development.

Athletic/Skill Development

For youth whose primary sport is cross country, the New York Road Runners recommends the following complementary sports.

Other Recommended Sports/Activities for Skills

Cycling, Weight Training

Rationale: One of the most important skills to develop and maintain in cross country is aerobic endurance. Swimming, soccer and lacrosse will continue to maintain endurance during the duration of the year, while allowing a runner to develop many other skills to create a well-rounded athlete. Taking a break from running will reduce the risk of injury that could impact cross-country season.

Not chasing an athletic scholarship or elite performance? Let’s now explore complementary sports that are less tailored to develop skills in this particular sport but can help build a well-rounded athlete for life.

Overall Health

For youth focused on this sport, the following are activities worth considering to build overall health and fitness. They are recommended by the Healthy Sport Index Advisory Group in consultation with the American College of Sports Medicine. Considerations include whether the primary sport is a team or individual sport, the amount of time the primary sport spends at practice on fitness, and options for sports that carry low-injury risks.

Other Recommended Sports/Activities for Health

Cycling, Handball, Kayak, Mountain Biking, Pilates, Racquetball, Rock Climbing, Rowing, Squash, Ultimate Frisbee, Yoga

Rationale: Cross country is an individual sport that would benefit from a companion team sport due to cross country’s solidarity and redundant nature. It’s a high-fitness sport. Injuries are largely experienced in the lower extremities due to the repetitive stress of high-mileage running.

Best Practices

Tips on how to make cross country active and safer

  1. Find the right pair of running shoes. There are many types of shoes – neutral, stability, motion control, and minimalist. For instance, the neutral shoe is for the runner who has a more rigid foot. Understand your foot needs, which means …
  2. Understand foot mechanics. When looking for shoes, it’s helpful to know the gait cycle of running and foot mechanics. Problems and injuries arise when there is a disruption in normal foot mechanics. Some runners have a rigid or supinated foot, and don’t get into a natural movement of the foot when it lands.
  3. Make sure to stretch. A stretching regimen can help counteract the muscle imbalances and tightening that are common side-effects of running. Experts no longer advise strenuous stretching before running, but warm-up exercises can help with blood flow and stretching after a run can increase flexibility.
  4. Try yoga. Regular yoga practice can be a great complement to running workouts. Yoga builds core strength and flexibility, and improves performance through breathing, mindfulness, and fine-tuning the body’s response.
  5. Listen to your body. Whether it’s aches and pains after increased mileage, fatigue from an overly busy schedule, or a healthy appetite, the body is trying to tell you something. Listen to the warning signs to help avoid injuries. Long-distance runners are more vulnerable to developing an eating disorder.

Learn More About Best Practices
Injury Prevention (New York Road Runners)

How to Find the Right Pair of Running Shoes (New York Road Runners)

Eating Disorders in Long-Distance Runners (Eating Disorder Hope)

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)