For running coaches who want to promote a healthier sport.
This pledge aims to foster a more productive and supportive culture in athletics, especially concerning food, bodies, and mental health—prioritizing holistic athlete development. It defines guardrails for running, cross country, and track and field coaches.
These guardrails set basic, evidence-based expectations about food, body, and mental health culture. This includes disordered eating, eating disorders, distorted body image, appearance-based judgments, depression, anxiety, and other challenges.
These guardrails may help coaches set standards for themselves and their teams. Ideally, these guardrails simultaneously guide and educate coaches, serve as conversation starters, improve team culture, and may be used to hold coaches and others accountable.
The final aim? Empower athletes to achieve their fullest potential not just as athletes but as humans.
While this is written with collegiate and scholastic coaches of cross country, track and field, and running in mind, the pledge may serve other members of these and additional communities, including athletic department administrators and running clubs. It is not limited to coaching girls’ and women’s coaches, but to all coaches, for all athletes.
Cross country, track and field, and running are overdue for a cultural shift. Growing evidence suggests the antiquated paradigms by which these sports have operated are insufficient at best and harmful at worst. The stakes? Athletes’ well-being and success, plus the state and sustainability of our sport.
Recent headlines have addressed the challenges athletes face when it comes to food, body, and mental health, especially in “win-at-all-costs” environments. These challenges—whether unintentional, disordered, diagnosed as a disease, or abusive in nature—have both short- and long-term consequences for health and performance. Yet awareness of the consequences of disordered and/or diseased food, body, and mental health challenges is still lacking in coaching, medical, and related fields.
Take, for example, disordered eating. Substantial research shows that rates of eating disorders range across athletes, but higher rates are frequently reported in endurance and girls’ and women’s sports. However, eating disorders—alongside disordered eating, distorted body image, and other mental health issues like depression—are neither limited to so-called lean sports nor solely a white woman’s issue. It is important to note that these challenges exist within and are shaped by larger frameworks of society, including racism and sexism. (See, for example: diet culture and fatphobia.)
Anyone and everyone may face food, body, and mental health struggles. And those struggles, whether clinically diagnosed, are not always visible. That’s one reason it’s important for those of us in positions of power to carefully examine the assumptions and biases we hold. The lives of our athletes are at stake.
Note: As an author and coach who wields considerable privilege as a white, cis-gendered, able-bodied woman, I acknowledge my own blind spots, welcome feedback, and commit to dismantling white supremacy, further education about the intersection of these issues, and owning my mistakes.
By signing this pledge, I commit publicly to pursuing the well-being of athletes, ongoing education about these issues, and de-emphasizing reliance on weight and body composition as a coaching tactic, as outlined, but not limited to, the below. I believe that performance and well-being coexist.
I commit to:
- Educating athletes on the importance of being adequately nourished for daily life, development, training, and performance
- Listening to and collaborating with athletes through open communication
- Sharing respect and care for athletes beyond performance outcomes or other numerical metrics
- Encouraging a growth mindset with emphasis on the process
- Being a positive role model in what I say and do
- Staying current on eating disorder, Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S)/Athlete Triad, and sports nutrition research from credible, vetted sources
- Knowing red flags of food, body, and mental health issues
- Remembering you cannot determine whether or how someone is struggling with food, body, and/or mental health by looking at them
- Acknowledging confirmation bias is real and no “right” or “perfect” runner’s body exists
- Nixing “racing weight” talk, knowing that physics and metabolism are not interchangeable
- Providing evidence-based and/or vetted resources for athletes
- Referring and deferring to credentialed specialists and experts in respective food, body, and mental health fields
- Taking food, body, and mental health concerns seriously, knowing that recovery is possible and early intervention improves outcomes
- A no-tolerance policy for:
- body criticism, comments, and comparisons
- food judgment or moralizing (“Good” vs “Bad,” for example. Fork the food police!)
- “diet culture” language including “earning,” permitting, and restricting food
- fixation on calories, macros, and arbitrary metrics
- body composition testing unrelated to medical concerns
Melody Fairchild, Girls Running author, coach, and director Boulder Mountain Warriors
Kara Bazzi, LMFT, CEDS, co-founder, Opal Food and Body Wisdom
SIGN HERE: https://forms.gle/K48UCe7qAjZcRofL6