Secrets of a Couch Potato Track Coach

Halley jogged wearily across the finish line as I staggered behind her. The stopwatch gave the same answer for a third time as I stared in disbelief. Surely in my exhaustion I had miscounted a lap somewhere along the way. I fought back dreams of track scholarships and Olympic medals as I caught up with Halley to break the news

It was a rotten Tuesday night for running at the university’s stadium. The sun was hot, the wind was brisk, and the track was crowded. Nine-year-old Halley had one last chance to earn her National Physical Fitness Award. For thirty-six weeks she had worked toward this award through our home school PE club. All the necessary curl-ups, pull-ups, and shuttle runs were completed. Yet, she still had to cut twenty seconds off of her mile run … twenty lousy seconds

“Do you want to do this?” my wife, Belinda, queried Halley a few days before. We did not want to put pressure on our first-born daughter, who already excels at overachieving and overstressing

Halley replied honestly, “Really? I don’t want to, but if you want me to, I will.” Oh, how we dream of hearing such words from all our children

Being the closest thing to a track coach my daughter had, I plotted our strategy for victory. Sad to say, in my couch-potato physical condition, I can hardly think a mile, let alone run one. Recruiting the rest of the family, I positioned Belinda and the stroller-strapped boys along the first third of the track. Seven-year-old Scout bravely covered the middle third while I took the closing third and the official stopwatch.

After a final prayer, hug, and word of encouragement, Halley took her place at the starting line. The gun sounded, and she took off on the first of her four laps. Scout also took off, running alongside her sister on the turf inside the track. In her enthusiasm, Scout sort of forgot her track assignment and ran most of the mile with Halley. We thought this was especially funny because Scout could barely walk a mile the week before. Belinda and the boys supported the first third of Halley’s laps with cheery shouts, and I lumbered along the last third gasping, “Good girl!”

The first and second laps were at too fast a pace, but I did not say anything. One week earlier I slowed Halley’s pace, and we missed by twenty seconds. The third lap started more slowly as Halley tired. Checking the stopwatch, I calculated how much time she had left to reach the goal. My body was just too bushed for accurate math, so I looked up to check Halley’s progress. She was walking. WALKING!? Not my little Olympian! I alerted Belinda, who restarted her barrage of encouragement, “Don’t walk.” “Keep running.” “You can do it!”

Foolishly, I focused on the stopwatch and forgot about actually getting Halley around the track. The family team re-centered on Halley, and we got her through the third and final laps. Somehow, the world’s least-fit track coach managed (thank you, God) to run the last 220 yards with his little track star.

Halley was so exhausted she could not talk. We walked another lap to help her cool down. She did not ask until we were halfway around the track. “Daddy, did I make it?”

With a big, sweaty bear hug, I gave her the news. “You didn’t just make it, girl! You blew it away!” To earn her award, Halley had to shave twenty seconds off her time. By God’s grace, Halley beat her previous time by 110 seconds!

Why did Halley win the award? Why did she beat her personal best by 110 seconds? Well, because we ran alongside Halley, we shouted encouragement, and we did not let her quit.

Dads, I guess I have not been too subtle with this story, and you have probably guessed my point. As you begin your home school year, please commit to run alongside your kids as they study and learn. Run alongside your wife as she prepares and teaches. Shout encouragement (do not mumble) to your family as they run and stumble. Teach them that the Lord created them to run well.

Hebrews 12:1 explains, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (NIV)

On that hot Tuesday night, Halley’s un-athletic family served as her great cloud of witnesses. We helped her run the race with perseverance. Soon she will forget all about the Fitness Award, but on that Tuesday night, Halley learned she could do more than she thought she could?, all because her daddy and family ran alongside her.

If you would like to share your thoughts on all of this or need a track coach, please contact me at