Nurturing Resilience in our Kids – The ‘Faughanvale Flyers Story’
The photo below is my own 11 year old in one of the early events of this years NI Primary Schools Cross Country Qualifiers in NI. As you will see from the photo my own little red headed warrior is missing a spike – a spike that was lost just after the start line in a 1600 metre race. It was typical day in the North West – a wind that would make Jason Stratham whimper, cold that would freeze a monkey’s ‘do dahs’ and mud that was of little or no use to ageing lines or cheek bones. He lost the spike after a nasty stamping near the start, socks lasted another 100 metres then the blood soaked foot for the remainder. He finished third on the podium that day – he refused to quit and just ran on. It was a proud day but only one moment in a season that delivered so much more.
The ‘Faughanvale Flyers’ (above) as they have become known as the season progressed has become the first school of its size (180 kids!) to win the NI Cross Country Championships 2019. Furthermore, the first school in history to take all three podium places in the Northern Regional final in a field of more than 120 runners. This team of six little legends did everything that was asked of them and then some. Why and how did they succeed against such tough competition and bigger schools and what were the factors that ensured they could take the title in such a convincing manner:
- The Foundation and Vision: The majority of the kids had been in the 2017/2018 team – they ran well in 2018 but it was nothing beyond a decent foundation on which to build. However two coaches with an eye and passion for talent and winning realised that dreaming big was critical – we could win this in 2019. The kids needed to believe it was possible … and they did. Attitude and resilience went hand in hand.
- Selection: The final team of six knew that at every training session and at every race their place was up for grabs. It is fair to say also that some kids involved in the early sessions, some with more talent, dropped off because the ‘going was just too tough’ – selection is not just about talent – it’s about resilience and the ability to grind it out week after week in all conditions. Those that defaulted to ‘Fortnite’ and missed training were dropped from the team. The easy course is not always the right one. Grit, determination and belief were written into the DNA of the rest of the team.
- ‘The Team’: The team was a much larger panel of kids. However every runner had the target of the guy or girl who beat them at the last trial – competing with your teammates is critical during training. You have a benchmark for performance and you know where you need to be during a race. Despite the competition the panel high fived at every session, congratulated each other and bonded together like gorilla tape in super glue. Resilience is better when the whole family is committed.
- ‘Training’: This team trained 3-4 times a week for around 4 months – however every team member was also training across other sports virtually every day. All weathers, forests, hills and even a session on Boxing Day (that was a fun one). Strength and conditioning with press ups on the forest floor, planks, lunges and all sorts of additional pain. Endurance and interval training with parents trying to keep pace laden with water bottles, 14 tracksuit tops and an absence of oxygen. If you want to be resilient you have to commit.
- Coaches and Mentors: Two adult individuals drove the potential and helped the kids maximise their talent. One an Ironman veteran and one of the hardest most competitively stubborn people I have ever met – the kids followed his example and the team of competitive minions was assured. The School was also lucky to have a competitive Vice Principal himself no stranger to GAA excellence and a passion for competition and getting the best from the kids in his care. For resilience to take hold you have to have the right kind of hero’s and examples to follow.
- Parents:What the team didn’t have were parents who were trying to live vicariously through their kids. Never once did the Flyers have to be persuaded to leave a warm bed to go training – parents supported, drove, ran with them, became pace makers on trial days (we only lost one due to heart attack), and generally believing that it was possible every step of the way. The Faughanvale community is a close one and throw their arms around teams representing the school and area in the very best way possible. Resilience is a community and family affair.And so it came to bear – on the 30th January 2019 on a day which took the team and supporters over 3 hours to travel to Belfast in the worst snow and conditions of the season history was made. The team knew that as individuals they probably couldn’t win the race – however they knew that together this Band of Brothers could finish in density high up in the field of 158 runners. Like a hybrid scene from mini ‘Braveheart’ and the ‘Last of the Mohicans’ the first four runners finished 6th, 8th, 18th and 30th– a result which would see them almost 90 points clear of the second placed school. History made.
And as many lament the lack of resilience in our young people today and laugh about the ‘snowflake’ generation the ‘Faughanvale Flyers’ represent what can achieved with the right mix of talent, resilience and vision. Forget medals for everyone, cancel the duvet day and avoid free ice-cream – be like a ‘Flyer’.