Updated: Oct 16, 2022
As much as people like to think determining who earns a spot on the varsity Cross Country team is a clear process, it isn't... at all.
The three methods most coaches use are:
Season Best Times
The Revolving Top 7
The problem with using season best times for deciding on a Top 7 is that all courses are not created equal. Where I coach, we have courses at sea level and some at over 5,000 feet in elevation. Some courses are hilly, rocky or uneven while others are on pristine, flat surfaces. The courses at elevation or with hills might be 20seconds slower than running on a flat, sea-level course, so using times doesn't make sense for us.
Some coaches have a "revolving door" Top 7, where each meet's lineup is decided by performance at the previous race. This might make it easier for the coach, but I think it's too much additional stress for the athlete and they just end up racing each other rather than be focused on the task at hand on race-day.
For several years, I have preferred using average placing throughout the season to determine our Top 7 Varsity runners. It's not perfect, but it offers built-in protection for students that you don't feel should race due to illness or injury. It also values consistency. As a coach, you just have to be okay with leaving it to the math and not your intuition.
What do you use to determine your Varsity runners?