I Love Track & Field

For those of you that know me personally, I can already hear the response to this blog post’s title: “But you’re a BASEBALL guy!”  I do classify myself as a baseball guy, but there is much to like about sports like track and field.  Because I’m very competitive, the idea of standing on one line and racing someone else to another line appeals to me (that specific example was much more appealing 15 years ago, but you get the idea).  For the same reason, I enjoy other individual sports like tennis, wrestling, and swimming.  All of that aside, there’s another reason that I really enjoy track and field – more specifically, track and field coaches and their programs.

As we’re winding down spring sports, I’m in the process of meeting with coaches for their post-season debriefings and evaluations.  As a part of this process, we look at several pieces of information, including (but not limited to) their pre-season expectations, student survey data, any discuss-able parent feedback, and the coach’s general thoughts and feelings about the past season.

These discussions are awesome at the end of a track season because they almost always revolve around the improvement of the kids.  Track coaches don’t lament certain play calls in certain games that they are sure cost them a chance at a win.  Track coaches aren’t viewed in the public based on team placing at various meets.  I don’t get phone calls or emails from track parents because their kid didn’t make the varsity.  Track athletes don’t complain in their surveys about how they should have been on the varsity or should have been given more minutes.  Everybody associated with track and field places their focus on the individual improvement of each athlete.

I have a question on our student survey that asks whether or not the athlete feels that this season was a success for the team.  Even through my second year in this district, almost every student answers this question based on the win-loss record of the team.  That means that I’m not defining and explaining what “success” is to our coaches very well, and I’m not doing a good enough job making sure that definition is passed along from our coaches to our kids.  Ultimately, in high school athletics, success isn’t winning.

Success is excellence.

What does that mean?  I don’t mean excellence in the sense of being superior to everyone; I mean excellence in the sense of excelling at a personal level.  It’s different for each kid…which is why I love track and field.  We just finished hosting the regional track meet last weekend, and our qualifying athletes are competing at the state meet as I type this.  After the regional meet last week, I spoke to many of our track coaches about the day’s performance.  Parts of those conversations really stuck in my head later that night.  I had coaches who spoke very excitedly about the kids who had won their events, kids who had qualified for the state meet, and the kids who had set meet records.  What was even more fun for me, though, was listening to the coaches speaking about the kids who had PR’d (set Personal Records) that day despite not even placing in the event.

…because this is what a track coach does.  They take kids who run an event in 50 seconds and try to get them good enough to run it in 49 seconds.  Then 48 seconds.  They’ll also take kids who run the same event in 60 seconds and try to get them good enough to run it in 59 seconds.  Then 58 seconds.  And the beauty of track coaches is that they will get just as excited about the second kid’s performance as they will the first.  Track coaches get way more excited about individual improvement than they do about their team’s final finish.

But it’s not just the coaches.  Those kids love setting PR’s.  Find any track kid in any event and ask them what his/her PR’s are.  Not only will the kid tell you the number, he/she will probably tell you what the next goal is.  How much better is that to work with than the kid whose goal is broadly “to make the varsity”?

But it’s not just the coaches and the kids.  The parents love seeing their kids improve.  Ask most track parents how their kids did after any event, and the parent will probably lead with the time/distance, but will quickly follow with how that time/distance rates to the kid’s average.  Many parents will even be able to tell you what the next goal for the kid is.  How much better is that than the parent who gripes about how their kid isn’t getting an honest chance from that mean ‘ol coach to make the varsity?

This is the mentality that needs to be passed along to all coaches, all parents, and all kids in all sports.  The competitive goal should always be how to foster improvement.  I have yet to hear a single complaint from a track athlete about how “Coach should let me…” or from a track parent about how “The coach should let my son/daughter…”  In contrast, I’m typing this at 2:00pm, and I’ve already received two comments from parents/public about how our coaches did something wrong with their rosters in games that took place last night.

Here’s my take away: parents see their kids as the best kid in any given sport playing in their own driveway every night; however, being the best in your own driveway doesn’t always translate into being the best on the team.  BUT, it could (and should!) translate into becoming better every single day.  A track kid who runs a 70 second 400m dash isn’t thinking about being the state champ; he is only thinking about running a 67.  Likewise, the kid shooting baskets in the driveway may never be a varsity basketball player and will most likely never be a college basketball player, but he/she can always become better as a shooter.  Did he/she make 2 of 10 today?  Aim for 3 of 10 tomorrow.

Winning a game isn’t a life skill; however, learning the dedication necessary to improve definitely is.  That should be the ultimate goal of high school athletics.
Kids – did you do everything you could to get better today?
Parents – did you positively encourage your kid to seek opportunities to improve today?
Coaches – did you provide every resource available to allow athletes the chance to improve today?

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