The LOVE of Track and Field
By Mike Smith
Like most of you, I’m at home wishing we were smack dab in the middle of spring track. Antsy by nature, and usually over-scheduled like crazy at this time of the year, I find myself with a little more “free” time on my hands these days. For sure, I’m getting in a bit more of my own running, but I’d rather be overseeing my kids prepare for the spring season.
As a coach that oversees both the track programs and the cross country program, I am asked from time to time which season is my favorite. Most people that know me know my first love is cross country. It’s how I entered the sport, and to be truthful, the only sport I really was interested in coaching. Like most high school cross country runners I ended up running track but I certainly didn’t love it. Multiple laps around a 440 yard oval (yes, 440 yards back then), if you were a true distance runner, did not hold any magic for me, and found me trying my “skills” elsewhere for two seasons until I finally gave up.
But my first opportunity to coach in the sport came as an assistant coach in my old high school program that was being run by an old school throwing coach, who sized up the kids that looked like they might make decent throwers and send the rest out to train under their own supervision. Figuring I could start working with the distance kids before inheriting the flailing cross program seemed like a good plan.
While I invested heavily in training my cross country athletes, both for the fall and spring seasons, I began to recognize the true value track and field holds for the majority of kids that came out for the team. This aspect of the sport held so much opportunity for a diversity of students. Great athletes, good athletes, athletes challenged by lack of genetic talent, all had opportunities in the sport that simply don’t exist in other sports. The ability to participate in the sport with the goal of personal improvement.
Another aspect of the sport that began to grow on me was the opportunity as a coach to witness all the efforts of my athletes (or at least the majority of them) by being track side. In cross country, depending on the course, you locate yourself at various points in an effort to help your athletes perform to their best ability. The reality is that my location on the course and where they might need my encouragement probably won’t match up. But on the track, I have the opportunity to interact with them every 400 meters.
And more recently I’ve come to enjoy the concept that track and field is all about opportunity. With 18 different events, and multiple options for athletes to compete in those events, track represents an opportunity for athletes to excel, and to choose their own best pathway to success. A good distance runner can qualify in three distance events, and could be a key player in two different relays. How they choose to best represent themselves comes with so many options, something you don’t see in cross country. In cross country the entire team is striving for that very same thing, bringing individuals together focusing on a single common goal. In track, not to say there is no team component, but the athlete is in pursuit of their individual best performance. And it’s fun to watch the athlete develop and grow individually. To stretch their wings, take that leap of faith in themselves, and leave the protection of the nest. And it’s in this I find my love for track and field.
So while I’ve always enjoyed cross country, and as both an athlete and a coach have poured my heart and soul into the sport from day 1, my love for the beauty of track and field has blossomed as my attention to it has grown. And much like the breaking of spring, with its eternal rebirth come April, track and field will once again return to us, as important as it’s ever been. Might not be this spring, but track will be back.
And I for one, will be very grateful when it does.