Dear Track & Field Families,
There is no meet or practice this weekend, and only a Monday night session next week for the advanced group.
***Please read the following meet information as we have some updates, etc, based on the first meet. Near the end I share some heavier thoughts on youth athletic development as it pertains to training and competing.
Our next meet is on Saturday, 4/23 at East Side High School (formerly Woodrow Wilson), hosted by Camden Clock Chasers. The meet will begin at 9:00am, and we will start a team warmup at 8:30. This information is also in the club google calendar.
Coach Lavar of Camden Clock Chasers has informed us that they will have all of the events except high jump. There will be an 80m Hurdle event, with the lowest hurdles at, I believe, 28″. This would make it suitable for kids of at least 10 or 11, but kids who are new this year should probably not consider hurdling yet. I am assuming that they will follow the original event order: 3000m, 100m (hopefully run at the same time), 1500m, 4x100m relay, 400m, 200m, 800m, 4x400m relay. Unlike the 4×100 relay, where it’s “the more the merrier,” we will limit the 4×400 relay to more of an A-team, based on attendance and who we think should consider it.
A reminder that from now on, kids only need to pick up their bib number when arriving at the next meet. No signing up for events, just listen for announcements and show up to the designated areas. After the meet, you can keep your number if you think it will not get lost, or drop back in the same box.
Please assist us at the meets by helping your kids listen for announcements, and move to staging areas for the events when they are called. The younger your child is, the more help they might need, and we can only provide so much support. In general, the idea is for spectators to stay out of the infield and competition areas, but it is fine if you are helping to make sure your own kid actually gets to a starting line or field event pit. The only real issue is that parents can’t be on the infield just to cheer on their kids. Please just use our judgement.
ADDITIONAL READING FOR LEARNING MORE ABOUT HOW THIS SPORT, HOW THESE MEETS WORK:
Now that we have gotten our first meet under our belts, and those of you who attended have a better idea of how this all works, here are some things to be aware of and consider.
- Each host team can run the meet as they see fit. This is ultimately a good thing, but can obviously cause some confusion and requires us all to be flexible and adaptable.
- One suggested change this season was to run coed heats of all track events. Some coaches and parents are opposed to this. As a club, SJTFC supports running coed events, especially for the younger age groups. This provides more competition to all of the kids, and keeps the meets moving faster. (Faster girls often end up running alone in gendered heats). The sticking point seems to be a fear that a boy’s ego will be damaged by losing to a girl. As a father of both a boy and a girl, I am very happy to help my son learn that there is no difference – sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, most of the time you’re in the middle, and, perhaps most important, its all relative, and if get to a high enough level of competition, you almost always lose eventually. It’s a brutal sport, especially if you don’t know how to handle losing.
- Related to the last point, even though this league awards ribbons for each heat of a race, the place a kid gets in any given heat is very relative. There are lots of other heats and we intentionally are not emphasizing who is actually the fastest kid in any event. Parents can look up the results using their child’s bib number, and in some cases figure out how they placed overall. What is much more important is helping kids learn that as they compete, they improve. Helping them see their progression from early season to late season is a positive form of support.
- Overemphasizing “winning” doesn’t really provide much, as it doesn’t have much meaning.
Emphasizing race times is a surefire way to take the fun out of racing. Coach Jake shared something with me recently. He asked an old high school friend of his when track stopped being fun, and he didn’t hesitate when he answered, “When I started focusing on my times.” This was a talented runner who was recruited to run in college, but after arriving decided he was done. The earlier we start to focus on competing to win, and improving specific times, the sooner we start a clock on potential burnout.
- These last two points present a quandary. On one hand I am saying to support your kid by focusing on improvement over the season, which obviously means looking at race times and field event marks. And then I am saying that a focus on times can lead to burnout. There is no simple, single way to support kids in this sport. It’s your kid. You know them. Use your judgement. But if as a life-long athlete and coach in this sport I can be an influence, I have two kids who are quite talented, differently, in track and field, and I will do everything I can to keep it fun for them. If they are truly talented in this sport, and they keep having fun, they might keep doing it long enough to find their true potential. By overemphasizing athletic performance in high school, we often burn kids out several years before their physical AND mental maturity, which is why so many D1 track athletes never race a step after college – they report that they are so used up by the end of high school that the college sport is just a really terrible job.
OUR PERSPECTIVE AND THE AMERICAN DEVELOPMENT MODEL:
And finally, if you are still reading, all of this is based on the American Development Model, which USA Track & Field now encourages all youth coaches to follow. The model is based on over 10 years of research that has proven that early maturers have shorter careers AND growth curves in sport. When we celebrate success in youth sports, we are usually celebrating early maturity. This leads to kids who have deep potential talent quitting, because they compare themselves to the kids who are playing before them, winning, and being praised. The ADM was originally developed by USA Hockey, when they realized that most D1 scholarship layers never make it to the NHL, and that it’s the kids who no one heard of in high school that become the world’s best players. If you are paying attention to how schools handle testing, advanced placement and honors courses, it is obvious that this likely applies to cognitive development as well. In track and field, it is absolutely a combination of physical and cognitive maturity that supports elite performance. Just because a kid may be physically mature at 17 doesn’t mean they can handle the mental stress of serious training and competing to win. The basic teaching of the ADM is to focus on fun for as long as possible. In youth track and field, up to the ages of 10-12, the focus should be squarely on discovery, learning and play. Around the ages of 10-12, we can shift toward more organized training, but practice should still be more for skill development over competing (practice to learn). Around the ages of 13-19, we shift to practicing to compete, but we compete to keep learning. After that, if the athlete is still hungry for more, the shift is to competing to win. Throughout this whole process, we are focused on avoiding burnout, and teaching the development of healthy lifestyle choices and a positive perspective on the sport.
Thanks for your interest and support!