Changing the Perception of Track Part 1

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Earlier in the week I asked my athletes a few (semi) random questions that I wondered about them, and about athletes in general. I coach high school girls, and I sometimes wonder whether some of these things are widespread, or isolated to me and my own athletes.

I’ve been the sprints/hurdles/jumps coach here for 8 seasons. In the spring time, we usually start outdoor track with about 50 sprinters (30 distance runners, roughly 100 total runners) of varying talent levels. We have so many girls, that we’ve recently hired another coach and separated the team into two groups, “JV”, and “varsity”. Varsity consists of runners I typically “hand-pick” to work with me. Again, there are just so many girls on the team, I cannot possibly give equal coaching to all 70-80.

The girls that work with me are all great girls, and they all love being on the team. It’s more of a love/hate relationship. Just like a lot of athletes, they love being there, but sometimes hate the workouts.

So my first question to them was, do they enjoy running track? They all said they do, but it’s sometimes not as fun as the other sports they play at various times of the school year (soccer, volleyball, basketball) because with track, there are not as many different things to do within the sport. My argument was that in track, no other sport offers as many different activities/movments. The counter-argument was that with the other sports, doing different drills and activities was something that was in addition to, whereas we did drills and such in track, but track was pretty much. . . . . running. I wholeheartedly disagreed with them, but I allowed them the platform for open discussion. I needed athletes’ input.

My second question was, if they liked being on the track team, then why the negative attitude towards it at times? This is when they confirmed the “love/hate” relationship.

My next question was, while understandable to a degree, what’s the use of always complaining if you like being here so much? I explained to them that what this has done, throughout my years of coaching there, is give off the perception that I am too hard on my athletes, and that they all hate track and are somehow forced into it. So nearly everyone. . . . coaches in other sports, aspiring track athletes (freshman and first-year runners), other students in the school that do not run (athletes and non-athletes) view me as extremely intimidating. Most freshman and first year athletes are terrified of me, and it is very difficult to get new people to come out for the team, because of this perception.

After bringing this to their attention, they all immediately admitted this was true, and that, perhaps, they may have played a huge role in this. Anyone who truly knows me though, especially as far as my athletes and my former athletes, knows I am anything but intimidating. But whenever we are on the track, people are always watching. Other girls at the school pay attention to the runners on the team, and they can only go by what they see.

The first step in forming a successful track team, in my opinion, is participation. However, you’ll never have good participation numbers if the perception of our great sport is skewed.
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Jay Turner

Jay Turner

Jay Turner is a successful high school coach.
Jay Turner

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