High School Track and Field for Beginners: Season, Events, Training & More
If you are reading this, it means either YOU or someone you care about is deciding to join the crazy, fun, and exciting world of track and field. This is planned to be a tutorial full of advice about high school track and field for beginners.
Whether it is you or your child are considering joining the track team, there are many exciting things to bear in mind.
There are 6 basic categories that events fall into.
High School Track & Field Season
There are two different track seasons, the indoor and outdoor seasons. Indoor track typically occurs in the winter at the college, very early spring at the high school level.
Track and field is a spring sport. Mother Nature has complete control over what your early track season and training will look like. Most track enthusiasts hope and pray for an early thaw without snow so that the track, runways, and throwing circles get cleared early.
As a former track coach and self-proclaimed track nut, I am fond of saying, “March brings warm weather, track season, and hope to Wisconsin.” This is true in many areas.
Track & Field Events
Track and field events are divided into categories:
- Horizontal jumps
- Vertical jumps
Within each category, there are a plethora of events that an athlete can compete in. Read on to dig into each specific event.
Competition Structure and Coaching Roles in High School Track and Field
The WIAA (Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association) is the governing body for high school sports in the state of Wisconsin. They oversee all of the state championships, including the state track and field meet. In order to qualify for the state meet, athletes must first compete in sectional and invitational meets, which are governed by the WIAA and follow the rules and regulations set forth by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
At the sectional and invitational meets, athletes compete in various divisions, based on their school’s size and location. The divisions range from Division 1 to Division 4, with larger schools competing in higher divisions. Athletes who perform well at these meets can then advance to the state championships, where they compete against the best athletes in the state.
Coaches play a critical role in guiding their athletes through the sectional and invitational meets, as well as preparing them for the state championships. The head coach is responsible for overseeing the varsity team and ensuring that they are adhering to all of the WIAA and NFHS rules and regulations. Additionally, many high school coaches are members of the USA Track and Field (USATF), which provides additional resources and training opportunities for coaches and athletes.
At the end of the season, the WIAA awards the state champions in each division and event, including relays, sprints, distance races, jumps, and throws. These champions are often referred to as “champs” and represent the best of the best in high school track and field.
Track Event Details
- 100 Meter Dash: In the midwest, the sprint races run by a solo athlete include the 100 and 200-meter dash. The 100 is a straight shot sprint, down a straightaway. The athlete runs the 100 out of starting blocks.
- 200 Meter Dash: Still a sprint, the 200 starts around the third corner of the track. The athlete rounds a corner then hits the straightaway of the 100. This race is also run out of blocks for a faster start.
- 400 Meter Dash: The 400 is technically considered a sprint since most athletes kick off the race using a starting block. Running once around the track is a very challenging event. Many athletes hit something called “the wall” somewhere between the 3rd and 4th turns, right before hitting the backstretch of a track meet.
- 800 Meter Run: The 800-meter run is another difficult race twice around the standard outdoor track. Somewhere between a sprint and a distance race, your training must be spot on to excel at this distance.
- 1600 Meter Run: This is roughly one mile, and the athlete runs four times around the track. One of the main distance events for high school athletes, these kids spend hours training to get conditioned to spend loop after loop on the oval.
- 3200 Meter Run: The final distance run that is run solo at the high school level, this race is about two miles. Imagine running 8 laps around the track, giving it all you have.
- 400 Meter Relay: The 400-meter relay is also known as the 4×100. This means each runner travels 100 meters. In this relay, the handoff must be done with absolute precision to get the best times possible.
- 800 Meter Relay: The other sprint relay, the “4×2,” is where each runner goes 200 meters. That is technically called the 800-meter relay. Although there is a little more margin of error in these exchanges for the relay baton, it is not a lot.
- 1600 Meter Relay: The crowning glory of the running events is usually seen as the last event of the night, the 1600 meter relay. Also known as the 4×400 or the “4×4,” This is the glory race. In many schools, athletes fight to be chosen to run this event. Partly because it is such a brutal event and many meets are decided in the last couple of events, the 4×4 is quite a way to end the night!
- 3200 Meter Relay: In the world of track, there is also a relay involving this distance called the 3200-meter relay. These athletes are the distance running beasts of the team.
Field Event Details
- Pole Vault: If you have ever watched the pole vault, you realize that a special type of daredevil participates in this event. Athletes tear down a runway, plant the end of a pole into a “box,” and soar through the air. The goal is to fly over a bar placed high in the air, landing on a pit. Sound dangerous? Well.. it is.
- High Jump: Another exciting jumping event is the high jump. Jumpers take a running start, plant a foot and then attempt to propel themselves up and over a bar set on a stanchion. As in the pole vault, this athlete also lands in a padded pit.
- Long Jump: The long jump is as simple as running, plant, jump. You try to land forward instead of backward because your mark is measured at the furthest point back. If you fall backward, you lose precious inches.
- Triple Jump: The triple jump is a complicated event where you perform a hop, skip and jump to land in the pit. This one takes considerable coordination, but once you master it, you are practically flying into the sand!
Last but certainly not least are the throwing events.
- Shot Put: The shot put is an amazing feat not only of strength but finesse. Athletes throw a large metal ball into a pit of sand or gravel. It is no easy task!
- Discus: Sometimes people make the mistake of assuming that you have to be very big and strong to be successful at this event, which is not necessarily the case. These athletes fling a disc through the air, and it can travel a great distance before landing.
- Javelin: It should be noted that some schools also include the javelin as a throwing event. Due to the perceived danger of this event, many states have discontinued it. Typically, colleges do offer the javelin throw. A javelin is a long, thin, sharp object thrown through the air.
- Hammer: Another throwing event, the hammer, is only done in one state at the high school level: Rhode Island. A very unique event, a hammer is a metal ball on the end of a wire and handle. The athlete spins and throws the hammer.
Track Meet Order of Events
- 3200 Relay (4×800) – Boys and girls may run together
- Boys 110 Hurdles / Girls 100 Hurdles
- 100 Meters
- 800 Meter Relay (4×200)
- 1600 Meters
- 400 Meter Relay (4×100)
- 400 Meters
- 300 Hurdles
- 800 Meters
- 200 Meters
- 3200 Meters – Boys and girls may run together
- 1600 Meter Relay (4×400)
- Boys Long Jump
- Boys Tripple Jump
- Girls Long Jump
- Girls Tripple Jump
- Girls High Jump
- Boys High Jump
- Boys Shot Put
- Girls Shot Put
- Girls Discus Throw
- Boys Discus Throw
- Girls Pole Vault
- Boys Pole Vault
Training For Track & Field
Training for track and field athletes really does depend on which event(s) you plan to participate in. If you are thinking of using the winter to get conditioned for track season, you should include some basic things in your plan.
1. Cardio: If you are thinking a running event is right for you, you should start running sooner rather than later. If sprints are your thing, you can do shorter warm-ups and cool-downs, and fit some basic cardiovascular activity in the mix. Runners planning to become mid or long-distance runners should start building miles now.
Distance runners should plan to get 15-20 miles each week as they build to the season. Even throwers need to have a strong cardiovascular base! If running is not your thing, get on a bike, elliptical, or take a HIIT class!
2. Weights: Strength training is important no matter what event you plan to be part of. Just be aware that strength training for jumpers is different than it is for someone planning to throw a shot put. Talk to a coach about event-specific training!
3. Core: Your core matter no matter what your event or sport. Spending 10-15 minutes, 3-5 x each week on the core is an excellent use of your time.
Track & Field Shoes
The first thing you need is a basic pair of training shoes. To choose wisely, you need to determine what type of feet you have. Do you pronate or supinate? Should your shoes have support or not? You need a good pair of trainers that keep your feet healthy and happy.
If you are a sprinter, you will need some spikes made for that. Distance runners also wear a racing flat or spike. A very popular racing shoe is the Nike Zoom.
Most long and triple jumpers wear a sprint shoe, even though you can purchase shoes specific to that task. The same is true of high jumpers and pole vaulters.
There are also shoes explicitly made for throwing the discus or shot put. You do not want to try to wear a racing spike to do these events. Look into shoes for throwers.
Nike Zoom Rotational, Asics Throw Pro, and Under Armor Centric Grip are my top three choices as a coach and mom.
The final thing to tackle is nutrition for your high school track athlete. Sure, many teenagers are notorious for having what I call garbage gut. This means they can eat anything. However, that does not mean that it is what is best for them and their athlete bodies.
Student-athletes should try to eat more real food and stay away from processed foods when and where possible. In addition, avoiding carbonation and too much caffeine are both good rules to live by.
Distance runners, in particular, may need to watch what they eat both on race day and the day prior. Putting certain things into their bodies can cause significant gastro distress while competing if they are not careful.
On race day, eating things that are easy to digest, high in carbs, and low in fat are all excellent choices.
Final Piece of Advice
If you are still on the bubble regarding joining track or not (or if you are a parent reading this to help your child decide), my best advice is to jump in and have fun.
I strongly encourage athletes to all try a field event and a running event. I would encourage you to try multiple distances and field events.
The fact is, you never know who might turn out to be good at something they never imagined could be a strength.
Just jump in with both feet and see what happens. Time on the oval is magical. You won’t regret it.
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