High School Track and Field for Beginners
So you want your child to participate in a sport and he picked track and field. Isn’t that the sport where they run around in circles, you might be asking yourself? That is partly right. But track and field is much more than just running around in circles.
Many high school track and field programs include both indoor and outdoor seasons. A typical indoor season might begin on Nov. 15 and end in late February. The outdoor season usually begins around March 1 and ends in late May.
Although practices during the indoor season are often held outdoors, the meets are held at indoor facilities. During the outdoor season, both practices and meets are held outdoors.
The events held at indoor and outdoor track meets also vary because indoor tracks are usually half the size—200 meters—of outdoor tracks, which are 400 meters. Just as an example, during the indoor track season, the shortest race is the 55-meter dash while during the outdoor season, it is the 100-meter dash.
Both the indoor and outdoor seasons include a number of standard events. These include the 800-meter run, the 1600 meter run, the 3200-meter run, the 4 x 200-meter relay, the 4 x 400-meter relay, the 4 x 800-meter relay, the high jump, long jump, triple jump, pole vault, and shot put.
The indoor season also features the 55-meter dash, the 300-meter dash, the 500-meter dash, and the 55-meter hurdles.
The outdoor season includes the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, the 400-meter dash, the 110-meter hurdles, the 300-meter hurdles, the 4 x 100-meter relay, and the discus.
Special events might include the distance medley relay, the sprint medley relay, the shuttle hurdle relay, and the steeplechase.
Track and field don’t require the participant to invest in a lot of expensive equipment like helmets, bats, gloves, pads, etc. For the most part, equipment used in each event is owned by the school or the track club. Pole vault poles, high jump mats, shot puts, discuss, and hurdles, for example, are all provided and can be quite expensive.
For the athlete, the most important piece of equipment is a good pair of training shoes. Athletes are encouraged to have their feet professionally measured at a specialty running store where the focus is on finding the shoe that best fits your son’s/daughter’s feet and provides him/her with the appropriate support they need. Athletes are discouraged from choosing shoes based on popularity, brand or color; fit and support are more important.
Specialty footwear is available—spikes for sprinters, throwing shoes for discus and shot put, jumping shoes for pole vault, high jump, long jump, and triple jump, racing flats/spikes for distance runners—but parents of newcomers might want to wait to make this type of investment until they are sure their athlete is going to be dedicated to track and field for at least a season. Wait until you see in which events your son or daughter will compete and then gauge their level of interest before making a specialty footwear purchase.
Because distance runners sometimes have the need to time themselves during practice, they will benefit from having a digital watch that includes a stopwatch function. It doesn’t need to be a pricey GPS watch…any reasonably priced model with a stopwatch function will do.
Most likely, your athlete will be given a uniform that may include shorts, a singlet, a warm-up jacket, and pants. It is a good idea for your athlete to have clothing for practices…shorts and short- or long-sleeve t-shirts for mild or hot weather and sweatpants, running tights, sweatshirts, jackets, hats, and gloves for cold weather.
Many teams practice outside year-round—even in the cold, rain, and snow—so appropriate clothing for the weather is a must.
Practices vary depending on what events your athlete trains for but each practice session should begin with a warm-up and end with a cool-down. Warm-ups usually consist of light jogging, dynamic stretching or drills, and sometimes static stretching. Cool-downs most often consist of light jogging followed by static stretching.
Practices—even for those athletes who compete in field events—will include some type of running. Although all athletes will work to develop some level of conditioning and endurance, sprinters and field event athletes will more often work to develop speed and explosive power. Distance athletes spend more time building aerobic capacity and endurance for longer races but do work on the speed at times as well. Instruction on the proper running form is also stressed, no matter what event your athlete trains for.
Events that require a specific technique—such as the spin of a discus thrower or running with and planting a pole vault pole—necessitate the athlete to spend some of their practices working on the specific movements and technical skills for their particular event.
Track and field competitions can appear to be something like a three-ring circus to parents new to the sport. The foot races are run in a particular order while the field events are being contested simultaneously.
At an indoor track meet, the field events usually occur inside or at the ends of the track so spectators can view most of the events from one spot. During an outdoor meet, sometimes the field event venues are separate from the track and may require spectators to walk to another area to view the field event. All of the running events take place on the track.
Track meets can have as few as two teams competing and as many the venue can hold. It is not unheard of to have more than 50 teams competing in a meet.
A meet at which two teams compete is called a dual meet. When three teams compete, it’s a tri-meet and when four teams compete it’s a quad meet. When there are more than four teams competing, the meet is usually called an invitational.
Track meets usually have entry limitations to keep the meet from going on too long. For instance, many meets limit the number of entries in individual events (100-meter dash, 800-meter run, shot put, etc.) to three athletes. For a relay, the entry limit is usually one team of four athletes per relay.
Despite these entry limitations, track and field meets can still be quite long, with invitational meets taking sometimes as many as eight hours to complete. Combine the meet time with a bus ride to and from and your athlete could be gone for eight to 12 hours on the meet day. Large invitational meets are most often held on Saturdays and not generally held on weekdays.
Supporting Your Track Athlete
Track and field is not like soccer, basketball, or baseball, all of which have many opportunities to participate at the youth recreational and travel levels. There are youth AAU track teams and track clubs but they aren’t as prevalent as some of the other sports. Given that, many athletes who join their high school track teams are new to the sport. And some may be new to sports altogether.
Sometimes the transition to the fitness and activity level required of track and field can be a difficult one. For those new to track and field and running in general, the focus should be on gradually increasing the activity and intensity levels so that injury and frustration can be avoided.
Supportive training shoes and appropriately warming up and cooling down will help stave off an injury but even with those precautions, sometimes soreness and minor injuries—specifically shin splints—do occur. Soreness is to be expected as your athlete works muscles in new ways. Shin splints, if caught early enough, respond well to icing, NSAIDS, and specific stretching and might only slow your athlete down rather than sideline him or her for weeks.
Your athlete should communicate with his/her coach if he/she thinks an injury may have occurred. Most coaches are pretty good about being able to differentiate between soreness and an injury. The coach may refer your athlete to the school’s athletic trainer if one is on staff.
Your athlete might get discouraged if he or she is not progressing at the same rate as other athletes. Every athlete is different and those who have been involved in other sports may find the initial stages of physical conditioning for track and field easier than an athlete who has never been involved in sports. Remind your athlete that becoming a successful track and field athlete—or an athlete in any sport—doesn’t happen overnight and requires hard work and dedication.
Progress—no matter how small—is important. Sometimes, it only comes in hundredths of a second or inches. In the beginning, it may be running one more lap than they did yesterday or even just working through the soreness of a hard practice the day before. One of the best things about track and field is that your athlete will have a team of peers and dedicated coaches cheering them on.