Complete Track and Field

3 Ways Track & Field Can Save Itself From Complete Irrelevance

Let’s face it: The sport of track and field is, well, a joke. I’ve never had a conversation with a single soul, living or dead, who has said, with a straight face,

“Wow. Track and field. There’s a sport that’s really got its act together. ”

I love track and field. Obviously. But you’re about 50 times (I made that number up, I don’t have real stats for it…) more likely to flip to ESPN and catch an episode of World Series of Poker from 2008 or a Spelling Bee than you are to catch a track meet.

And I don’t blame ESPN.

I was in Europe during the World Championships. Driving through London, I saw a digital video billboard showing track and field results and video! WTF!

boltI cried just a little bit. Because in the US, you only see a track highlight if Usain Bolt takes a big poo on a world record.

Now, in terms of quality of coaching from an athletic development standpoint, good track and field coaches, at every level, are light years ahead of coaches in team (field and court) sports. In my humble opinion.

But as far as everything else? Very, very sad.

This is one of those articles that, I guess, theoretically, might offend some people. But I just don’t see how because I’ve never actually heard anyone disagree with what I’m about to say.

Though, that might change today…

So here, in my opinion are the Top 3 Ways Track & Field Can Save Itself from Complete Irrelevance. (If it’s not already too late.)

#3 Split up the Meets

It’s high time the higher ups and ‘decision makers’ in track and field wake up and realize something:

Track and Field is not one sport. It is four different sports.

1.       Sprints, hurdles and sprint relays
2.       Jumps
3.       Throws
4.       Middle Distance/Distance

(Or maybe you could combine 1 and 2.)

Many sprinters/sprints coaches do not want to sit through anything that lasts longer than, and I’ll be generous, four minutes. To the point where you’d rather just not go to the meet than have to watch that.  How many times have you been at a track meet and heard someone say something like,

“Oh jeez. The first of 5 heats of the 4 x forever is up. I’m going to write my Doctoral thesis, then sail around the world. Then eat a sandwich. I’ll be back to catch the bell lap of the seeded heat if I don’t die of old age first.”

Many throwers don’t want to watch that. Neither do jumpers.

And you know who really, really doesn’t want to watch that?

Spectators, parents and/or potential casual fans.

At the same time, many distance runners don’t appreciate the 100 or the shot put.

I’m not saying NO sprints people EVER want to watch distance or vice versa. I’m just saying ‘generally speaking’.

So calm down. No need to burn me in effigy… just yet.

You create a meet with just sprints and jumps and sprints and jumps people would go to it. You put 3 heats of the 10k on the track and sprints and jumps people are looking for a stake to drive through their soul. I coach at a school where the girls have won a State Title in Cross Country two years running, so I have the utmost respect for distance running. BUT, I’ll take the True Death over an hour of slow running on the track.

That’s not saying that ‘sprints’ is better than ‘distance’. Going down that road is a distraction and missing my point entirely. And it says more about your personal bias than it does about the core of my argument. I’m just saying that you can get in and out of most sporting competitions in a couple of hours.

A big track meet is an all day affair. A horrible, horrible all day affair. What an atrocity in terms of being a ‘spectator sport’.

#2 Establish Coaching Standards

Wow, those American male sprinters really represented at the World Championships.

Pardon my French, but when did we become Jamaica’s bitch in the sprint events? They have 2.8 million people. We have just a few more.

Remember when Michael Johnson ran 19.32 and we all lost our minds? Yeah. That’s #3 all time now. Top 2 spots? Jamaicans.

I realize that the best and fastest athletes in the United States are playing football, not running track. But isn’t that part of the problem? Our sport gets other sports’ leftovers. Kids don’t even realize track exists until they’ve got 7 years of basketball and/or football and/or soccer and/or lacrosse and/or baseball under their belts! Wait, I’m digressing…

At the collegiate level, every single college coach should have their USATF Level II Certificate in the events they coach and/or their USTFCCCA Event Specialist Certification. I’m just a high school coach and I found the time to get both. So people whose full time profession is coaching track should have at least one of the two most recognized (US) coaching certificates/certifications.

“But Latif!”, someone is crying right now, “A piece of paper doesn’t mean you’re a good coach.”

You’re right, coach who does not have either of those pieces of paper. But, it lays out a standard level of expectation. A starting point. A basis of comparison.

Plus, I coach high school kids. And most of them don’t get faster in college. I’m not over here brushing my shoulders off when I say that. (For you old people, that means I’m not bragging.) I’m saying it because it makes me feel bad for the athletes.

But, at the same time, only one college coach has ever asked me how I train the kids they’re recruiting. Then again, I steal a lot of my stuff from him. (Go River Hawks!)

Speaking of high school…

Most high school coaches are bad at their coaching jobs, man. There’s a reason why I only worry about the same handful of teams each year. Because they have good coaches and turn out quality athletes every year.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here. But one of the reasons American sprinters are getting abused by Jamaicans is because talented kids cruise through HS on ability alone and their fast times mask their complete lack of development by their undereducated coaches.

I know because I was one of them. When I got to UConn, I was red-shirted as a freshman, in large part, because I was so useless from doing no organized training in high school. I thrived mostly due to a mind numbing contempt for losing. But, I did vomit after every single 400 I ran, even against jabronies, and that is a testament to an insufficient training program.

Or, if you want to get technical, a lack of specific endurance. Or general endurance. Or work capacity.

Also, my HS coach taught me to clap my hands together in front of me when coming out of the blocks. I shit you not.

Kids get to college and coaches have to waste freshman year developing some capacity and teaching basic skills like ‘pushing’ and ‘low heel recovery’. That’s 25% of a kid’s career! If we had more quality coaches at the HS level, our extremely excellent college coaches wouldn’t have to waste time doing so much GPP type training on kids just to give them some semblance of training age.

Again, in my division and state, there are a couple of teams whose sprinters are going to be nasty every year and if my group is going to compete, I need to bring my A+ game. 

Why do the rich get richer? Because they have superb sprints coaches who don’t sit back and do the same crap every year! It’s not luck! It’s not chance! It’s good coaching, man!

Last year, in my first year in a new program, the kids broke 13 school records in the span of 6 months. Not too bad. You think I’m sitting back and doing the same thing as last year? Hell, no! We’ll get smashed! Evolve or die, my friends!

(No that doesn’t mean you should throw my other programs in the trash. Jeez! Stay on track, here. Pun intended!)

Look, I know money is tight. The economy has affected many of us. But if you’re going to spend every afternoon and every Saturday for the next 3-6 months coaching track and field, you can certainly afford to buy a DVD once or twice a year. Go to a clinic. Post some questions.

“Oh Latif!”, someone is crying right now, “You’re just saying that to guilt people into buying your products.”

Sigh.

I don’t care if you don’t buy from me. If you think that’s my point, you’ve clearly never met me, anyone who knows me or anyone I have ever coached.

Nonetheless, that brings me to the #1 Way Track & Field Can Save Itself.

#1: Stop Hating Money

Last week I was talking to a really smart guy who has some really cool ideas and plans involving, arguably, the only relevant athlete in the sport of track and field.

He has some innovative ideas that would bring the sexy back to track. I hope he can get them off the ground. But the powers that be are so firmly entrenched in the failing status quo that it is just amazing. So he has a long road ahead, despite being a brilliant guy.

Let me ask you a question:

How many CEOs has USATF had? Honestly, who would invest in American Track & Field when the governing body is such a mess? The answer, apparently, is just about no one.

Win the Visa Championship Series and win $25,000. Real athletes in real sports light $25k on fire just to see what would happen. First, nobody gets how the scoring works. Second, nobody has seen the lead up races. Third, by this point, nobody cares. Fourth, I’m not excited to watch someone win the equivalent of 4th prize money from the NBA Skills Challenge at All Star Weekend.

The only time (outside of Olympic Finals) I get excited watching track is when the NCAA Championship is on TV. Why? Because there is team scoring! A concept the American audience understands! There is a point to every race, jump and throw so you actually care what is happening!

A few years ago I interviewed DeeDee Trotter. She talked about discussion amongst athletes of ‘East vs West’ types of meets. As in, people who went to Eastern schools competing in a scoring meet/s against those who competed in the West. Or North vs South.

What a great idea!

Or how about Nike sponsored athletes vs Adidas? Mizuno vs Puma?

Something! Anything! Track meets suck!

Wait, want more proof?

Unless you have DirectTV, your cable provider is probably going to drop Universal Sports from your channel lineup. Now you’ll see even less track and field on TV. Your cable provider doesn’t care because nobody is watching. It isn’t profitable!

You think ESPN is going to drop Monday Night Football? They wouldn’t even drop the Spelling Bee.

Think I’m being too harsh? After all, I’m just a high school coach on a rant…

Perhaps you missed Nick Symmonds’ article, I’m Tired of USATF and IAAF Crippling Our Sport.

Track and Field is a poor sport because too many within the sport, from coaches to people who run the big clusterbang websites to our ‘governing body’, subconsciously hate money and/or don’t understand how it works. They hate the idea of other people making money. They hate asking for money. They fear what people will think if they do anything that looks like they’re trying to make money.

And that virus of the mind permeates the sport from the top to the bottom. And that, to a large degree, is why this sport has failed.

Everybody claims to love America and claims, reflexively, that it is the greatest country in the world. Well, America was built on a series of hustles. But try to get paid in track and you’re selfish or a snake oil salesman. (I have a history degree, so go ahead and challenge me on it.)

Here’s a secret that sports that make money and get ratings already know:

There is nothing noble about being poor or about being proud of how hard you work for such low pay.

Bill Gates helps a lot of people by giving away a lot of money because he has a lot of money. Bill Gates could not help a lot of people if he was living in a van down by the river. 

Some people complain of too much advertising on this site. That I should run the site for free and give everything away for free.

Wait. I thought you loved America?

First, I’m quite sure none of these people own businesses. Easy to say when someone else makes the money that allows you to cash your paycheck each week. If you think that it should all be free, how about you do your job for 25% less money and give that extra cash away. I’ve got a few charities I could recommend.

Oh. No takers?

Customers, friends and colleagues have told me they’ve ‘defended me at conferences because so-and-so said you’re just a businessman and not a coach’.

What? You can’t do both? They’re zero sum propositions? They’re inversely proportional?

Nope. It’s a Virus of the Mind. And these people are Cancers to the sport.

Big track websites will gladly overcharge me for a useless banner on their site. Because that doesn’t look like they’re trying to make money. Others have Google adwords all over the place. I know the game! You’re trying to make money!

But they won’t send out an email to their list promoting a product because they don’t want to look like they’re selling something. That’s not my opinion or a theory, that is what we have been told by multiple big track sites that you know well.

OK fine I’m just a HS coach. Don’t sell my stuff. But you tell me ‘no’ when I want you to promote a Boo Schexnayder program? What better way to improve the sport than exposing your readers to one of the very best teachers in the sport? Unbelievable.

If people truly want to save the sport of track and field, we need to get some people involved who have some entrepreneurial spirit. Who will treat track & field like a business because they understand the concept of running a business. Innovators who can bring an exciting product to the market that people are willing to pay to be involved in, whether that is buying DVDs, attending conferences and certification courses or going to meets themselves.

Not go to all Cornel West on you (but kind of), the sport needs people who are willing to stand up and drag the rest of these dinosaurs and freeloaders, as well as the bureaucrats, oligarchs and plutocrats running the elite circuits, kicking and screaming, into the second decade of the 21st Century.

Change is scary. But change is the only way to shock the sport off of life support. If it’s not flat lining right now, it’s pretty close.

To your success,

Latif Thomas

P.S. The best way to help the sport is to continue to learn from coaches experiencing consistent success. Come learn directly from many of these coaches at the Complete Track and Field Summer Clinic held at Harvard University:

Sprints


About Latif Thomas

Latif ThomasUSATF Level II and USTFCCCA Event Specialist (Sprints, Hurdles & Relays) Certified High School Track and Field coach specializing in the sprint events. But I know a thing or two about the jumps and hurdles as well.
View all posts by Latif Thomas →
  • Kevin

    Work hard will be rewarded.

  • coach mac

    Sprint42, I agree with you , change must start at the top. We must get the elite on TV in some exciting form. We must give them idenity of some kind. Like you say we identify with teams from our own area no matter what the sport . If I’m watching TV i’m going to cheer for a team thats from Texas or Okla. Unattached runners in shoe compaany jerseys are not going to draw anyones loyalty. As a long time coach I sit through 8 hour track meets often. I remember the good old days of tri-meets that were over in two hours. Although unlike many in this discussion I am a distance coach. I agree the mile and 800m would be best for short meets. However I love the 4×800 rly. The worst thing for me and my friends is 12 heats of the 200m with all the best runners in the first two heats. We spend the rest of an hour watching 26 sec. runners. The 4 x 800 only takes 8 or 9 min.s That being said long distance running is doing well on its own with 30,000 people at a time running marathons and half marathons and 1000′s of 5 and 10 k runs all over the country every weekend. Trail running is growing rapidly and mud runs are the latest rage. We could keep the longer runs out of track meets to shorten the schedule, but we need to cut down on the number of heats in every event. And the problem in our area is there aren’t enough shools putting on meets each week end, so we end up with 15 or 20 schools at each meet , instead of 6 or 8. That’s a big reason meets last soooo long. As coaches we have to keep pounding away at our problems.

  • http://www.sprint42.com Sprint42

    Excellent post, excellent comments. Here’s a few more thoughts to chew on:

    One comment I didn’t see mentioned that I believe is a core problem with T&F is that at the elite level the only thing interesting to non-track people is world records. This is a self-perpetuating problem…as each new world record is set, it then becomes harder to break and thus makes it more rare.

    Moreover, T&F differs from other individual sport like golf and tennis in several crucial ways. First, the average spectator of golf and tennis is out there with their buddies on the weekend…they can relate to the sport on a personal level. Second, these sports are often about rivalries and about winning major events.

    Elite level dual meets are an interesting solution to this problem. I’m not convinced it will work, but it can’t be any worse than where we are now. Close dual meets (or maybe tri meets) can be the absolute peak of excitement. I’m sure most on this list can remember a meet coming down to the 4×400 and hundreds of people lining the track cheering frantically. My most memorable meet is when the triple jump went long and ended up being the deciding factor for a dual meet between high school rivals. Over 500 people circling the pit, screaming like banshees on every jump…the ultimate winner being lifted on shoulders (a sophomore who PR’d by 4 feet that day). At most meets the triple jump is largely ignored, but the scenario made it the highlight (even for the papers) : rivalries + everything on the line.

    Here’s a few idea on how to make dual meets exciting:
    1) They must be close. NFL has salary caps for just this reason…to keep teams and games relevant. How many games are now decided by a field goal in the waning seconds??? I don’t know how to do this for T&F…but it seems important enough to focus on it.

    2) A shortened/modified version is a great idea. We Americans have short attention spans and a very low tolerance for boredom. I’d like to see the “mile” (something Americans understand) returned and it be the longest race. I’d like to see smaller fields in vertical jumps. The pole vault can be extremely exciting and people can get worked up about it because of its danger and its obvious make/miss scenario. But when the pole vault runs for 3-4 hours, it loses its mystic (similarly for high jump).

    3) I’d like to see a mini-Multi at each meet. Some of our greatest T&F heroes have been multi’s and are more-or-less uninteresting in a dual meet format (Ashton Eaton, Dan O’Brien, Jackie Joyner…). A modified pentathlon or quadathlon format that works into a dual meet structure (field events would be contested with other field event athletes, while running events would be separate) could be really exciting…especially if it ends with a speed event. Something like 110H, Discus, PV (or LJ/HJ), and 400 (or 200). Dual meet points could be doubled for the winner of this event.

    4) Teams must be localized. My favorite pro teams are from cities where I’ve lived. North vs South vs East vs West may be as localized at T&F can get, but I’d like to see it even more localization (10 regions maybe). But arbitrary teams don’t hold the same interest. Blue vs Red vs White doesn’t really work for me.

    5) Agree–stop hating money.

    6) Build rivalries and personalities: between teams, between athlete, between anything. A lot of us old timers think of track as “pure” and “noble”. We have to get over that if we want to see T&F survive (and hopefully flourish).

    My comments are really only focused on a top-down fix. There are problems at all levels, but without fixing the top (elite), then there is no long-term dream for the budding athlete. Fix the sport at the top and the lower levels will rise to the occasion (parents and athletes will demand it). That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work on fixing all level concurrently, just that without the top fixed, the lower levels will continue to lose athletes to other sports or fail to attract them in the first place.

  • Werner Prinsloo

    It seems this is a global issue, maybe apart from Europe, although anything else but Football (soccer) there is just not considered worthy. We have similar issues here in South Africa. Although we have been let down by poor managment at the top.Team sports get all the glory; rugby, soccer, and cricket, even at school level these sports get all the attention and most importantly the money. Track & Field has to beg for a penny of support.

  • Gary

    Yeah I’m from Europe so I don’t understand why Americans as a whole don’t care for track(or athletic as we call them)ironic since we have some of the best athletes. And try to find track on cable but you will have no problem finding golf,bowling or the spelling bee REALLY!!!.

    • coach mac

      The only way to get track back in the public eye is T.V. !!!! Why do “reality tv stars ” become famous, even though they have no talent ???? They are on tv every week !!!! The higher ups in the USATF need to bust their butts to get track on tv under any format. I grew up in the 40′s, 50′s and 60′s when track filled the stands. It wasn’t because we all had great coaches or facilities. The media of the day gave track good coverage. The 4:00 mile, the 16′ foot pole vault, the 60′ft. shot were all news. The worst thing for track was the USA going metric !!!! Most people don’t know what the announcer is talking about. Maybe we need a reality tv show like ” The real runners of Nike” where the camera follows a group of runners every week to which ever meet thay go to and shows their ups and downs, what they say about their rivals,what they feel about thier performance this week etc. Get people to care about these particular runners. The whole concept of racing if its cars, horses, dogs or people is that you have strong concern for who you want to win. If you don’t know the competitors your interest is low. There is nothing worse than watching a tv meet where 8 of the runners are wearing the same drab, blank uniform of some shoe company with no names to tell who they are. Why would a person care who won. Lets get more creative.

  • Steve Unzueta

    I was fortunate to be have witnessed the greatest thing to happen to Track and Field: The USA vs USSR dual meets via ABC’s Wide World of Sports as a youngster. Later, in high school and college; the dual meets were the cornerstone of the sport. The meets were precise and the score was continually up dated, with a score board too! I remember going to the LA Coliseum to watch USC vs UCLA with 45,000 fans in attendance! Meets are no longer spectator friendly. Here are some suggestions.
    1. Put back the dual meet.
    2. Put back the start and finish line at the 50 yd line.
    3. Put back the exchange zones in front of the spectators.
    4. Put back the finish tape.
    5. Get that NCAA to reenstate more scholarships.

  • http://www.ctgdevelopment.net Cameron

    You are right on point, Latif. I teach coaching education clinic out here on the left coast for LA84 Foundation and we covered that very topic a few years back (I believe it was Bob Fraley). The demise of the dual/tri/quad meet was a big blow. No one wants to attend pointless meet – especially one that is eight hours long. When my adult son was a child I hated attending those all-day youth meets…an I’m a track coach! I can’t imagine what the regular parents thought. The other sports have it right – in and out in a couple of hours so you can move on with the rest of your life. I hope we figure it out before it is too late…if it isn’t already…

  • http://www.lifepus.com/hpf Alvin Williams

    Hello Latiff I truly love your work and your view is exactly the way I feel with added emphasis on Nutrition and health for young athletes you have to eat right to win we must expose our young people to the science and art of training properly and also have administrators learn how to host a track meet on time and one that also can make them money if they do it correctly by having competent officials, who run the meets smoothly I have been to many meets where you come at 9am and the meet last to 5pm does not not make any sense. we must get it together because I love TRACK&FIELD. Cordially Coach Williams from Ohio

  • http://www.quincytrackclub.wordpress.com Geoff Hennessy

    Latif, my man! Great points. Other problems I see that hurt our sport. 1. A disconnect between physical education and coaching. Many physical educators do not coach, and that is a shame. 2. No demand for coaches education. At the least it should be on a par with what educators, health care professionals and law enforcement are required to do to receive raises and or just keep their jobs. 3. Officials who get paid! I get told all the time that many meet officials get a shirt and a handshake for working a meet. That is why you have these 8+ hour fiascos. I’m 56 and work meets where I’m still referred to as “the kid”. They have all day, live of retirement accounts and have no pressing need to streamline the days events. Dead time kills track. At the least there should be workshops for officials to teach proper clerking, starting, organization. I run middle school meets with 600 kids in 1.5 hours. How? By having boys run while the girls do field and then switch. Because the meets runs so fast, more parents come to watch and annually more kids come out for their teams (we have 5 middle schools in my city of Quincy MA). 4. Get track stuff into the media. The print media in Boston have next to ZERO stories about track and cross country at the Collegiate level. Inexcusable. But these same papers go nuts over the Boston Marathon. No wonder kids don’t know about track. 5. Offer youth “combines” with running, jumping and throwing contests. The NFL does it with much fan interest. Kids want to know who the “best” is in anything. And get photos in the newspapers and school bulletin boards.
    Thats all.
    Geoff

  • Ron

    Great article Latif! Track and Field is one of the most beautiful sports there is. I participated in it back in the day, coached it, and am a fan of it. I remember being at the Jenner Classic back in the 80′s and they had a few field events that they would showcase. I remember they had a world class shotput field and that they had the competition take place right in the middle of the entire stadium with no other events going on at that time. They had a microphone right by the ring to hear the sounds of the throwers. The announcer of the meet did a great job of hyping it up to the sold out crowd. It was awesome! Everybody loved it! Like you mention, let’s get some entreprenurial and creative blood back in the sport because it simply has awesome potential (and always has) to be very relevant in our sports world again. To see it underachieving like it is because of the way it is structured is a shame!

  • Scott

    Latif:

    Thre is an old saying about how to eat an elephant, and the correct answer is “one bite at a time”. While what you are saying is 100% true, I think those of us who love track can make a difference, maybe not nationally but in our own neck of the woods. If everyone did something in their own community, it would have a big effect.

    I help coach a track and field program through the local rec dept. It runs April and May, or 8 weeks. The age level is 3-8th grade. This will be our 12th year. SOme of the kids also run middle school track and come by after that to work out a little more or just to learn. Lots of fun, we have had as many as 105 kids. We now restrict enrollment to 60 so we can do a better job of coaching. We have 7-8 coaches every year. Some are certified, and some are not. Even the 3rd graders learn how to do starts correctly, how to come out of blocks, etc. We do plyometrics and stretching every day. I even work with some of the older kids on visualization. The program is strong and the kids involved love it. Maybe I am a dreamer but others could do this. I live in a cold weather state like you so there are challenges………..:)

  • http://www.cfgliders.com Coach Robinson

    Great blog and I agree with all 3 points.

    Here’s a 4th point. We need competitive intramural sports/activities in the USA at the MS, HS and College level.

    I grew up in the UK and Jamaica decades ago and intramural sports (soccer, cricket, track & field, debate, volleyball, etc) was critical to internal and external talent awareness and development in a student friendly environment.

    For those not familiar with the concept, in my HS in Jamaica each student is assigned to 1 of 4 “Houses” for there entire time in HS. For most sports and academic activities that the HS competes in against other high schools, each house forms teams during the pre-season and these teams compete in intramural tournaments. As a result, kids got exposed to playing more sports, develop self confidence in sports that may have never tried out for, and raw talent is discovered.

    I saw more intense rivalry during these intramural competitions then, than I do today at my son’s HS XC or Track meets between schools.

  • Dr John Russell

    I played 4 different sports in High School and received a University scholarship to play 3 of them..by my junior year I decided to focus on T&F to try for the Olympic Team
    I did the decathlon …so in 1964 there were only 2_3 events per yearin the US….so I did multi events in most competitions, domestic and Itl. I did make All-America ,but not THE
    O, Team.
    Jump forward 20 years…Many great coaches poor Organization manipulated by Mr Cassal….control of purse strings and lots of politics with cronies Some of the cream rose to the top Coaches Carnes,Huntsman, Rosen ,etc….BUT then the politics really began and payoffs USOTC involvement [interference? ]
    I loved T&F but not many people had interest of athlete as their motive…It was what
    could they Gain!! I resigned in disgust after having the honor of working with these driven
    young athletes with stars in their eyes being played like pawns as was common in the relays, I had the opportunity to act as physician for 3 USA Olympic Teams, 2 World Cup
    winning Team , GoodWill Games,World Indoor and Outdoor Champs and many other
    International Teams and competitions.
    Fourteen years and I left because it was discusting….Craig and DUFFY ! Now my children
    want to compete 10 and 11 years old and no local coaches very few meets and still NO LEADERSHIP !!
    Deceased Olympic Coach Jimmy Carnes initiated many programs through The Fla Governors Council to stimulate sports in Fla. with great results in many sports throughthe Sunshine State Games {with age divisions] but these days with triple the number of tracks in each city THEY are all locked up !! Except for a PE class [in our area they have zero knowledge of S.P.,P.V., hurdles… the Flop ??? We need grass root interest, corporate sponsors and Organizers with vision and integrity that have participated and realize the reality
    that all sport is based on running,throwing. and jumping
    As a past chairman of The Athletics Congress Olympic Development Committee and numerous other Peak Performance programs I realize there is still hope with many of
    our past Olympians coaching but it will take aggressive ACTION toprevent Track`s demise.

    • http://www.completespeedtraining2.com Latif Thomas

      @Dr John Russell:

      You really hit the nail on the head here, “We need grass root interest, corporate sponsors and Organizers with vision and integrity that have participated and realize the reality
      that all sport is based on running,throwing. and jumping
      As a past chairman of The Athletics Congress Olympic Development Committee and numerous other Peak Performance programs I realize there is still hope with many of
      our past Olympians coaching but it will take aggressive ACTION toprevent Track`s demise.”

      I’m working on a series of articles that will discuss some of these specific needs in greater detail. Coaches like you and I and the people reading this are the ones who have to save the sport!

  • http://hastingsradiology.com Paul Rodriguez

    Latiff,

    Thanks for your article. I was a gymnast in my youth. From the age of 5 to 14 I was in the gym year round. By the time I was 9 our work outs were 15 hours a week during the school year and 20 to 25 hours a week during the summer (preparing for regionals and nationals). Alas, I had heart surgery when I was 14 that ended my gymnastics career.

    I mention the above just to give some background of understanding. Gymnastics too is a very-underappreciated sport. The lack of training in HS coaches is very similar to T&F. Gymnastics’ slow death has been inching along for 4 decades. With Title IX (I’m not saying it is good or bad) men’s college gymnastics is the brink of extinction.

    The only other sport I did as a youth was…. track and field! I love track and field for the same reasons I love gymnastics: great overall athletic development, using the best weights in the world (one’s own body), flexibility, confidence, self-reliance, etc.

    I’ve been volunteering for the local youth track club for the past 4 years. We have great volunteers (including some HS athletes). But, there hasn’t been an emphasis on coaching education (the whole time and money thing). I think in our small community there is content and satisfaction with participation.

    With the communication from T & F people (like yourself) and the governing bodies, I’ve been inspired to learn more and become a better coach. It is a little intimidating starting from scratch, but ‘you gotta start somewhere!’ This March I’ll be traveling to Villanova to a Level 1 USATF school. Wish me and our program luck!

    Thanks for being an advocate for track and field!

    Paul Rodriguez

    • http://www.completespeedtraining2.com Latif Thomas

      @Paul Rodriguez:

      Keep doing what you’re doing! As more of us invest in our education and develop a level of professionalism in coaching, we can start to raise the bar (and the pressure) on those who continue to do a disservice to kids and to our sport!

      Good luck to you and your program!

  • vince james

    Thanks L great stuff and you are dead NUT!! How can I get certified?

  • Dan

    I agree with you on athletes not improving or getting much faster in college. I am from Jamaica move here to USA after high school. Our high school sprinters always perform so well. They get a scholarship to athe us college then most of them gets burned out from running every event possible, but not mastering their main event. Another thing about high school coaches. My freshman son last year was rank #2 at his high school in three Sprint events 100, 200, 400 yet his coach has no intent on helping my son become the best sprinter in the next 3 years. Instead the coach hounds him daily about him doing the 800 now my son is not as excited about spring track.

    • http://www.completespeedtraining2.com Latif Thomas

      @Dan:

      That’s a shame. Too many coaches try to force a system on athletes instead of adapting their system to the strengths and personality of the athlete.

  • Mike

    Latif,
    My son, a college sophmore, is one who just switched from baseball to track about a month ago after an arm injury. He’s probably best suited for multi-events but given the time frame is going to be primarily a sprinter this season. I’m a neophyte so I’ve been going through the internet literature to try to get some feel for what is involved. The one thing I haven’t been able to find anywhere in the literature are any rigorous studies which document how much a sprinter improves due to training as opposed to simply due to maturity. That’s why your statement about sprinters not improving their times after HS caught my eye. My experience is limited to one kid from our local HS (who switched to track from football). He ran 10.5 in HS and he runs 10.5 now at UCLA. I assume UCLA has some pretty good coaching. I have no idea how good the coaching at the local HS was or wasn’t.

    Are there any controlled studies out there which show how much of an impact training and technique really have on times in the sprints?

    • http://www.completespeedtraining2.com Latif Thomas

      @Mike:

      I don’t think there is any way to quantify that type of improvement (or lack of it) due to the number of variables that could affect the results one way or the other. If your son works hard and has good coaching he will improve. How much depends on innate talent level, work ethic, current training age (training experience) and quality of coaching.

  • Rod Butterfield

    Hi Latif,

    I have just bought your Complete Speed Training Vol. 2 and am eagerly awaiting its arrival.
    However I have a burning question that I would like you to answer, please? It is, really, just a clarification.
    I was a sprinter and I know the need to feel your body doing things – especially in the way of cues.So……
    In terms of aceleration and the need for the the first 6-8 steps to be basically a knee drive action (I am assuming that you will agree that low heel recovery is the same thing – these runners are just footballers), should I be telling my runners to drive the knee and look to get the foot off the ground as quickly as possible or push off the ground as hard as possible with knee drive or both?

    We are doing plyometrics and hill running and lunges to strengthen the legs and I appreciate the physiological sequence of strength training on the running action. But I am a little confused by comments you have made about the downward creation of force and recoil. I feel that this might slow their stride frequecy if they are pounding the ground too much.

    I have been telling them to pump the arms and drive the knees for those first 8 steps. There has been significant improvement but am I limiting them by what I have said?

    On reflection, when I ran I remember myself doing both!

    …Rod

    • http://www.completespeedtraining2.com Latif Thomas

      @Rod Butterfield:

      During acceleration you should be telling your athletes to push into the ground as long as possible by driving the foot/thigh down and back getting triple extension with the support leg, NOT to get the foot off the ground quickly. Ideally it should be a piston like action with the legs, one driving down and back and the swing leg knee driving forward. I cue my athletes who have the coordination to attempt such an action to ‘push and punch’, that is, push the drive leg and punch the support knee forward.
      Stride frequency should go from slow to fast, contact times long to short.

  • Guy

    Hi Latif
    IN NZ our Region has Quick fire meets with the walkers or distance athletes at the
    end. Hurdles are first so they are all ready set up. I have managed to keep my daughter enthused to still compete after initially going to some junior meets at 8am and getting home at 7pm.

    Now we out and back within a 2-3 hours and she can still have a life with her friends.
    Ages groups are open u18 u16

    Programme A
    12.30pm Sprint Hurdles 1.00pm 300/400m Distance Hurdles
    1.00pm High Jump Men 1.00pm Long Jump Women
    1.00pm Hammer Women First, Men Second
    1.20pm 60m 1.45 pm 100m 2.10pm 800m
    2.15pm Javelin Women First, Men Second 2.15pm High Jump Women
    2.15pm Long Jump Men 2.30pm 200m
    2.50pm 3000m/5000m 3.20pm Walks ( Selected Distances )

    Programme B
    5.00pm Sprint Hurdles 5.00pm Shot Put Women
    5.00pm Discus Men 5.00pm High Jump Women
    5.00pm Triple Jump Men 5.30pm 100m 6.00pm 800m
    6.15pm Shot Put Men 6.15pm Discus Women
    6.15pm High Jump Men 6.15pm Triple Jump Women
    6.30pm 200m 7.00pm 1500m 7.20pm 400m
    Followed by Steeplechase request only

  • Phillip

    I think most of the stuff makes a ton of sense, but I think that separating the meets up could potentially discourage athletes from having more than one event. For example, if an athlete runs the 100m and 200m but the meet only lasts an hour because in a sprints only meet all of the events would go by very fast (yes I know, it’s a little redundant saying sprinting is fast), then he/she would most likely have a hard time recovering properly between the two events. I’m not even going into athletes who run 3 or 4 events because that would for the most part be just repeating my point. As to crossover athletes, I think that if the crossover isn’t between jumps, hurdles, and/or sprints, then the crossover would be counterproductive to getting good at either of their events.

    My question to you Latif, is do you have ideas about how to accommodate athletes with more than one event? I ask because the split meets would absolutely be more enjoyable to watch because people would get to go watch something that they want to see and then leave.

  • Keith Thompson

    A long time ago I switched our home invitational meets to what is now called ‘Gold Medal’ meets. That is, each school can only have one athlete in each event. 8 lanes, 8 schools. You can do both the boys and girls hurdles in 5 minutes. For the mile & two mile we run the boys and girls together. The meets last roughly 2 1/2 hours (tho I believe we could do it in half the time if speed was our chief goal).
    I’ve suggested that the following day we run a ‘Silver Medal’ meet for the teams #2 athletes (as well as a ‘Bronze Medal’ for #3 & 4 sometime), but this apparently is too radical for most coaches.

  • Di from Australia

    We have the same problem in Australia with team sport the main priority.The one thing we do have is a reasonable competitive competition within our private schools at least in Queensland & also the all schools knockout competition with an overall national school team champion.I know this because I have been sending a team to nationals with numerous successes.At my high school I am lucky enough to have full support with my track programme mind you I had to earn it.We use the motto that speed deveoplment is about speed in sport, ALL SPORTS & because of this I have quite a few athletes from different sports come to track training.They know that their speed training & knowing how to use the body makes them better athletes overall.I can also put this down to all the info & packages that are available through Latif Thomas as this is the information I utilise in all my coaching sessions all with amazing success.THUMBS UP TO YOU LATIF.

  • http://www.klubkeihas.com Jeff Gorski

    Nicely done. The USATF/CEO situation is an absolute joke and that’s an area that seems to just get worse. In the 6 years I was an event chairman for “Development” then “High Performance” (1999-2005) I saw so much fighting for ego gratification and self promotion at the expense of the athletes it was disgusting. When Doug Logan was let go a pretty fair businessman and marketing pioneer, Bill Schmidt, applied for the job. You’ve heard of Gatorade because of him: 15 yrs as marketing VP who signed Michael Jordan to the 1st Gatorade deal (and opened the door to that type of endorsement deals). NBA Slam Dunk contest? Schmidt idea. NHL Skills Competition @ All Star Game? Bill came up w/ it. Home Run Derby @ Baseball All Star game? Schmidt idea. Heard of Oakley sunglasses? That’s because Bill did their marketing work after he left Gatorade. He ran over a dozen events @ the 1894 Olympic Games, including track & field, from the volunteers to the corporate big wigs. Oh, yeah, he also won a bronze medal @ 1972 Olympics in javelin. Yet, with all this experience he was basically told “Don’t call us, we’ll call you…… maybe.” Bill is now helping with a new, privately funded Junior elite Javelin program with National Scholastic Sport Foundation & Klub Keihas: have a look http://www.nationalscholastic.org/article/1057/ We had twice as many people show up for our 1st camp than expected… interest is there but almost no one will make the effort to cultivate it…. which comes to your point of poorly educated coaches. Maybe it’s time for USATF to die an overdue death and allow each discipline- sprints/hurdles, jumps, distance & throws to have and run it’s own programs and be responsible for their own houses for meets, coaches certification, marketing/funding and development. It sure can’t be any worse that what we’ve got now.

  • http://cgscoutperspective.blogspot.com/ Clarence Gaines

    This Latif quote caught my eye: “Now, in terms of quality of coaching from an ATHLETIC DEVELOPMENT standpoint, GOOD track and field coaches, at every level, are light years ahead of coaches in team (field and court) sports. In my humble opinion.” I agree & it’s the secret to getting kids & parents to understand the value of track and how it can impact and improve their performance in the other sports they participate in. Middle School & High School coaches have to MARKET the ATHLETIC DEVELOPMENT aspect of track & field to get the school’s better athletes to consider the sport. EDUCATION is the key.

    I wrote this letter to my e-mail contacts before track season began last year. Maybe it will give you some ideas. As Latif says, “To Your Success:”

    Hello Parents of Young Athletes,

    If you’re receiving this e-mail, I probably know you because I’ve coached your child or met you in coaching youth soccer, basketball and football in the Pasadena and Eagle Rock area over the past ten years. What some of you might not know is that my son participates in youth track and field and I’ve also helped to train athletes in that sport. Track and field is not high on the list of sports that most parents consider for their child. Soccer, basketball, football (flag or tackle), baseball, gymnastics, tennis, and swimming are sports that most consider before track and field.

    I’m writing this missive to enlighten you about the benefits of track training for your child. There are many track clubs to choose from in the area. Here’s a list of the USATF clubs in the area: http://bit.ly/hHFprr I will highlight three different clubs, all which have a different mission and model. This link will give you a good overview of youth track and field:http://www.allstaractivities.com/sports/trackandfield/track.htm

    Why track and field? Vern Gambetta is one of the pioneers in the athletic development field. Vern states that “Track and Field is the mother of all sports; that running, jumping and throwing is the foundation for a majority of what we do in training for all sports.” That’s a good enough reason for me, but I’ll give you my reasoning. Sports are about movement. The more understanding that an athlete has in controlling their body, the more effective they will be in their chosen sport. Speed, quickness, changing directions, and jumping are all components of most land based sports. But guess what? The majority of young athletes have no clue of how to run properly, change directions or jump correctly and economically.

    A couple of months ago my son went to a tryout for an AYSO all-star team in Pasadena. The tryouts were for boys from the ages of 10 to 14. I would estimate that approximately 60 to 70 kids were trying out. They had the boys run a 40 yard dash. I watched the majority of kids run their 40 yard dash and 90% of the kids either didn’t know how to start properly or had poor running mechanics. Let me repeat that number – 90%. What I observed that day is the motivation behind me writing this to you. Even if you don’t have time to participate in all or most of the track meets, you should consider signing your child up for the training and technical aspects of track and field.

    My son participates in the Brotherhood Crusade (BHC) Track Program:http://www.bhcsports.org/leagues_track_field.html
    Attached you’ll find a flyer on the BHC program. BHC is primarily a recreational track club with a travel team component. It’s two different programs in one, a beginners (one practice/week) and an advanced program (two practices per week). BHC is not a USATF club, but the advanced athletes can participate in USATF meets. The cost of BHC is nominal, $125 and the club has a nice spirit and mission. I’m one of Head BHC Track Coach, Jymm Adams’ assistants. Jymm has a passion and love for kids and Track & Field that is second to none.

    The Pasadena Running Roses are the most established track club in the area: http://pasadenarunningroses.com/ They are an official USATF club, run their own Invitational Track Meet and require a greater commitment than BHC. There are also other USATF clubs in the area: http://bit.ly/hHFprr

    The Los Angeles Falcons Track and Field Team: http://www.la-falcons.com/ is based out of La Crescenta and participates in the Valley Youth Sports League (VYSL.) I think they have tri-meets with with other clubs that are a part of VYSL.
    I’ve highlighted a variety of options for you because I’m more concerned with you considering track and field as an option for your child than about what club you decide to choose. I would love you to be a part of the BHC track program, but my main motive is to highlight the advantages and benefits of a youth sport that is often overlooked by the masses. I hope you consider it as an option for your child and select a track club that best fits your needs if you deem it as a viable option for your child.

    I want to conclude on a personal note. Trackmom, Dr. Lorraine Johnson Williams http://trackmom.com/ asked me to write my most memorable track moment in 2010. Trackmom is a site for youth sports that I highly recommend for any parent whose child is involved in any sport, not just track and field. It’s a fountain of information for those involved in youth track. Here’s the link for the story of my most memorable track moment in 2010 as it appeared on trackmom’s site: http://trackmom.com/2011/01/01/running-into-2011favorite-moments/ and how it appears on my new blog: http://bit.ly/ftRCN8

    Please contact me if you have any questions. I know people who have had their child in all of the clubs I featured.

    Clarence Gaines

  • Vernon Smith

    I’m hearing complaints and excuses. This is the problem withT&F now. In 1986 the TAC National Junior Olympic Cross Cross Country Championships were held in Irvine, CA. Meet headquarters was the Disneyland Hotel. This was the largest JO XC national meet at the time with more than 42 states represented by 2200 athletes ages 7-18. The event was covered by newpapers all over the country and as far away as China. The President, Governor of Calif. and a State Senator all sent a letter encouraging the athletes, parents, coaches, and event organizors. The Goodyear blimp took pictures and avideo record can be reveiwed at the offices of the LAOOC, a sponsor.
    There are no excuses. In our case we simply have not done the job. There are inherent problems its true. They all can be overcome. We are Americans, we do not fail through incompetence we fail because we allow those who only care about themselves to be in control.
    There are few politicos who actually work on building the better solution. They find someone to do that …..if they are good. Then they take credit for it. If it fails they blame everyone else.
    Anyone can point out what’s wrong. Who will step forward to build a better sport?

  • Chad

    As a former high school thrower, I hated sitting through the long meets and practicing with the rest of the team as a ‘runner’.. Blah.. The throwers had no real coach, we just taught ourselves.. We had a saying “No track. No field. No problem.” as a result of having only a cinder track and no access to the weight room, nor areas where the throwers could easily practice. We had to go ask a local farmer to use his field by the school to practice throwing. The irony to this whole story? Our runners/sprinters/throwers were all ranked in the top 10 in the state. We all were able to reach this level because we spent our free time outside school working to improve our techniques and improve ourselves. Just because one has no money doesn’t mean they can reach the top.

  • Ray Lapinski

    You make a number of excellent points. Several other pet peeves of mine….
    When the NFL runs into a problem they don’t go ask Joe Paterno to solve it and yet in USATF we do it all the time. We rely on the collegiate old boys network to make all our decisions for us

    Indoor Track Meets are 10x worse than outdoor meets. You bring that kid that maybe qualifies to run in the 50 and his race is over in less than 6 seconds and yet he sits there for 12-14 hours. Think mom and dad are going to hang around?

    Our best coaches are working with open or collegiate athletes and have little if any contact with the developing athletes. An emphasis on a club system with club coaches that work or oversee all levels youth-masters is the only way to ensure that athletes are getting the quality coaching they deserve.

    The local news guys show up at every volleyball game to take pictures and write a story. Why not? It’s indoors, no bad weather, the game is short and sweet, plenty of action and need I mention the uniforms? I had to call the papers numerous times just to get a result in.

  • Dan Mead

    Latif, Great article.We compete against some of the schools you mentioned.We are fortunate in that we have six coaches for track at our school,not all paid as I am a volunteer coach and all of our coaches at level one certified.Because T&F get so, little media attention there is little money or interest in T&F outside of our community.Today few coaches in our area are teachers so most coaches have other jobs and time commitments and our season up north is very short as Southern College coaches remind us when recruiting.Unfortunately it comes back to money and exposure

  • Jay C.

    Latif,

    Great article man!!!! Here is a piece I got from Urban Myer’s Utah Playbook. He included this in the first fe pages:
    Change
    “If what you want in the future is different than what you have in the present, then you have to change what you are doing.”
    Change involves risk and discomfort. This is why many refuse to make a change. Successful individuals and teams share a common characteristic of being willing to change and being adaptable to the situation.

    Keep at it and your followers will be right with you!

  • Ralph Neighbors

    Great piece. In our area the coaches want to do away with scoring meets except at the Region and National level. The conference will hold several all teams meet and use the computer to sort out the dual meet scores. My friends will ask me how we did in a certain meet and it is difficult to give them an intelligent response. Head to head competition is the only way to save our sport!
    Talking about money. Why doesn’t anyone ever say anything about how much track athletes make? Might entice a few to give track a legitimate try.

  • Abby Slinger

    In Australia we have a national program called Little Athletics which starts at 3 year old and goes to 16 years. The three and four year olds do general motor skills (with an athletics spin) and when they are 5 they start competition within the club. The emphasis is on PR’s, fun and fitness. They can go on to compete at regional level at 8 and state at 9 years. Once the kids are 12 they become duel register athletes – for the same price they belong to not only Little Athletics but Athletics NSW (the senior competition) and can compete at any meets held by either organisation. Athletes can also qualify for Junior Talents Squads which gives them access to great coaches at no or little cost. My son went to one last weekend with an international sprints coach who will have 3 runners at the London Olympics – they whole day cost $12. The administrator running this squad also seeks out & invites talented kids from other sports to attend these days to encourage them into athletics. If the club is running it right at a local level with good competition and coaching the athletes stay in the sport for many of their formative years (my son started at 5 and is 15 now) and some will go on with the sport. Others will go on to other sports but we are proud of their achievements because we have had a hand in making them better athletes. The organisation even has an honor roll to acknowledge this. Though not everyone who does athletics goes on to the next level they have been exposed to the sport (they have to do all track & field events at club nights) and have developed the skills over many years.

    My kids also compete in gifts which are handicapped races for money which was mentioned earlier and though they can get a little bit of money I don’t think that is a reason that athletes would join track & field. It’s the kids that have done Little Athletics and are pretty good that compete.

    With Little Athletics we do hold our distance events in the winter months (no snow here) as the summer is too hot so we just don’t have the problem of that taking too long at competitions.

  • Mike Donato

    Gymnastic coaches would have to be the best of all sporting coaches in developing athletes. It’s a different fitness of course. Greco Roman wrestling & martial arts aren’t bad in my experience either. Depends on how you define fitness of course. Certainly the major team sports coaches are way behind in developing individuals wrt “fitness” and athletic development. That’s why they have to employ strength coaches – and strength coaches don’t have the skills in teaching the skills of running, jumping, etc. That is very much the unique domain of T&F coaches and biomechanists.

    As for developing & promoting the sport of track & field. The battle was lost long ago to the major team sports. Very hard (impossible) to see anything changing even if T&F got their act together perfectly. Better learn to enjoy the 15 seconds of fame every 4 years when the Olympics are on.

  • http://www.Sprinters.tv Leonard Britt

    I live about two miles from Ansin Sports Complex in Miramar, Florida – one of eight Mondo surface tracks in the country. I believe Otto Bolden is a director at the facility in charge of bringing high-profile events to Miramar. In the summer of 2010, the NACAC Under 23 championships were held there and in the summer of 2011 the Junior Pan Am Games. It is nice to see a schedule detailing when certain events will be held as my interests lie in the sprints and jumps. If I know when those events will be held, I likely show up to see those and will leave unless there is a 4×100 or 4×400 meter relay at a later time. I just don’t get excited by 5k / 10k events or the shot put. But even at these high-caliber meets, the fan attendance has been disappointing – great if you want to get a good seat but when one compares a turnout of several hundred spectators to a comparable event (national championship) in football or basketball, how many fans would be showing up for those type of events?

    I was out running one day and met a long jumper preparing for the real Pan Am Games in Guadalajara going on currently (October 2011). There are probably 300k people who live within a ten-mile radius of the facility and yet I rarely have a problem tyring to get a workout in (no complaints but surprising how crowded the nearby 24Hour Fitness is).

    So yes, track and field does not have the following of other sports but it shouldn’t be that way.

  • W.E. Price

    Good points made throughout. Unfortunately though track & field is my sole activity sport I frankly see it as a niche sport from a professional perspective; not to say that we have to accept it in that manner however.

    Regarding coaching education I certainly can see your point on this. Though I feel that certain individuals should be offered an opportunity to be evaluated on their pedagogical abilities sans the multiple day presence at a CE school or academy. Work experience, even in apprenticeship, along with perhaps extensive college education can represent a certain preparedness for ardent teaching of the sport IMO. At least the opportunity for such should be in-place. What were the paths taken by the forefathers of these foundations?

    On the other hand, getting to meet and speak with Smith, Schexnayder, Pfaff, Mann et al wouldn’t be a bad experience as well.

    Atu tana

  • Elliott Evans

    Latif,

    Good discussion. We are getting our lunch handed to us by soccer. Think about it from a parents perspective– 2 hours pizza and home. It’s a no-brainer. Our state meet here in Nebraska is a two day marathon. You could actually ( as an athlete) need to be there for 12 hrs. on Saturday!!!
    We actually have 16 heats of the 4×4 which lasts two and a half hrs. as a finish to the meet. By the time the Class A section goes, half the stands are empty! Need I tell anyone here how important that race is… and the crowd is long gone.

    Latif, I have begged our state officials to make changes. Unfortunately, athletic directors, not coaches call the shots in my state.

    I would like to go back to a mix of duals and invites. Also, people need to remember females have doubled the schedule since I began back in the early 70′s. In this area there are no single sex meets, even though it might be a way to shake things up a little.

    Also of interest, the big ten conference will have its first men and women’s meet this year– saves on travel

    Elliott Evans

  • Nick

    I started my track career in high school because I got cut from the baseball team. I didn’t want to just lay around after school and figured there were a lot of girls in track. I decided to join. I ended up in the throwing events. By the end of my career, I ended up taking 7th in the state in the javelin. I never had a javelin coach. I still never thought track was my sport. I was a football player. When I got a job teaching at the school district I graduated from, I decided to go into coaching track. I hated every ounce of my coaching experience. I got out of it for a couple of years until I was talked into coaching throwers at the junior high level. I saw great success with these kids because the kids in junior high go out for track. There aren’t any other school sponsored sports that can compete going on at the same time as track. Actually, I’m wrong. Volleyball is going on but it’s a sport that cuts most of their players. I was then asked to be the head coach of the junior high program. I was simply a warm body and everybody else wanted out. I was actually going to quit that same year but they convinced me not only to stay, but to take over the program. I took the job and for 2 seasons ran it without a clue as to what I was doing. We were not successful at all those 2 seasons. I decided to get educated on the needs of the kids and found the original CST online. This honestly brought great success. I talk to kids and tell them to come out for track for the sole purpose of getting faster. In fact, I guaranteed them they would get faster. Most kids run incorrectly. I know simply fixing their form would make them faster automatically. I don’t hide the fact that track is a secondary sport in America. You should do it just like you would do a strength program. Until track is taken more seriously in the US, it will always be a secondary sport. There is nothing wrong with that. The great part is, because of the gains kids are seeing with the CST program, they’re coming to me to help them. In two years implementing the program, we have had athletes break our girls 100m record @ 12.49, boys 100m 1.55, girls 4X1, boys 4X1, and Boys 110m hurdles. The hurdles was broken by a 7th grader. Kids aren’t dumb. They want to get an edge on everyone else and speed is the way to go. My track kids go to their main sports and are blowing kids away that they previously could not edge it. And I only have time in the season to do the basics. Don’t fight the fact that track is a secondary sport. Educate yourself and fix it by providing a quality program that kids need to get better in their other sports. They may then realize that track is more important and necessary to get the upper edge on everyone else.

  • Kibster

    Admittedly, most track meets are like a 3 ring circus – with no Ring Master. You’ve got an event running on the track, high jumpers jumping at one end of the facility, long/triple jumper along the back straight, pole vaulters at the other end, and thrower who knows where.

    And the beauty for the fans? There are no names or uniform numbers on any of the athletes (excuse the bib or lane numbers – which are for the officials, not the fans). And there is no scoreboard to keep track of team points (let alone individual results). Even the coaches don’t know the team scoring 1/2 the time (and many times, not until the meet is over & long after the fans have left). How high is the HJ or PV bar, how far was that throw, etc.? And who was that? Does the meet have a program with heat sheets? Does the meet have an announcer?

    Try going to a basketball or football game with no roster sheets or programs, no uniform numbers, no names on the uniform, 4-16 teams competing at the same time, with no scoreboard. That’s why a HS can pack the stadium for a mediocre football team, yet 2/3 the seats are empty for a 12 team co-ed invitational. Even the parents don’t show.

    The meets might be a bit more dramatic if everyone knew who was competing, how well they performed, and what the meet scoring is.

    Bottom line, as it’s currently presented, track meets are not fan friendly. I’ve been to college meets (DI & DII) that were just as bad as a HS meet – only less parents/fans! And these kids are state champions, state qualifiers, etc. We’re talking talented kids – and nobody’s there.

    I’ve been to a HS co-ed Conference meet where the host school didn’t even offer concessions. No food or drinks for the parents or athletes. Same school had to drag hurdles out and across the track during the meet – a time killer. How hard would it be to stage the hurdles the night before (like we do)? Ugh… Fail… A death march…

    Is it that hard with online team entries, etc. to make a simple program (heck, have one of the computer/English/multi-media classes put them together as an assignment)? Sell them for a couple bucks. Get the multi-media kids out there with some digital cameras and camcorders – put highlight videos on the schools website/Facebook page. Get the physics class out there to video and analyze (Kinovea is free) the throws, jumps, etc.

    I won’t even touch coaching (I’ve coached USATF/AAU, HS and have a daughter who runs in college). As the saying goes, your mileage may vary.

  • Vernon Smith

    Latif I know hundred’s of coaches and athletes who have been saying the same things for30 years. I have had athletes from my programs go into high school knowing more than their coaches. I have had athletes go into college knowing more than their coaches. i have had the pleasure of developing many of those athletes that have become successful coaches. I have watched the sport I love destroyed by selfish, narcississtic, deceitful, jealous, idiots who do not have these least interest in anything but themselves. It is shameful, and sad.

    I want to thank you for having a forum that these points can be made. Anyone can point out what’s wrong. Thank you for offering crative ideas to rebuild the world’s oldest sport. May i humbly offer a few suggestions of my own.
    1. NCAA Reintroduce meaningful scored dual meets to college track and feild. Have a national dual meet tournament culminating in a national champion.

    2.People don’t follow what the don’t understand. Teams that distance heavy can win most team championships. Everyone has a sprinter. Sprinter attrition is easy to beat. Skill events are the worst coached in this country, But that is where the victory lies. Ucla won many team titles with throwers and vaulters, Give me hurdlers and jumpers a solid distance crew, and a couple of throwers I beat you everytime. I’ll score with my sprinters. But I’ll dominate the feild. Three good hurdlers will beat three good sprinters everytime. My sprinter will break up yours my hurdlers will blank yours.

    3. If you really want to rebuild track find me sixteen entreprenuers with enough money to build an American Track and Field Association. Pay those athletes. If we can pay minor league baseball players millon dollar contracts, We can build a League where every event is relevant. We can build fans who know when a box is set in a1500m or the American Mile. We can get excited about west coast sprinters versus Texas and Florida. The midwest isn’t the only place that develops 800 meter runners.

    4. Internationally. If we build it, they will come and we’ll beat the pants off them.

    Track is like baseball or golf. It develops stat junkies. If you know what your watching there is no event that is boring. …..Not even the race walk. If you know who is competing your heart races with them. In 1988 i was watching the Olympic 400m final. Steve Lewis had gone out hard pushing the first 200m, the commentator was saying ” perhaps too fast, he is still young and inexperienced. Butch Lewis the world record holder has a great finishing kick. He will probably overhaul…..” I had known and watched Steve Lewis as a age grouper since he was twelve. He had run this way in maybe a thousand races. Steve won that gold medal. My point is the people describing the event need to know what they are talking about. I know track I don’t know hockey. If I watch hockey I haven’t the slightest idea about skating with a stick hitting a puck into a net behind a giant man that has more hands and legs than a octupus.
    This could get long, so I’ll stop now. We can rebuild our sport. We have to step outside the box. Anyone who is interested…. Let’s talk.

  • dlodes

    I coach at a small school (less than 200 high school). Baseball/Softball get almost all the best athletes so track is left with many non-athletes. Sure we have dual athletes but their commitment level in most cases is a joke. The thing I have not heard mentioned is the difficulty factor to become a good track athlete. Many kids nowadays sit at home and play video games so their athletic ability is very limited compared to an athlete of 25-30 years ago. We did so many athletic things during the day that track was not that big a deal. Today you may get someone who has been sitting in a chair for 8 months and track is to hard for them. Most find the other sports much easier physically. They would rather sit on the bench and never play then to test themselves in track. Track also looses because baseball and softball get everyone interested in the sport by having summer leagues. Very few are exposed to track at a young age. Yes we have AAU but who is willing to drive 2 hours every weekend and stay all day a a track meet.

  • Charles Craig

    I have been coaching at all levels of track and field and a such see what you are talking about every day. I am now retired, but in Kern County, as far as I know there are no level 1 coaches in track and field. I am trying to convince the director of sports for the high school district to bring in qualified coaches to conduct level 1 clinics…so far no luck. About 10 yrs ago, I spoke to the AD’s and complained about the lack of certified coaches in T & F. I said,” you would be run out of town by parents if you hired a football or basketball coach with little or no experience in those sports…but at the same time, you go to the teacher’s lounge and ask if anyone would be interested in coaching boy’s & girl’s track and field”. These youngsters deserve the same quality of instruction as BB and Football.

  • Coach Ice

    Hey Latif, once again you speak the mind of intelligent, relevant coaches. Wish the sport had more like you. Love the comment about the world series of poker being televised instead of track and field. One last thing, I or any of my athletes will never ever be a Jamaicans Bitch. I’m INSULTED by that if that’s what they or any one else thinks. Leave them over in Jamaica and stop recruiting them for U.S. college teams. Then we’ll see how fast they can run when left alone by them self, to train alone, in their own tiny little island country, with no scholarships, proper coaching or help from the U.S. Let them figure it out on their own and raise their own funds if their going to call us Americans their “bitches”.

    • http://www.cfgliders.com Coach Robinson

      @Coach Ice:
      Coach Ice, that’s Jamaica of 30 years ago. Today, Jamaica’s top athletes get numerous scholarship offers from local and foreign universities and many choose to remain at home. Today, on average, the quality of coaching in Jamaica at every level is as good as the the USA, even though facilities are not up to par. At the MS and HS level, I’d argue that the coaching is superior in Jamaica.

  • http://asapworkouts.com Rick Karboviak

    You just made me realize why I haven’t had much success in marketing some e-books of mine that deal with endurance training for HS athletes. After being a coach on/off for track & XC the last decade, I always wondered why other coaches would gobble up books on speed training for various sports (FB, hoops, hell, even hockey) but track/XC coaches seem to ‘know everything’ and scoff at books/video’s related to their sport.

    The ideas suggested on changing up meet formats to sprints/jumps focus one day, a distance meet the next, maybe just two versions alone for shorter meet times (sprint/jump events one meet, distance/throws the other) would be more ideal for track meet event directors in finding workers. Here in rural ND, many coaches have to work events and miss out on actually coaching their kids. Its like asking the assistant football coaches from each side to be the officials because the host school can’t find officials for the game. It’s silly and stupid and part of the reason why coaching is lacking in the first place.

    It would be a hell of a lot easier to find a few volunteers or actually PAY people to work an event for a shorter meet than an all-day affair.

  • dtown2121

    Our best ahtletes are not running track due to the long term financial gains that are prevalent in other sports. In addition, the coaches of football and basketball at the high school level keep their athletes specializing year round. I have 2 Mr Ohio’s and numerous All State running backs that have come out our summer track program. One of our kids is a starting running back at a Big Ten school. Once in high school the coaches try to specialize in weightlifting as if that is the panacea to being a great athlete. Cursory running programs, I usually get them from November to March and supplement what they havent received. The problem I see with the US with track and field is the severe lack of quality coaching from middle school to high school. That’s why Jamaica is so far ahead, I had a national champion at 12 yrs old at 200 meters top time in the world in 2000 at 24.6. The next year at 13 he ran a 23.2 and at 14 he ran 22.38 and long jumped 19’3. Football got him he was never able to run anything under 23.5 or long jump past 19′ for 4 years!!! You could not in no way tell me that a kid that runs 23.2 at 13 should run at least 21.2 five years later bad coaching cost this kid his future. Too much of this goes on but there’s little done about it. No checks or balances for coaches, what you have is a crapshoot and that is what American Track and Field is, we hope to find that diamond in the rough and nuture it, but I also coach D-I track and in sprints we are training future Olympians for other countries, have for years.

  • Walt

    I have been advocating for awhile a return to dual meet format for high schools in order to tape into the team sport interest of the athletes and the public. My father told me stories of pack stadiums in the ’40s for dual meets between rival high schools. Why not determine team championships based on a dual meet head to head competition? These meets take much less time than the traditional multi-team relay meets. Time seems the #1 complaint I hear from coaches, athletes, and parents. Qualifiers to the next level could them be determined by one multi-team meet at end of the dual meet season. The one draw back is the need for qualified officials to cover so many meets.

  • http://www.completespeedtraining2.com Latif Thomas

    My argument for splitting up the meets would only be for professional meets. It is not financially viable at the non-revenue levels. However, I do feel strongly that incremental change is not enough to save the sport.

    • Derek

      I think another way to help the sport and its exposure can be to advertise local meets to the community. If we treat some of our college meets like we treat our basketball games, we might be surprised by the response. A great meet in the northeast for exposure purposes would be BU’s Velentine Invitational. The venue is great and the competition can be fierce in the seeded sections. However, I fear that some of our coaching colleagues are killing that meet by entering less talented athletes that dramatically increase the length of the meet, while reducing its quality and appeal to spectators. Case in point, 2 years ago, we were treated to an amazing race in the men’s mile, where each of the top 4 competitors ran at or sub 4 minutes with a deafening crowd to cheer them on. However, instead of moving on to another thrilling race, we sat through another hour of mile heats, where times differed as much as 45 seconds from the seeded section. That’s not a reflection on BU in my mind, but rather my concern that we as coaches are starting to value participation at the cost of competition. At the high school level, I get it, but in college, we really need to be more selective in who we bring to meets.

      @Latif Thomas:

  • Rick Fine

    The very first thing that struck after I started reading this article are all the athletes I know or have seen participate in Sprints and Mid-distance races and jumps. Some even do verticle jumps.
    The second, and probably more important fact is cost. I would say the main reason that track meets are set-up the way they are now is because they don’t have the same budgets as other sports.
    I doubt if there are very many schools/Colleges that could afford to split up the meets and have seperate costs for each event which would include the operation of their own meets plus now, seperate transportation costs for each meet. How many can afford to hire and pay for so many more coaches to run everything separate?
    Track and Field does not have the monetary nor popularity to support separate meets. I think it would be a serious step backwards and that it would not promote itself very well, especially to those not familiar with aspects of Track. When all events are together, it showcases the sport and gives exposure to events that probably would become obscure or even eventually go away because of the lower number athlete base, which again, with bean counters at schools/colleges may see as unaffordable.
    I think there are less drastic things that could help track and Field, but division is not one, in my opinion.

    Rick

  • Steve Morley

    Another point on the all day, and all on weekend track meets, makes it very hard on Volunteer officials, and coaches, for that matter.

  • http://speedendurance.com/ Jimson Lee

    Certifications mean nothing without work experience. However, you do need a starting point, and that means getting certified. It’s like a High School diploma… it’s just required.

  • http://nektrack.com Lance Lenard

    Wow, what an outstanding, and thoughtful blog! We have had many problems including the lack of introducing our sport to the masses for a century. Two summers ago, I had a current U.S. Champion, and another world classer helping me with a summer program for kids age 5-18. We had a nice turn-out of kids, but not a noticable increase in our regular numbers. I equivilated this to a friend by saying; “What if I had two current NFL All-Pro players coaching youth football, how many kids would I get to pay a fortune for the opportunity to work with them twice a week”. Of note, our club charged $50 for three months of training, equipment, uniform, and insurance (through AAU and USATF). We should of had so many kids lining up to be part of this, that we would have to turn most of them away.

    For many years, I have thought that we should have a “barn storming” tour of Olympic hopefuls. We could have them be Team Red, Team White, and Team Blue. We could put on mini-clinics for youth previous to a meet, and pack the stands with kids wearing a denoted color to match their favorite team (Red, White, or Blue). Do some coaches education in conjunction with these events. To help with the bills, have a merchandise tent, and sell shoes, implements, and SWAG to the attendees. We have sat on our collective hands for way too long, and if we don’t do something soon, we will lose the sport that we love!

    • Rick Fine

      @Lance Lenard:
      Sounds like a great program.
      I drove 300 miles, round trip, every Saturday for a Spring/Summer 2 years ago so my then 12 year old daughter could be on a AAU track club, plus the coach charged $500 per season!
      How I wish your program was close to where I live.
      A local HS track coach puts on a Summer track camp for youth, which gets a huge turnout, about 200 kids. It is only for 3 weeks though, and is very basic so there are very few older (12 and up) kids that have experience. But again, a great start to get kids to know about track…just too bad there are no AAU/USATF teams within 100 miles, as there is nothing for these kids to follow through into.

  • Brandon

    With my experience so far, the College coaches I have dealt with are bad, High School coaches are worse, and Middle School coaches are the worst.

    To cut the Middle School coaches some slack, I don’t expect them to have completely prepared me for the horrors of a high school season but wow in retrospect it was bad.
    Working on block starts of twenty meters for practice and popping up EVERY time. Bad.
    Doing this 3/5 practices a week. WORSE! The real killer is that the coaches have been there for ten plus years. That’s simply not going to cut it.

    High School.
    No structured plan. No organized GPP SPP or CPP.I kid you not a week of preseason workouts looked exactly like this:Monday running distance for time thrown in some distance running for time and then add in plyos. Tuesday Speed work with more plyos, Wednesday Stair workout of all things another variation of plyos, Thursday maybe throw in a “Clyde Hart” workout with 8*200m no real direction as to what percentage or with what rest. Friday a lazy day with “striding” the straights, jogging the curves.

    I can easily understand why I had stress fractures last year and shin splints freshmen year now that I understand the science of it all.

    College coach that I’ve heard horror stories from a freshmen now in college, sprinters and cross country athletes running the SAME workouts.

    Now, there is part of me that wants to cut them slack and part that says come on, how much does education cost? If I’m a junior in high school and I can scrape together both time and money for CSTv2. For IYCA certification. Surely, a middle school coach can do it. He’s been there long enough to have gone to a clinic or two. Maybe get a certification? Is that really too much to ask to have a certified coach?

    At least the high school coach would have USATF I certification right I mean it’s only $125? Nope. Nothing. A single state champion in over twenty years of coaching makes me want to cry with the talent at my school.

    Once coaches get educated at all levels then we will start to see a shift coming back to the United States.

  • Jon Beyle

    Hammer-Nail-Head. Great post!

  • Shane McKenzie

    Latif,
    Come to Australia sometime, have a look at some of the things we do. We have some progressive ideas, but still battle the cronies. Athletics Victoria run regular interclub meets each week. Then later in the season, the elite athletes split into different meets called High Velocity (sprints/hurdles from 100m up to 400H, ), Milers Club (800m to 5,000m with the focus on 800m, 1,500m), AV Throwers (shot, discuss, hammer and javelin) and Rare Air for the
    jumpers.

    On top of all that we also have a different “code” of athletics, where we race on grass from handicaps over 70m, 100m, 120m, 200m, 300m, 400m, 550m, 800m, 1000, 1600m, 2000m and 3200m with the occasional 50m and 100yard event (no jumps, walks or throws). At Easter every year, some 500 plus athletes drive 3 hours from the nearest capital city and race for 3 days in front of crowds up to 15,000 in a remote Gold Mining town called Stawell. It’s also televised during the AFL grandfinal. Kim Collins, John Drummond, Greg Saddler and Lindford Christie have all raced there and not been able to win. It’s a different animal, but it’s athletics and it has people involved and it supplements traditional track and field as you know it. Check out http://www.stawellgift.com You can win up to $50K prizemoney for that race alone. It’s the biggest in the country.

    Australia just needs to make a few adjustments (get rid of some of the idiot coaches that run the show for a start) and we have a model that could potentially be a savior to our beloved sport of Track & Field.

  • FRANK B

    Latif,

    The one thing I have always liked about you is that you say the things that I and a few others like me have said over the years. I dont send any of my athletes to colleges or universities where no one on staff has certification from USATF USTFCCA or anybody. I even found a school where the head coach never ran track in his life….he played BASEBALL. C’mon now. In Illinois there was a move to get all of the coaches CERTIFIED thru USATF. According to a associate of mine ,that was shot down by coaches in Chicago….say what?????? Are they afraid of being found wanting and ill suited to coach. In the state of Arkansas,you cannot coach the sports of football,basketball and I think baseball without having a degree in physical education……sorry english majors. I am sitting at home wondering if I will coach next season,even though I am certified by USATF,USTFCCA AAU and ASEP. Add to that the fact the all of the conference,district,sectional and state qualifiers/champions were kids that I coached. I’ve hours upon hours attending seminars,reading and researching all things track to be BETTER than the BEST.

    We have become Jamaicas bitch in track and our college coaches here aint making it any better. The roster of one HBCU track team is 75% Caribbean( with most coming from Jamaica)…..now are our kids that bad….no you just have lazy coaches that dont wanna work at building a good team…Is our sport dying……..not on my watch my brother,not on my watch

  • http://Coachcohen.com Mike Cohen

    While I do not agree with everything you’ve said, I do agree with its intent. I see logistical problems to splitting meets into different sections (distance, throws, jumps and/or sprints) especially at the HS and collegiate levels given that athletes may be “crossover athletes” and without the long boring distance events (from a sprinter’s perspective), their ability to come back in a second or even possibly a third event will be all but gone.

    I can see that idea working quite well on the elite level–a format that has a sprint meet or a distance festival or a jumps or throws grouping.

  • Dewayne

    VERY WELL SAID!

  • Matt Flood

    I agree with what you have to say. I think part of the problem is the lack of exposure to track for kids in the middle school and early high school years. In this “basketball” age of making money, track isn’t flashy enough for these kids. Hence the don’t be afraid of money. If track athletes are paid more I think more kids would become interested in it.

    Another issue is support. I coach at a school with over 1500 kids and have to fight tooth and nail to field a team of 45-50 boys. I have to fight out of season coaches for athletes (wtf?). My track, a community resource, is in the same condition as a parking lot. A lot of places, mine included, view track as the sport you do if you got cut from other sports. I think this hurts track more in general. If you can get more people involved (early) the sport can’t help but become better.

    On a side note, I would love to hear some things you do to get kids out for your team.

  • Samuel Berrien

    Latiff, I agree with you 100%!! I have always had a passion for Track & Field but not once ever participating in it. It was not available to me as a kid but football and baseball were. So, thats what I did. Once I got to high school I excelled in the two sports. And because Track season took place at the same time as baseball I had invested too much into baseball to pursue a sport that I had never been exposed to. Still to this day I wish to have been exposed to Track & Field as a child.

  • http://www.eraamn.com Keita

    I completely love the ideas generated here. Now Let’s Do Something. Can we organize a summit at a National Meet AAU JO or otherwise. I want to be a part of this change. I competed in the BIG TEN conference and as a junior coach, there is not one kid that i have coached and then done their team sport that did not come back to me and say running track helped.

    They are eager to go to Nationals and I would hate to see them chose another sport over this track passion becasue of the potential economic benefit.

    In the words of Cuba G Jr. “SHOW ME THE MONEY!!” Money begets money and the moment we make track into a big moeny sport, business and business men will see and oportunity for diversification, and risk reduction becasue another source of revenue is available.

    I will help organize… Let’s DO SOMETHING!

  • Ebe

    PREACH IT, LATIF! You definitely spoke the truth. Especially the part about Track being a “back up sport”. It brought me back to those times when basketball players would come out for outdoor season saying “I’m just trying to keep in shape.” I have played team sports, and I honestly can say track and field is much much more fulfilling. I don’t know, maybe because it’s chiefly an individual sport. But here’s one thing: us Track & field lovers have got to save this sport.