25 June 2013

Is There Something Better for a Young Person than Youth Track and Field?

No one in junior track and field gets a trophy, and only the top five get a medal.

This weekend I watched my daughters run in their second track meet.  Their first meet was a developmental meet, i.e. practice meet, and both girls performed well and enjoyed themselves. The meet this weekend was the USATF Junior Olympics State/Regional Championships for North Carolina.  Because North Carolina is hosting this year's National Championships, their state meet was also considered a regional meet.  The top five in each event in this meet qualified for the National Championships.

Both of my daughters were running in the 800m and the 1500m, and my older daughter was also competing in the long jump.

Before I get into how my daughters performed, I want to talk a bit about how enjoyable it is for me to see so many young kids participate in track and field.  Our culture is too obsessed with ball sports, sports where many children merely sit on a bench waiting to participate rather than actually participating.  As well, with many ball sports, kids who aren't quite as advanced may get not only less playing time in a game, but also less attention and practice time during practices.  Limiting the amount of time a child has to practice may ultimately keep a child from reaching his/her potential.  One wonders how many talented kids we miss each year because they might be late bloomers who get overlooked early on.

My love for track and field stems from the fact that the sport has an event for everyone.  If you have lots of fast twitch muscles, then sprint.  If you have a lot of slow twitch muscles, then run distance.  If you have speed and flexibility, then run hurdles.  If you have a wonderful pain threshold, then run the steeple chase.  If you are a big guy or gal with lots of power, then throw or put.  If you can jump high and/or far, then jump.

In addition to there being an event for everyone, track and field has no bench.  If you want to compete, you will compete.  Also, everyone participates in every moment of practice.  All participants get the workout they need, which means that all participants will improve during the course of a season, especially those who are new to the sport.  No one is left behind and no one is ignored.

Unfortunately, our culture views running as a punishment.  What it doesn't consider is that the way we often run youth sports in this country and the way we focus on ball sports that limit the amount of participants in any one competition are really what are punishing our young people.

I could go on for quite a while about how silly it is that we don't cherish cross country, track and field, and crew as much as football, basketball, and, especially, baseball, but I'd like to get back to this past weekend's meet.

Both of my daughters established new PRs in the 800m and 1500m this weekend.  In the long jump, my older daughter had an off day but enjoyed herself.  They both had a great weekend running hard and cheering for their friends who were also running hard.  In the end, both of my daughters ran well enough in the 1500m to qualify for the National Championships.  My younger daughter finished third in the 8 and under age group, and my older daughter took fifth in the 9 and 10 age group.  More importantly, though, they enjoyed the culture they entered during a weekend spent at a track, a weekend when all kinds of kids were being cheered for all kinds of performances.  And no one argued about playing time.

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