Too often, I am reminded how unimportant track and field truly is in the eyes of sport fans. Not only that, the sport is greatly diminished by high schools and colleges around the nation due to poor funding and support. This is not a sport (generally) that will fill the seats. This is not a sport that will bring in ¨big money¨ to any institution looking for financial gain. The sport of track and field is one of the ¨ugliest¨ sports out there, and one that simply gets too little recognition.
So, for all it´s worth, here´s my two cents...
Track and field is one of the greatest sports in the world - period. It may never be a big-money sport, but from an amateur standpoint the sport is absolutely worthwhile and life changing. During the early years of track and field there are no cuts. There is no bench. There is an equal opportunity for all participants to show their abilities. Unlike so many other sports, track and field gives each and every athlete a chance to shine. There is no way to cheat the stopwatch or tape measure, and this makes the idea of varsity athletes non debatable and understandable by all.
I once coached on a JV basketball team. It was without a doubt one of the most frustrating and unusual experiences of my life. The game isn't about teamwork and dedication although its a team sport. Nope. Basketball (for many teams) has changed into a game of complainers and whiners. Each athlete is convinced that he/she is the best athlete on the team, and thus fights/argues for playing time. This generally leads to a team of individuals that don't care for the betterment of the team, but only about their personal stats. What's worse is the fact that many parents back them up and believe their child is the most talented just because they made their local AAU team...
Any sport with a bench and an inability to experience consistent stats sets itself up for explosive confrontations centered on playing time and fairness. Track and field, with its stopwatches and tape measures, dares an athlete to complain. There is no basis for a complaint if you cannot beat the top spots open to varsity athletes - plain and simple. The great thing is that even if you aren't a varsity athlete, you'll still get a chance to prove yourself (and possibly take a spot on varsity) when you compete as a "JV" athlete! You can't say that about baseball. You can't say that about football. You can't say that about basketball. Generally, if someone takes a varsity spot its due to an injury.
So why not track? Why isn't track the most popular sport for young athletes (especially high school)? Why aren't kids flocking to this sport that gives all athletes equal opportunity?
1.) AAU/Club sports - these clubs demand as much attention and time from athletes as possible. They generally do this because time = money. Some clubs make a RIDICULOUS amount of money off their athletes. On our track team, we work around this by creating a schedule with these kids to determine how much they'll be able to practice/compete. Athletes, don't commit yourself to just one sport!
2.) People instantly think of side aches - I can't tell you how many times I've mentioned going out for track to an athlete only to have them respond with something about it being too hard. Track and field is the ultimate conditioner. If you are looking to be the best athlete you can be, track is a great way to do that! If you aren't willing to work, don't go out!
3.) Lack of scholarships - not a big money sport, so why would colleges throw money at it? They should, but they won't...
4.) Poor coaching - too often track and field is left with the "bottom of the barrel" coaches that weren't accepted to other positions in other sports. I know numerous coaches that simply do it for the addition paychecks. They don't care about the sport, they simply see a way to better themselves financially. This is something we as coaches (especially head coaches) need to figure out for the sake of our sport!
5.) It's not popular - kids in middle school and high school don't do anything they deem "uncool." It's a status thing. Unless your district/school has created an environment where competing in track is seen as "fun" or "cool," you're going to have a great deal of difficulties getting kids to come out! Coaches, take a true look at your program and make the necessary changes! I continually do it in my own career; and I generally experience great results because of it!
Honestly, I could go on and on about the negativity track and field competes with each and every day. The sport is one that simply too many people have no interest in due to lack of knowledge and/or experience. We can't simply sit her and do nothing. We need to work hard to bring the sport into the mainstream (more so). Start youth teams. Spread positive messages about the sport as often as possible. Recruit like there's no tomorrow - get those kids out that would rather hide in obscurity and show them their worth it. Share your knowledge with others as often as possible. Work to to put track and field where it should be - at the top of podium.