When you live in this country you know that the three major sports are football, basketball and baseball. And while track and field is considered a minor sport in the U.S., I would argue that having a good foundation in track and field can truly help any athlete in his or her chosen athletic discipline.
After the 100 meters, most people in the U.S. would be hard pressed to know confidently another event that is competed in track and field. But there are a myriad of events: triple jump, 3,000-meter steeplechase and hammer throw, to name a few. And although the average sports fan may have heard of these events by name, they probably aren’t quite sure of how exactly each is performed.
But with each different track and field event comes great athletic skills that one can easily transfer to one or more of the aforementioned major sports. I will break down here what each type of track event can bring skill wise to your child’s primary sport.
This is of course the area where most people see a good correlation as why track can benefit an athlete who is focused on another sport. Being fast will almost always be a benefit in any sport you compete in. In track, by learning proper running form — explosiveness, stride length, body position, knee lift, and arm carry — all are essential components in running a route in football, getting to the goal in soccer, running the bases in baseball or ending a fast break on the basketball court.
Many people understand what a sprinter is and what a long-distance runner is, but what the heck is a middle-distance runner? This is a person who has both good speed as well as good endurance. While in any running event in track and field you’ll learn proper running form (as you did in the sprints), but in middle-distance running you get a better understanding of pacing and being able to hold a high tempo for a longer period of time. Think of the benefit, in regards to fatigue, of a kid who is good in the 1,500 meters (a metric mile) who plays soccer, hockey, basketball, tennis or lacrosse where there is a lot of non-stop moving with the tempo of play is constantly fluctuating between moderate, slow, to an all-out sprint.
Distance running is just a great foundation for many sports where a lot of non-stop running is going to occur. Like middle-distance running, an individual is going to have a better sense of pacing and will not fatigue as fast as others who do not have a good cardio endurance base.
If you’re looking to help your child’s agility, then getting into hurdles could be very beneficial. With hurdles you need to be fast, strong, agile and understand cadence — all while maintaining solid running mechanics. Think of a running back trying to slip a tackle, a short stop jumping over a sliding runner while throwing to first base, a soccer player jumping and kicking a ball in mid-air towards the goal or a basketball player going high towards the hoop on a fast break — all of these actions require similar mechanics as one learns when running the hurdles.
While all relays offer important skill sets, when it comes to teamwork, there is nearly nothing as tactical and precise as watching a great 4x100-meter relay team. You have four people running at top speeds, trying to pass a small metallic baton without looking at each other face-to-face, never slowing down, in a small designated area and all along a narrow track lane. When putting together an effective relay there are as many details to consider as if one is running an effective double-reverse or option play in football, pulling off a smooth double-play in baseball or a seamless give-and-go in soccer or basketball.
Long jump and triple jump are horizontal jumps and lend themselves to a similar skill set as hurdling due to the coordination, agility, power and speed one needs to be successful in these events. High jump is a vertical jump that requires a more controlled speed compared to the horizontal jumps. Pole vault is another vertical jump, but also requires a huge amount of upper body strength, as well as speed and coordination due to the fact that the athlete is literally trying to lift themselves over a bar anywhere from 12 to 20 feet in the air. Any sport where jumping is a critical component, I would suggest looking into one of these events to supplement it.
While having a strong core is important in any activity, in the throws it’s essential. Add to that having a good center of gravity and being powerful as other factors that create a successful thrower, you can see how sports like football, hockey, basketball or lacrosse could benefit from an individual who has experience in this part of track and field.
Hopefully, after reading this you’ll at least consider track and field for your kids. I’ll leave you with this fun-fact: In the 2013 NFL Draft, out of the 254 players drafted, 130 participated in high school track (51 percent).
• David Allison has been a resident of Ahwatukee since 2005. He has a personal marathon best of 2:27 and was a Division I athlete at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the owner of Marathon Coaching Consultants and also the co-founder of Phoenix Flyers Track Club, both in Ahwatukee. Please send comments and questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.