At its root, the sport of track and field is made up individuals who are fast, strong, and have a will to win. In essence, competitive athletes. This is why, as a girls’ track coach, I always look forward to having athletes from other sports join Geneva’s girls’ track and field team. I know they are athletes who come from a competitive sporting background. Whether it be from basketball, volleyball, soccer, gymnastics, or dance team, each of these athletes brings attributes the sport of track and field. Tall volleyball or basketball players can be great high jumpers or hurdlers. Above is a basketball player who was a state qualifier in the 4×4, 300m hurdles, and still is part of the school record 4×1. Soccer players often have great speed endurance and can make fantastic 200m, 400m, and 800m runners. Two of my best triple jumpers in school history have also been soccer players with strong legs. Gymnasts with their fantastic core strength and body awareness tend to have a natural affinity for the pole vault. Of course cross country is a common overlap of sports, and most of the distance runners on the team also compete in xc in the fall. But it is these other sports that can often make a good team great, and a great team one for the history books. A lot gets written about the cross over between football and track and field athletes for boys, but it’s equally if not more important for girls’ to also compete in a variety of sports during high school. The more coaches can share athletes and people can realize the benefit of competing for your school in different sports at a high level, the more everyone involved will benefit.
Over the years, I have had several multi-sport athletes join the team. For most, track and field is a “secondary” sport and can be a welcomed break from the “primary” sport they spend playing the rest of the year. This mental break is often necessary to keep an athlete from burning out in their main sport of focus. While track might be a temporary respite from their main sport, at the same time they are getting faster, stronger, and probably finish the track season in the best shape of their lives. They are also learning new techniques and skills that can cross over to their other sport of choice.
Another benefit of having these athletes join the team, is timing. Winter sport athletes are still finishing up their winter seasons when the indoor portion of our track and field season begins. When they make their track debut, they usually bring a new found energy to the practices. Track and field is a LONG season, and the daily grind can start to wear on athletes. Having these winter sport athletes join in late to the game is often the pick me up we all need before spring break. I always look forward to seeing new, eager faces return to practice in the winter.
While there are many benefits to having multi-sport athletes on the team, there are also a few compromises that need to be coordinated. These multi-sport athletes are often still connected in some way with their main sport with club practices, weekend tournaments, or AAU games. They often head to a club practice after our team track and field practice, and try to fit in dinner and homework at some point in the night as well. As a coach, I must realize the sacrifices they often make to fit a track season into their schedule. Often it is a cooperative effort between athlete, coaches, and parents to make it all work, and communication is the key. Any season conflicts need to be addressed at the start of the season so there are no surprises for either party. All need to be on the same page with the expectations laid out on all sides. Sometimes there are too many conflicts for things to work out, but if all work together, and if the athlete is willing, a partnership can often be made.
On the other hand, there are also some track and field athletes who only compete in track and field during the season. I would encourage them to find another sport/team to participate in. Be a part of a team, learn some new skills, make some new friends, and keep your body moving and conditioned at least in some part during the off season. Many single sport track athletes often complain of shin splints or other ailments early on in the track season, where as most multi-sport athletes tend to not have this problem. I attribute this due to the likelihood that multi-sport athletes’ bodies are used to the strain of practices and have already adapted. So go out there, find a sport that doesn’t make cuts (XC or tennis) if need be and join a team in the fall/winter. You will likely have a good time doing so, and will benefit from it come track season.
As long as there’s proper communication and coordination, athletes competing in a variety of sports can benefit all involved: school teams, club teams, and above all the athlete herself.