Five Lessons From Track and Field

It is track and field season which means I’ve been posting less and coaching more. For now, it seems like a fair trade off, but that will change soon.  The good news is that it has been a great Spring for my athletes and we are about to compete in our Texas state meet at the end of April.  Since I was in high school, I’ve spent countless hours at track anf field meets and practices and I figured I should highlight key lessons from my beloved sport.  These lessons, in no particular order, directly connect into my daily routine. Maybe you will benefit from the lessons, too.   At the very least, check out some great pictures and memories below:

  1. Individual Efforts Matter:  In this sport each athlete contributes their best performance to score points for the team total.  On any given day, more attempts in throws or a jump, an opportunity to clear a higher height, or a chance to race again in the finals is based almost entirely on one’s efforts.  One will never be able to control how their competitors fare in the meet, one cannot play defense, so only one’s efforts are of utmost concern.   In life, I see the same scenario.  Being an individual makes life interesting.  While I care for others, I realize that I cannot control their decisions and actions. However, individually, with perseverance, I can open the door to new opportunities, show improvement, and shine in my corner of the world.
MC 12'7
Mary Carson Pitts is an athlete I coached in Memphis, TN.  Here she is in 2013 pictured with her amazing pole vault coach, Kris Whitfield after her PR of 12’7″. 

2. Celebrate Personal Records:   Track and field athletes celebrate individual improvements as personal records which we commonly refer to as a PR.  Shaving a tenth of a second off a sprint, or jumping a 1/4 inch farther in the long jump means improvement and we always love a PR. In life, it is way more enjoyable to celebrate the progress rather than feel plagued by the length of the road ahead. Before day’s end, I force myself to think of some area of growth from the day.  Was I more patient? Was I creative in the classroom? Did I feel stronger in my workout?  I find something to celebrate or I stay up longer so I can reach a PR.

team champs
These seniors were all part of my track and field program in Memphis, TN for four years. Here they are after winning a conference title.  The coach on the right, Ayobami Torrence, was my college teammate. 

3. Be a Team Player:  As much as track and field is an individual sport, it is very much a team sport as well.   Teams with the most points earned in individual events combine to win meets and championships. When well executed, the team element of track and field inspires and amazes me, seeing teammates cheer one another on to improve, and seeing athletes push to do their best for their team is a sight to see. In life, I know the people that are on my team. I know who cheers me on and who makes me better.  In return, I’m on their team and I’ll be there for them as well.  Teams form at work, from shared experiences, and especially in family units.  Teams get work done and do amazing work when the people on the team share a clear and common goal and plug away to reach those set goals.  Life is sure better on a team.

Rainy Bishops
This is my college track and field team at Ohio Wesleyan in 1997 after we won the conference championship. It rained, but we pushed on. 

4. It Rains on Everyone: Outdoor sports are great when the sun is shining and the skies are clear but the sport gets interesting when one competes on cold or rainy days. What I learned is that when it rains and makes a throwing circle wet, it makes it wet for everybody. But how athletes react to the new set of conditions quickly shows the composition of the individual.  In other words, it quickly becomes an uneven playing field.  My throwing circle was wet, and it was wet for the other athletes as well.  In life, we may call it grit, perseverance, or even experience, but I believe we must achieve in all the elements. Rainy days may slow me down and force me to add a waterproof layer, but they don’t ruin my days.  Likewise, I think we all face unpleasant experiences at work or at home, but our climate doesn’t have to dictate the forecast.   In fact, how we respond in these unilateral experiences helps us differentiate our true character.

Throws Team
This is my favorite track and field picture in my collection. My senior year of college we placed 1st thru 4th in the shot put at our conference meet. I remember this day like it was yesterday. 

5.  End With a Done One:   If you’ve ever watched a throwing session at my track and field practices you will hear athletes ask, “Are we looking for a done one?” That means we try to end practice with a solid throw, that we can live with, until our next practice or meet.  This practice is important to motor learning, to the psychology in sport, and signals the end of our work in the field. I usually see the best throws when we “look for a done one.”  In life, I like to end my days on a high note as well. As mentioned earlier, I like to think of what went well each day and celebrate that improvement. I also make sure that the end of my days are pretty quiet and calm and stress free. My “ending with a done one” usually involves time in the bath, reading, and reflection. There too, I address my physical and psychological needs each day.

My experiences with the sport of track and field undeniably shaped my perspective on the world.  There are many more lessons from my experiences in this sport, but five is a nice short number that I can easily count on one hand.  I continue coaching to help future athletes learn and grow from their unique trials in the sport. Likewise, my athletes remind me of the lessons that abound from the sport, which centers me and reminds me where I came from.  I did struggle, I do struggle, and yet I continue to perform, improve, and set personal records.  One day I will stop coaching track and field but I know for certain I will end on a good note for it has already been a great experience; rain or shine.





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