I have often been asked the question by people about how I got started into Track and Field. I feel like I cheated a little bit, with my father being a head track coach, but believe it or not, I didn’t always want to run. I grew up with the likes of Joe Montana, Dwight Clark, Jerry Rice, Steve Young, etc… on my walls, running plays in the back yard and dreaming of Super Bowl victories, not Olympic Golds. So what grabbed me away from The American Sport? I don’t exactly remember, but I remember my neighbor and my Dad’s assistant coach, Frank Tice, bugging me to join his club team.
Based on how I played soccer, I’d be good at running, and I think that intrigued my 10 year old mind (and was much better suited for my 75 lb frame). The freedom and exhilaration I got from running was unparalleled. I was hooked from the first cross-country race I ran at 10 years old and have never looked back. Just so everyone knows, track and field may be dying a slow death at the elite and international level, but it is thriving at the high school ranks. With the latest data from the National Federation of State High School Associations showing over 1,000,000 high school students participating in track and field with a nearly equal split between genders. That number is only rivaled by football, granted they are mostly male sports, so the numbers are a bit skewed with track being a nearly equal split. It’s also the reason that I think if track and field is packaged correctly, it could very easily become the most popular sport among kids.
So how do you get a kid to run, jump, or throw that has no exposure to the sport (outside of maybe watching Usian Bolt run the Olympic 100m final)?
The key, I think, lies in the freedom in our sport for anyone to compete. At the youth level and through high school, anyone that joins the team gets a chance to compete. Which isn’t the case for most sports. There are basketball, football, and baseball players that no matter how hard they work rarely see the playing field. Well track and field athletes of all levels are aloud the chance to compete. They may not make the travel team, but they will be offered home site opportunities to compete, where they will have a chance to better their marks and improve.
That’s one of the reasons road racing has become so popular among adults, you try a 5k with some friends or in a program, put in some work, follow a plan, and try and better your time. There is something innate in all of us to try and improve on a mark we have set for ourselves. It’s like field day in elementary school, but keeping score. There are also 17+ different events, so there is a home for everyone, regardless of ability.
Like racing your friends in gym class and win most of the time? You probably will be a sprinter.
Like throwing stuff? There is the shot put, discus, and occasionally the javelin and hammer throw.
Find yourself being a risk taker? Like the challenge of skateboarding or other extreme sports? Well, the pole vault may most likely be the original extreme sport.
Not blessed with fast twitch muscle fibers of a sprinter? Distance events can provide a life long addiction to running.
We won’t even get into those super weird talented athletes that just seem to be good at everything, a la Ashton Eaton; they make the decathlon for those people and they fittingly get the World’s Greatest Athlete title!
Having spent time in elementary schools and classrooms over the years, kids love to run and compete. It’s not till they get older that they slow down and develop lazy habits. I’ve been into countless elementary schools over the years, and as soon as the students find out I am a track runner, the whole school wants to line up and race me. This is the energy that needs to be captured and driven forward.
I bet if you polled all the students in the school and asked them their favorite sport or sports, I doubt track and field would even get mentioned, yet here I stand in front of kids that just want to race. It’s probably why it’s one of the oldest sports in the history of humankind. Something in our genetic coding drives competition and track and field is probably the purest sporting competition outside of wrestling. Think about the fun kids have doing relay races at field day? That’s the energy that you see Olympic stars exhibit when winning a gold medal. Racing and competing is fun, so how do we get more kids or, more specifically, your kid involved?
Sign them up for a race or track meet. Tons of cities have races ranging in distance from Miles to Marathons. Or even better many cities have summer league track events hosted by USATF or AAU. Sign them up, let them pick something that sounds fun to them and let them loose. Even though I was a distance runner and occasional hurdler growing up, one of my favorite meets every summer was a meet held in Spartanburg, SC where you didn’t have to pre-register for events for the meet, they just ran or started with whoever showed up to the starting line. Now that’s a meet directors nightmare, but for the kids it’s a blast. Want to try the high jump? Or how about the shot put or javelin? Just show up at the scheduled time and compete. It made for some interesting moments for sure. That’s what youth athletics should be like. Letting kids find the things that are fun to them. Most of the time they will gravitate towards things that compliment their abilities.
I’d also love to see track and field incorporated into P.E. classes. Kids are almost never exposed to track and field except for the dreaded mile run in high school for a grade. That creates stress and hatred for running, because by the time they develop a hate for movement and running, th
ey are now being asked to try and excel. If track and field was unit just like football, basketball, baseball, soccer, etc in P.E. classes kids could get a chance to explore all the events as well.
Think about a P.E. class track meet with kids divided into teams, coming down to a relay race like the 4×100 or something and watch the energy level of the class as they cheer on their teammates. It will be unrivaled.
The energy will be much higher than any last minute shot in basketball or any game winning drive in football. That’s the energy and spirit that hooks kids into a sport for a lifetime.
Brandon Hudgins is a Cocoa Elite Track Running ambassador. His passion for the sport of Track and Field overflows and shows in his desire to elevate the sport to new levels. He strives to raise awareness for the rare auto-immune disease that he suffers from, Granulomatosis with Polyangitis, and to help raise Track and Field to a mainstream sport again. With Track and Field, at age 29, Brandon feels 19 again and embraces and loves his life as an athlete. We are very thankful to work with Brandon.
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