"Transitions to a High School Track or Cross Country Program"
One of the greatest thrills for a high school coach is the prospect of working with a new season full of eager and talented athletes each year. Student-athletes with hopes and goals mix annually with the 'old guard' . . . juniors and seniors who can forge the excitement into the reality of what it takes to become a contributing member of a competitive team. The incoming athlete may have had some experience at a youth track level, perhaps even some success, but this new environment in high school offers challenges that every young athlete, whether recreational participant or JO Champion, needs to understand.
All through a track competitor's career, new levels of competition keep emerging, starting with youth cross country and track, perhaps followed by high school competition, and for a select few a college career exists. In rare cases, the level rises again as women and men qualify for national teams and compete on a world level. Regardless, each new level of competition requires an understanding of what makes it different from that which has gone before.
In youth track, Mom and Dad pack up the car and make a day or a weekend out of participation in a meet, perhaps regional or national in scope, but more often than not, a low-key event where participation is key and competition is a side-benefit. If you are lucky, you have a coach in your event who understands the training and competing concepts applicable to your age, and you mature physically and mentally into a well-rounded competitor. In other cases, a coach may have the dual role of parent, depending upon the local emphasis. Participation is key, learning is invaluable, and the fun of event exploration fuels the young athlete.
But now the obvious differences in programs has hit you! The local paper doesn't just feature the agate scores and marks of the local USATF Meet, but instead runs a story on the regional champion girl who broke 12 seconds in the 100m at the high school conference meet, or the boy who broke a school record in the shot put and discus in the same year. You look towards the next level . . . high school. This new arena seems to be where all of the athletes come out to test their skills, whether the product of a tremendous youth program or relatively inexperienced but possessing uncanny natural ability. You look at this new level and wonder how well you can compete . . . if your skills can hold up . . . and what new challenges await. You have a tremendous advantage, but also a liability. You have developed experience that will help you hold up under high school workouts, but you also have some pre-conceived notions of what to expect which can get in the way of your true enjoyment of the sport.
Hopefully, you are about to enter a program which will allow you to continue to develop to your fullest in a physical and competitive sense. Most high school programs have solidly trained and interested coaches who will allow you to excel, but their goals for you will change to a higher step, reflecting their understanding of newer and loftier opportunities to run, throw, and jump at performance levels you may have not yet dreamed of! So . . .what can you do to make this experience the best you can? Here is how you must adapt to your new coach and school:
1. Understand that for perhaps the first time, the concept of 'team' will enter into many aspects of what you do competitively. You may need to work on a secondary event, run a leg of a relay you have never run before, or adjust some of your workout to fit into a larger plan. This is normal and an honor in most cases . . . athletes at an international level do it often.
2. The joy of performing well is now shared by the team you train with that represents your school. Individual performance and personal bests are still important, but you also have fun contributing to a team score, a team record, and a team history.
3. The competitive nature of high school track or cross country is much higher. This presents opportunities to demand more of yourself on the track and the field, but also gives you chances to make long-lasting friends with competitors on your team and others who you might see for up to four years while competing. Expect that no competitor will give you an advantage on the track or field, but most all will share an energy bar with you after the event.
4. Your physical workouts will step up in intensity to match the higher level of competition, but your school and social demands will increase as well. Learn to balance and manage your time as well as set priorities to accomplish school goals, family goals, and competitive goals.
5. In youth track or cross country your parents could devote their entire attentions to your career. In high school, to get the same type of attention you will need to initiate communication often. Don't be afraid to talk with your coach. Communication is the best key to improvement in the high school environment.
6. Re-structure your personal goals and evaluate them often and honestly. Set 'stair-step' goals with realism and reward yourself when you attain small achievements. Try to score in a JV meet . . . clear an opening height in a varsity competition . . . or throw far enough to get measured in a regional meet. High school athletes have far more fun when they confront the 'learning and training curve' with reality, and delight in small successes on the way to big achievements.
7. Become a student of your event! The days of relying on adults to direct your every move in athletics are now gone. An intelligent athlete who understands his or her sport is an asset to a high school program. She or he can self-diagnose minor injuries, communicate difficulties in training, or respond with suggestions based on understanding elements of training which have been left up to others until this time. Study, read, and ask questions often!
8. Become self-reliant in your preparation. The large nature of many teams requires a coach to focus attentions on a bigger picture. Keep a checklist of all your pre-race necessities, set multiple alarm clocks, tape a meet schedule and order of events to the inside of your locker, and keep plenty of essentials in your gym bag for any eventuality. Your coach will value your preparedness since Mom and Dad are now watching from the stands, behind the fence.
High school track and cross country will provide the most enjoyable competitive experiences you will ever have in the sport. Regardless of whether your career continues after this level, you will always look back to these days as the most fun times you ever had, and the best learning opportunity possible. A smooth transition from youth track and cross country to a more intense level of competition will help you to hit goals, make an impact, and continue to improve at a much faster rate. Some athletes will fall by the wayside as this new level of competition presents challenges that seem too difficult, but understanding your new opportunities and responsibilities will help you mature into a competitor, a leader, and a valued asset on any high school team.
Good luck . . .train hard.