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Fact. Track & Field Is The Hardest Sport.


 

I've been thinking about this blog entry since the end of the school track season in April. The So Fast track club just finished our first week of practice and competed at our first meet on Saturday, and it's really got me thinking about how track and field is the hardest sport in the world. I've been saying this for years and I will forever stand by it. Anyone who has been around the sport knows it too.


And I know some of y'all who are reading this right now are thinking, "No way. Football is way harder. You get tackled by a group of guys several times a game!" Or maybe you're thinking, "Basketball is so technical and you need phenomenal endurance, exceptional power production and reactivity. Way more skills to develop than track!" And there are a lot of you reading this thinking, "It's absolutely not the hardest! Look at soccer! You run 6 miles every game! You need to be agile and fast, be able to read the field and make fast game time decisions."


From an outsiders perspective, in track you just run, or jump, or throw. All things that you do combined in most other sports. Yes everyone, I hear you, but track is the hardest sport because the athletes who do it are trying to be the absolute best at one singular event. Sometimes athletes do several events, but the majority of the time once a track athlete gets to a certain point all of their training is centered around is not only perfecting one singular discipline, but also being the absolute best in the world at it. There is no other goal for a professional track athlete than to be on a world stage.



So hear me out for a minute.


The number one skill a track and field athlete needs is mental fortitude. Sure those other sports are mental too, but track athletes spend months and years working to perfect the smallest most minute details without the instant gratification of a win. Read that again.


That's right. Track athletes can go months sometimes years without getting a personal record or winning a competition. My longest stint as an athlete was my freshman to sophomore year in college. I went nearly 2 years in the Pole Vault without hitting a PR, and when I finally got one it was by just 4 inches.


Imagine something for me.


You're a jumper (long jump, triple jump, high jump or pole vault) and you spend months repeating the same singular drill over and over and over again in practice. This drill doesn't even resemble a full jump but your coach tells you that it's going to make you better. That you just have to have blind faith. You rack up hours on hours practicing that one drill, so much that you're bored out of your mind doing it. You're so bored that you ask your coach to please, for the love of God let you do a different drill. The answer is no. You haven't mastered the body positions yet.


Another practice goes by and your coach tells you that you're getting it. Another practice goes by and it's starting to look even better. Another practice goes by and you've done it 4 times in a row perfectly. You're coach tells you that now it's starting to become a habit.



Ahh yes, there is is. It's finally been drilled into your brain enough that it's beginning to become a habit. You coach tells you, "It's not a full habit just yet. We need to keep working it."


So now it's time for your first competition of the season, and you're feeling fired up because you know that you've been putting in the work and your coach is hyping you up telling you that you're going to have a great day of jumping. But in the back of your mind you're also nervous, because coach hasn't let you do anything but this one measly drill. You haven't even done a full approach yet. This will be your first of the season and you're already a couple meets in.


The competition begins and your first jump is sub par. Something feels totally off, but your coach tells you that you nailed the one thing you've been working on. At the same time, your jump is 4 feet worse than your personal record! The competition goes on the same way, and you're getting frustrated because you're no where near your PR. You start to question whether or not all the hard work is really doing anything. You're convinced that your coach can't possibly be watching your jumps because they feel like trash! But they keep telling you that you're doing great.


You finish the competition no where near a medaling spot, you didn't come close to your PR, you're feeling defeated, and you're annoyed at your coach for making you waste your time with this stupid drill over and over when it didn't even help.


Your coach on the other hand is thrilled! You executed the one thing that you've been practicing on half of your attempts flawlessly. Perfection even!


Then with a huge smile your coach says, "In practice on Monday we're going to do this same drill again and again until we get it every time. You're so close. You've nearly made it a habit."


What. The. Fuck. Are they serious?!


This can be the same thing with the running events. You can hit all of your times in practice, beat them even! Then show up to a meet and not hit a medaling place, not hit a PR, not even feel like yourself during the race. But why? You've been doing everything right. Why did this happen? Is the hard work for nothing? Likely, you got too into your head. Maybe you hyped yourself up to much before the race started. Maybe you didn't hype yourself up enough! Maybe, you didn't drink enough water and you're dehydrated.


In track, the smallest of details make the biggest impact.


Track is you vs you. It's all about managing your emotions, expectations, mindset and having your body be in the purest form. One negative thought can derail your entire performance, one night of staying up too late to cram for that math test can leave your body feeling fatigued and keep you from being as explosive as you normally are.


This is a very difficult concept for young athletes to grasp. They're so used to playing a game, winning, then moving onto the next one without thinking too hard about what they ate that day, how many hours of sleep they got or if the music they were listening to made them waste too much energy before their race.


As a team sport athlete, when you don't get a win the goal for the next time is very simple. Do better than the last time, make smarter play calls and win.


The hardest thing I face as a coach is getting my athletes, and their parents, to understand that every tiny detail in track and field matters and that "losing" or not hitting a PR doesn't mean that we've lost the day. That everything we've been working for isn't paying off. The wins in track and field can be very hard to see sometimes. You have to be able to say, "I've been making adjustments in practice and I know it's coming... one day."


There is a reason that many successful track athletes are also very religious. Religion requires faith in something that you can't always see or feel. That's the same with track and field.


Most athletes who aren't successful in this sport are the ones who cannot handle the lack of instant gratification. Athletes who don't make it in this sport only find joy in winning. These are the athletes who will quit just as they're really getting good at it. Just as the competition for their event starts to actually become competitive.


I've seen it so many times in my career. Athletes think it's boring because they can't focus on the tremendous amount of tiny physical, and mental, details that need to be perfected in order to see a small amount of progress. A tiny win.




But I truly believe that if you can make it as a track athlete you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. Track and field teaches you to be mentally tough, like no other sport does. It teaches you to be persistent and committed, like no other sport does. Track teaches you what it truly means to be a fighter, like no other sport does. Track and field shows you what kind of person you really are deep down. That can be a hard reflection to look at sometimes.


The life lessons that track and field bring kids are ones of mental toughness like no other sport can give. It teaches athletes to have a deep belief in themselves, to trust their path, and to have faith that one day the fruits of their labor will pay off.


Track and field is the hardest sport in the world, but in my opinion, it's also the most rewarding in so many ways.


 

Thank you so much for reading! It means so much to have you read my work. If you enjoyed it please share it with a friend.


The photos in this story are of me at regionals my freshman year high school at Plano East Senior High, my senior year summer at the AAU Junior Olympics at Drake University, Freshman year at Emporia State University at my first ever college track meet at Wichita State University, indoor Conference championships at Missouri Southern University, and finally, the Rutgers University pole vaulters at an indoor meet at small university in NYC.


What do you think, is there a sport out there that is harder than track and field?



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