So last night we wrapped this season’s school wide sports awards. After many long winded accounts of the greater and lesser nuances of things like the importance of being able to lay down a bunt, batting above .300 or the average number of kills it takes to be a top level player in volleyball, an hour and a half later, we finished up. Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against other sports, or the lingo that goes with them. We certainly have plenty of terms in running that to the unsuspecting bystander can sound pretty out there. How about fartlek? Intervals? Lactate threshold?
No, I don’t begrudge the other sports, heck, pretty soon as I step away from teaching and into being the Athletic Director I’ll need to learn some of this language. But I was able to reflect on how special our sport really is. Once the main show is over, once I’ve given out our “major” awards, I have the athletes and their parents back to the classroom where we really get into what the season is truly about.
Because let’s face it. Nobody sitting in the audience with all the other sports present wants to hear about great battles on the track or in the field. They wouldn’t understand the nuance of arranging a relay team to play to the strengths of the individuals that make it up. They wouldn’t understand that learning to relax your way to the midpoint of a race and then slowly ratchet up the pace so in the end there is no one left in your wake. Or how important it might be to lay and wait, holding back until it’s the exact right time to strike.
They certainly wouldn’t understand the hours and miles that go into what we do. That in order to perfect the craft we need to do the same thing over and over, again and again. Whether that’s continuously going through the early phases of the shot or running endless 200 meter repeats to set pace in the legs. Or the need to take hundreds of jumps to clear that next height in high jump only to need to up the challenge by two inches for hundreds more attempts.
Unless you’re a decathlete/multi-event athlete, you can anticipate that today’s workout will be some version of yesterday’s workout, and a picture of what you’ll be doing tomorrow. I suppose there’s some comfort in that. But as a distance runner in a distance running program, you can expect not only will the next day be similar, you can expect it to be difficult.
Maybe it will be labeled an easy run, but chances are when all is said and done, there’ll be plenty of mileage in the books and plenty of time on the clock. Or maybe it’s a gut wrenching set of race pace repeats putting you on your hands and knees. Or maybe it’s a long run reaching into the double digits.
Whatever it is and for whatever we’re doing it for, it’s safe to say that those outside our running circle aren’t going to get what we do. They might understand a bit of running for weight management or for staying in shape. But not likely the single mindedness it takes to really get somewhere in this sport. And nor should they.
However, they never will. So standing up on stage, professing how good our sport is and how good my athletes are, does nothing to sway opinion or generate even a little interest. Not even with individuals that have won a State Championship being recognized can they wrap their heads around our sport and why we do it.
So I choose not to try.. I bring my kids and their parents back to the room and speak to the faithful. To the ones that enjoy extolling the pleasure of things being difficult. Of the benefit of the struggle. Of the focus on overall performance and not the accolades that go with that.
One of the coaches last night professed that softball was a sport of failure. That even if you’re a hall of fame batter, batting that .300, that means you strike out seven of ten times. However in every game 50% of the participants win. At the state Championships we line up 16 competitors, meaning 93% don’t win, 15 losers in each event.
While we all like to win I don’t believe anyone in track and field is intrinsically driven by that winning. They’re driven to work hard enough to win. And in that case, as long as they have, as long as they’ve embraced the struggle, embraced the workload and embraced the opportunity, they’ll never be losers.