Track is back! After 300+ days away, starting pistols are once again firing at track facilities across the country. In the weeks prior, student-athletes and teams alike were consumed with returns to campus, uniform/gear disbursement, and the always-anticipated media days. There is something special about putting on your school’s uniform for the first time and making a final mirror check before going in front of the camera (more to come on this).
Recently on “Jeopardy,” there was a question that sent the track Twitterverse into a tizzy. The question asked for the metric race that is “just a bit shorter” than the mile. The three contestants answered with: the 10,000m, 10m, and 500m. Twitter outrage from the track community brewed as the 1500m race is the obvious answer. My reply on Twitter was “not going to lie, non-track folks who don’t use the metric system have no reason to know this…don’t be outraged track community.” Although these answers didn’t bug me as much as it did others, there are issues out there in the track and field world that do collectively frustrate.All sports have their own set of quirks, yet track and field seems to be the quirkiest of them all, says @ChrisParno. Click To Tweet
All sports have their own set of quirks—long sleeves under a basketball jersey, futbol (soccer) players dramatically falling at the touch of a finger, fist fights in hockey, and NFL scouts hand-timing 40’s—yet track and field seems to be the quirkiest of them all. The following repetitive and cliché characteristics turn into recurring annoyances that encompass our coaching lives:
- Always requesting the clap in the horizontal jumps.
- The monster phenomenon.
- Hurdle hoarding in the warm-up area.
- Embellished seed times.
- Embellished meet day warm-ups.
- Hamstrings as the scapegoat.
- Same arm same leg syndrome (SASLS).
We’ll take some time to unpack the first six and then spend a bit more time on the SASLS, as it has more recently been sweeping the nation.
1. Requesting the Clap
I love the horizontal jumps. In championship scenarios, the horizontal jumps can bring dramatic shifts as athletes repeatedly barrel down the runway. The lead can change numerous times within a round, and the encompassing energy can be infectious. As the jumper prepares for their path down the runway, they ready their stance and wonder, “Should I start the clap?”
As a rational sprints coach, I value the clap. We don’t need to talk about the times I have caught myself yelling cliché sprint coach lines such as “MOOOOVE, GET OUT, PUSH,” but for this section we are talking about the jumps. I value the importance of the clap, as it can truly heighten the mood and the readiness of the athlete in a championship scenario. The opposite side of this is completely anticlimactic… So jumpers, I implore you—if you call for it, you better back it up!
Follow me here. You (the coach) are down by the blocks watching a sprinter work on a beautiful meet day block start. Suddenly, out of the corner of your eye, you see a jumper on the runway signaling for “the clap.” These jumpers may signal by yelling out “oh yeah!” while they start their clap pattern or “come on” as they signal toward the crowd (or lack thereof in COVID-19 times). There is no going back at this point, as the expectation is that something special is about to happen.
As the clap initiates, the crowd gets excited, and the jumper eagerly progresses down the runway and hits the board perfectly, to the roar of the watching crowd. This is the perfect scenario that is far too often interrupted by another pet peeve to come.
Where the pet peeve portion of the clap comes into play is when the jumper’s effort is light years away from the heightened atmosphere of the initiated clap. Picture this—the clap starts, the athlete sprints down the runway, the crowd noise gains steam, and the athlete runs through the board, shaking their head. As a clap participant, this athlete moves to my “no clap list” and remains there for the indefinite future with no appeals.
As a spectator, it can be tough at times to know when to join in on the clap. Are we equal opportunity clappers? Does your clap follow the principles of a meritocracy? The following examples are when a spectator should steer clear of the clap:
- If the selected clap pattern is more complicated than the blueprints of the facility. In the jumper’s mind, it sounds great, but by the time they are halfway down the runway, the crowd has managed to turn it into a sound resembling hail hitting a metal roof.
- If the athlete is again calling for the clap after running through the board on the previous attempt (see above).
- If the athlete is calling for the clap and is not in the top five spots of the competition.
It is not hard to know when the clap is coming. If an athlete in the competition is wearing sunglasses indoors, a reversed generic Nike hat, tall socks (long jump only), and/or excessive amounts of jewelry/chains, etc., it’s coming. These athletes are large advocates for the clap, so be advised, folks.
2. The Monster Phenomenon (MP)
As a 6,100-point decathlete, I didn’t need imagination to know my long jump PR was completely average at 6.14 meters. I’d say a majority of my jumps were within a bandwidth of 30 centimeters, with a season average of 6 meters. After 11 years of coaching, I’ve discovered a horizontal jump phenomenon that would have instantly increased my street cred. This can be described as the “Monster Phenomenon.”
I had my fair share of fouls in my multi-event career. Knowing what I know now, I should have told others I was jumping monster 6.50-meter jumps all day but just could not get on the board. The illusion would then be in place that I was better than what I have put down for years leading up to those monsters left in the pit.
As a coach in the facility, you may overhear the MP played out in the following four ways:
- Athlete says, “Well, I went 6.80 meters, but I fouled two MONSTER jumps over 7 meters.”
- Coach holds up their thumb and pointer finger, showing how much their athlete fouled by, while saying “Get the foot down, you’ve got a monster in you!”
- Athlete says, “I didn’t make the final, but I left some monster jumps in the pit…easily over 7 meters.”
- Athlete says, “Coach couldn’t get me on the board, but all my jumps were over 7 meters.”
As seen by the above quotes, this phenomenon is more prevalent in male populations…many times, by the same sunglass-wearing, clap-initiating groups as in the previous section.
This has roots within the ego of the mind that finds embarrassment for some reason in not hitting the board. A consistent runway approach is a skill and needs to be practiced and rehearsed; fouling a jump every once in a while is part of a jumper’s life. The only other explanation is some sort of threshold response that initiates when a foul occurs, and the athlete’s body propels them multiple feet past their current PR, knowing it will never be measured and will be referred to as “the one that got away.”Many times, coaches want these “monster” jumps measured as if the athlete’s entire shoe length foul doesn’t factor into the equation, says @ChrisParno. Click To Tweet
Many times, coaches want these jumps measured as if the athlete’s entire shoe length foul doesn’t factor into the equation. At a meet, if you hear the words “measure it” being yelled from the horizontal jump area—you know a monster just got away.
3. Hurdle Hoarding in the Warm-Up Area
There are certainties in life: The sun rises each morning, and it sets every evening, and there will only be eight hurdles in the warm-up area of an NCAA championship. This may be an inclusion strategy by the host site, but it forces the hands of hurdles coaches across the nation. Do we send athletes into the warm-up area to stack their bags by a rack of hurdles? Move three hurdles by our athletic training table? Travel with school-owned hurdles to the meet?There are certainties in life: The sun rises each morning, it sets every evening, and there will only be eight hurdles in the warm-up area of an NCAA championship, says @ChrisParno. Click To Tweet
Our program started bringing foldable scissor hurdles to all big championships meets. This allows us flexibility and autonomy within the warm-up area and provides guaranteed equipment. Now, I am an equal opportunity hurdle warm-up type of coach; I have no issues setting up some basic one- and three-step drill patterns and allowing other athletes through before setting up for starts.
The hoarding-style hurdle coach (may be seen with Bluetooth earpiece) will undoubtedly be in the warm-up area the moment the facility opens; you may even see them running to the warm-up area. They will take at least four of the eight hurdles and squat on them like a bird on an egg.
These coaches’ athletes won’t actually warm up with these hurdles beforehand; they most likely will wait until everyone else is in the warm-up area before going through an obscure set of drills no one has ever seen before that involves a lot of grunting. These drills are set up purposely with spacing that allows for no other participants and delays the warm-up process. Throughout the warm-up time, other athletes will ask to use the hurdles, and these types of coaches will point toward their Bluetooth earpiece or wireless headphones and say they are on a call.
If this scenario happens in an outdoor warm-up space, good luck—the 8-10 provided hurdles will be in all different corners of the area. If these hurdles are within 8-10 feet of the school’s tent, there is an aura/forcefield that doesn’t allow for other schools to come use them.
In a world that calls for unity, hurdle coaches are not to be forgotten.
4. Seed Times
The meet entry process resembles a Black Friday TV sale, with limited units (lanes in fast heats) and a hoard of people (coaches) trying to secure these units/spots. The creation of the Track and Field Results Reporting System (TFRRS) website centralized results. With this, Direct Athletics’ entry system syncs previously performed results, simplifying the entry process. This new technology makes it difficult to enter a time outside of a current or recent performance. Many meets enforce marks from the current season for entry purposes and may not allow any sort of manually entered time.
Before this technological revolution, the entry process resembled the Wild West. In the early 2010s, we hosted a lot of meets using an online entry system that forced manual entry for all marks. No preloaded marks forced most coaches to open a separate browser to reference TFRRS or refer back to previous meet results (pre-TFRRS).
Undoubtedly, this opened the door for unbelievable/fake seed times. As a young coach, I was pulled in! Shoot, enter an outdoor PR here, a projected PR there, and man we are loading up the fast heats! Fast results rarely ever followed with these creative seed times, and I smartened up. In current times, embellished seed times come in three forms:
- Sneaking in outdoor PRs for indoor races.
- Older/postcollegiate athletes entering PRs that are 10-15 years removed from when they were attained.
- The “get better competition” entry that subsequently leads to intense gapping as the gun fires.
Heat sheets are gold in the coaching community. After 11 years of full-time coaching, I hold to our team motto from the 2015 season, “TFRRS, only results matter.” In the social media world, trends come and go, but the TFRRS time stamp is forever. If you want to be in a faster section, put yourself there by attaining a faster time!
5. Meet Day Warm-Ups
During fall training at Minnesota State, our sprint/hurdle program has 4-5 different styles of warm-ups based on the theme of that day. Acceleration days bring warm-up exercises that have more horizontal projection qualities, while recovery days involve more dynamic stretches and relaxation.
On meet day, the theme is competition. The warm-up should reflect ascending intensities that lead into the race or event. It doesn’t take long in the warm-up area to realize this is not always the case. At times, the stress/excitement around competition reprograms the brain of the athlete and tells them they need all sorts of new and never-done exercises.
Collegiate athletes spend roughly 15 weeks in the fall performing coach-led warm-ups every day, only to forget them all the moment a meet starts. When you don’t know what to do, improvise. A standard B skip turns in to a series of large swooping front kicks, preparing the athlete to repeatedly kick down a door. A basic walking calf stretch turns into something resembling rolling up a rug as fast as possible, and athletes start to do weird short bursts of explosive high knees like they are playing track and field on the original Nintendo (NES) track pad.Collegiate athletes spend roughly 15 weeks in the fall performing coach-led warm-ups every day, only to forget them all the moment a meet starts, says @ChrisParno. Click To Tweet
No one is safe from this odd meet day warm-up occurrence, but it can turn into a detriment, as excessive warm-ups eventually bring diminished returns. A watchful eye and consistent communication on the goal of warm-ups can help rid the track community of this pet peeve.
6. Hand on the Hamstring
There is nothing worse than a race/attempt not going as planned. The hand on the hamstring coincides many times with the excessive seed time information from above.
We’ve all seen it happen: The gun goes off in the 200m, and in a flash the stagger is made up on an athlete and you can see the shift begin. The poor soul who had the stagger made up on them fights for a bit, but inevitably shifts down into cruise mode. As they come down the home stretch with about 30 meters to go, the athlete starts grabbing at their hamstring as if it has whispered to them “I got you.” The athlete’s running gait doesn’t change, and there is zero initial wincing, but when the athlete crosses the line (sometimes to the gentle clap of the crowd), they connect eyes with the athletic trainer (definitely not their coach) and most likely say something like “It went” or “I heard a pop.”
This isn’t to say injuries don’t happen, but deep down every sprint coach knows what happens next. The athlete gingerly walks over to the athletic trainer’s table and, as the gun goes off for the next race, their hamstring miraculously improves. The athlete is off the hook as the crowd turns their focus to the next crop of athletes. The AT will usually say they don’t feel any abnormalities or see a difference in range of motion and the mood lightens. With a 10-pound bag of ice wrapped around their leg, the athlete walks over to the coach, says they are fine, and asks, “What do we have for practice tomorrow?”
This can also be seen in the horizontal jumps with those athletes who request the clap and run through the board. As they walk back from the pit, they gingerly grab at their hamstring as if to say, “My bad, guys. Hammy flared up,” then walk right back and request the clap on the next jump attempt.
Injuries can be a part of track, and hamstrings do pull, but I’m sure the hammy is tired of being the scapegoat.
7. Same Arm Same Leg Syndrome (SASLS)
The last and final pet peeve covered here hits close to home, as its prevalence is getting out of control.
Let’s use the example of an athlete coming back from an ACL injury. During the rehabilitation process, walking on the injured leg without crutches will be a milestone. When asked to walk in rehab, subconsciously the athlete steps forward and subsequently swing the opposite arm to balance the movement. This movement pattern would repeat as if it’s been rehearsed for years. If the next exercise was for the athlete to walk using the leg and arm on the same side of the body, there would probably be a slight pause as the athlete consciously steps forward with both the right arm and right leg or vice versa. It an awkward movement that takes volitional effort to perform repeatedly.
All track events involving sprinting (excluding the pole vault and javelin) will display the athletes’ arms and legs working in opposition; the patterning is subconscious and learned during the early stages of life. When college media day hits, the fancy backdrops, bright lights, and thrill of wearing the uniform before ever racing clouds this ability. The photographer instructs the athlete to jump in the air and hit a “runner pose,” and boom…the right leg drives forward as well as the right arm. The athlete has unknowingly been hit with same arm same leg syndrome. After the photo session, do these athletes leave the media day by taking a step and swinging the same side’s arm? Odds are they don’t, which complicates our understanding of the syndrome.
Orsippus of Megara was a famous Greek athlete who competed in foot races in the 15th Olympics (720 B.C.E). He’s most known for running these foot races without clothes, but early images of him show that SASL syndrome may have ancient roots. Orsippus is depicted on old ceramic pots and others of the sort running with the same arm/same leg combo. The artist most likely misrepresented what they saw while Orsippus actually ran with limbs in opposition, but those pots may be the first known case of the syndrome that still plagues use today.
Other known sources of the syndrome:
- Three-point starts: No matter what part of the season or level of sprint group, there will always be an athlete who routinely starts with the wrong hand down in a three-point stance. The syndrome clouds the hundreds of previous repetitions and the athletes often proclaim that the syndrome reps felt “weird.”
- Races without blocks: This is by no means an indictment of all distance runners, as there are plenty of thoughts going through their minds before toeing a waterfall start. With that being said, next time you’re at a meet, take a picture of the waterfall start after the starter yells “runners to your marks” and you’ll see the syndrome on full display.
- Non-track models doing photoshoots for various clothing lines or programs: Active wear advertisements are everywhere, with the goal clearly being to advertise the garments—not to be biomechanically correct. Whether its full plantar flexion at the height of a stride, extreme casting of the lower leg, or full-on SASLS syndrome, it’s hard at times to even see what company is doing the advertising when the syndrome is so noticeable. Even in the sport’s most prominent timing program, the syndrome is on full display.
There would never be promotional photos released on social media of a quarterback throwing the ball underhand, a tennis player in an athletic stance holding the racquet from the rim, or a swimmer pushing off the starting block backward…so why post these same arm/same leg syndrome photos for track and field?There would never be promotional photos released on social media of a quarterback throwing the ball underhand, so why post same arm/same leg syndrome photos for track & field? Click To Tweet
We can chalk it up to the media day atmosphere or some sort of odd camera inversion, but it’s safe to say a coach needs to be present at the media days and patrol their program’s social media posts. It’s contagious, but with diligent effort we can prevent it from being passed to future generations.
Part Funny, Part Not
Although I jest, this article is intended to showcase some of the pet peeves in our sport, help you correct them if you currently coach athletes, or at least give you a chuckle at your next track meet when you see something that I referenced here.
Each sport has its quirks, but track and field seems to take the cake, and you can likely make a list of your own on top of the seven presented above. All we can do as coaches, spectators, and fans is educate ourselves and not help embellish those quirks in the future!
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