by Mike Adamson
@BengalsTrack | Social Studies Teacher | Head Varsity Boys Track | Assistant Freshman Football |Plainfield East High School
Often times in the car I sit in silence and reflect. The radio in my own car hasn’t worked for over two years now. That might matter to a lot of people but it doesn’t bother me. My family also makes a lot of little road trips on the weekends. My hometown is Rock Island, IL and my wife is from a small town called Wyoming, IL, about 40 minutes north of Peoria. Both are about 2 hours and 15 minutes from Plainfield. We spend many weekends traveling back and forth to visit family. While my wife and son sleep, I reflect and think. Once my wife wakes up, she normally asks me what I’m thinking about. My response 95% of the time is “I’m thinking about track.” Over spring break on one of these road trips, I was thinking about why I love coaching track and field. After reflecting on some of the typical answers, I found myself thinking about how many kids have come out for the sport and fallen in love with it. Then it dawned on me, I love coaching this sport because I see kids every year falling in love with it, much like I did as a 14 year old kid. Growing up I always played football in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball in the spring/summer. Then in 7th grade I met my favorite teacher/coach of all-time, Coach Dennis Weiss. After playing football and basketball for him and having him as a social studies teacher, he convinced me to come out for the track team as an 8th grader. Before I could run track, Coach Weiss had to convince my mom that track would not interfere with with my baseball schedule. After my mom was convinced, I was all set for my first track season. That one season is all it took. The next year as a freshman in high school, I choose to go out for Track & Field instead of baseball. I loved running for my high school track team at Rock Island High School and then continued competing collegiately at North Central College. I have now been coaching boy’s track and field at Plainfield East for nine years. The question I was now thinking of how to answer is why do kids fall in love with track? Track & Field does not recruit itself. Many kids have no idea what it means to be on the track team. They have no idea what the metric system is or even how far it is around a track. Many of the great coaches and great programs have to actively recruit kids to come out in high school and often times once that kid finally decide to, they are hooked. This is my attempt to answer ‘Why do kids fall in love with track?’
Individual Success vs. Team Success
Track & Field is an individual sport, but the great high school and collegiate programs find ways to convince their athletes that it is a team sport. While we focus on individual achievements and goals it is the combination of many individual efforts that make a great team. Competitors like the challenge of doing something better than they did before, and good coaches tap into that mentality.
It always amazes me how we go to so many track meets throughout a season and see so many athletes doing things to help and cheer on their teammates. It is awesome to see as a coach and often times goes unnoticed by spectators. Mike Adamson Coaches also stress the importance of a team atmosphere by emphasizing that athletes cheer on their teammates throughout the entire meet, not just during the 4×4 at the end. It always amazes me how we go to so many track meets throughout a season and see so many athletes doing things to help and cheer on their teammates. It is awesome to see as a coach and often times goes unnoticed by spectators. I think of athletes in our program’s short history that have sacrificed their own success for the betterment of the team. Jarvis Carter graduated in 2016 and is one of the greatest sprinters in Plainfield East history. Jarvis could have qualified multiple years in the 400m and I know he wanted to accomplish this. Yet, my coaching philosophy has always emphasized the success of the team over the success of the individual. In 2014, 2015, and 2016 we had great 4×2 relays. In his last two years, Jarvis didn’t think twice about foregoing running the 400m in order to make the relay better and give three of his teammates a chance to return from Charleston with a medal. In 2015 our 4×2 finished 3rd and would have had a shot of doing the same in 2016 but dropped the baton at Sectionals. Jarvis was never bitter about this and had the same mindset of ‘team first.’ One of my favorite moments so far in coaching was seeing Jarvis and Prince Smith qualify in the 200m in 2016. Two athletes that sacrificed so much for their team for many years finally qualified as individuals.
Sergio Llanes, a 2015 graduate, has a similar story. In 2015, we won our 1st Conference Championship in our program’s history. In order to do that we needed individuals to sacrifice their individual success for team success. Sergio had a chance to win the 800m if he ran fresh, but we needed him to run the 4×8 and pick up valuable points for our team. Sergio jumped at the opportunity and ran a great leg to help our 4×8 finish 4th, it was seeded 8th. As a result, Sergio only finished 4th in the open 800m and then later ran a great 4×4 leg. At State that year, Sergio qualified in the 800m and 4×4 relay. Our 4×4 was in a good position to make finals and Sergio was seeded 24th in the 800m We asked him as a coaching staff what he thought about not running the 800m in order to be fresh for the 4×4. His response, “whatever you think is best for the team, Coach.” Unfortunately, we missed making finals in the 4×4 by 3 tenths of a second. However, there was never ever a grudge held or disappointment from Sergio that he didn’t get to compete in the 800m. As a coach, I don’t know what could make me prouder. When we witness a high school kid sacrifice their own individual achievements in order to help their team’s success, it is something special. Track and field is set up that many kids & coaches have to make these tough decisions and it makes a coach proud when you see the maturity kids demonstrate when doing so.
I am a true believer that athletes need to have intrinsic motivation in order to become truly successful. Meaning, they compete for the love of the sport and relish the challenge of accomplishing something they have never done before. However, track and field allows coaches to recognize all athletes for all sorts of achievements and give them sometimes much needed external recognition. Every year, I open up my parent meeting by stating to parents that their son has a great opportunity to be successful. One of the most successful athletes I ever coached was named Justin Kimp. Justin, was never a State Qualifier or All-Conference athlete, he never even scored a point in any meet, EVER.
When kids start recognizing and describing how their teammates are displaying characteristics that make them successful it is a pretty cool thing.Mike Adamson However, the amount Justin improved throughout his Senior season, his only season with our program, was more than I ever witnessed in any single athlete. He showed up every day and put forth tremendous effort and as a result his times improved greatly. To me, Justin was an incredibly successful athlete. Every athlete in a track program can achieve success by simply improving their craft in their event area. Great programs recognize all these athletes in numerous ways throughout a season, leading to ‘buy in’ and athletes feeling ‘accepted.’ One of my favorite things is to listen to our kids nominate their teammates for our Athlete of the Meet award. Of course, guys are nominated who won their event and scored a lot of points for the team. But, it is really special when guys nominate their teammates for giving them advice, cheering them on, or having a huge PR at the meet.
Our first Athlete of the Meet winner this season was for a Sophomore pole vaulter who didn’t clear a height as a Freshman. His first meet as a Sophomore, he cleared four heights. Our athletes recognized this achievement and nominated him for Athlete of the Meet over many other guys who won events and scored many points. When kids start recognizing and describing how their teammates are displaying characteristics that make them successful it is a pretty cool thing. They feel accepted by their teammates because they have the opportunity to accomplish their goals, despite not necessarily winning.
I’ve read countless books and articles explaining how building relationships with students and athletes is a huge factor in determining success for that pupil. I agree with this basic premise, however; what the books/articles have left out is the importance of a student and/or athlete building relationships with their peers. Track & Field is a sport that is conducive to both types of relationships. Our sport is unique because we as coaches get to mentor an athlete for four years. Most sports have Freshman-level coaches, Sophomore-level coaches, and Varsity-level coaches. In track though each event area coach gets to develop a chemistry with an athlete over a four year period. The athlete gets that same event area coach for the duration of their high school experience, instead of funneling through two or three different coaches as in other sports. This of course allows coaches to build that trust and establish adequate communication with an athlete that is needed to build a successful relationship. What is overlooked is the relationships our athletes build with their peers. At a track practice, Varsity athletes practice with Freshmen and Sophomores and complete the same or close to the same workout. With many other sports the Varsity and F/S teams are separated and rarely interact. Having this dynamic is great for developing our Freshmen and Sophomores and having them able to directly work with Varsity leaders of the team. That being said, it is probably even more beneficial for our Varsity athletes. They are now put in a mentor role and often take on a teaching role with the younger athletes. One of the greatest things I get to see on a daily basis is our Varsity athletes using terminology and demonstrating technical aspects of sprinting to our underclassman. It’s great to witness this interaction between athletes which goes so far in establishing trust between teammates. Same as practice, many meets we attend are both Varsity and F/S. In other sports classes are separated and Varsity, Sophomore, and Freshmen rarely get to see their teammates compete. Track & Field athletes get to see each other compete, succeed and fail. The younger athletes learn from the triumphs and failures of the older guys and often follow their lead in how to conduct themselves at a meet. Most importantly, they all cheer each other on. I love seeing Varsity guys cheer on an underclassman and acknowledging their success.
Probably the biggest reason ‘why kids fall in love with track’ is the relationships they establish with their teammates throughout their four years in the program. Mike Adamson
Probably the biggest reason ‘why kids fall in love with track’ is the relationships they establish with their teammates throughout their four years in the program. Athletes, without even knowing it, show on a continuous basis that they care for each other and I think that is why many athletes fall in love with this sport. We all have stories of athletes that we have to recruit or convince to come out for track and field and after a month they are hooked. This has happened in my program numerous times over the past few seasons and I know it goes on all over our state. Track and Field is a beautiful sport that many youngsters often bypass and don’t get to realize its effectiveness. But we all know, if we do get them to come out, they will fall in love. Just as I did 18 years ago.