I write this on the tail end of a weekend where just about every outdoor track and field meet in Illinois was cancelled. Our team was scheduled to travel to Belleville West for what has become the premier outdoor boy’s invitational in Illinois. Unfortunately, Mother Nature did not cooperate, and hundreds of athletes missed an opportunity to compete in an elite atmosphere. About the only Illinois track and field athletes who were able to compete this weekend were those who participated in an indoor meet, or those who traveled to California for the Arcadia Invitational.
As residents in the Midwest, we will always be at war with the weather. This week is projected to give us a taste of all four seasons (which is huge upgrade over the past couple of weeks).
The weather will continue to take away opportunities for our athletes, and we can’t do anything about when it chooses to do so. These missed opportunities can also make lineup decisions very difficult. How many times as a coach have you felt handcuffed by invite entry restrictions? For example, there may not be much of a difference between your 2nd, 3rd, and 4th best 200 meter runners, and all you want is a chance to see them compete in similar conditions in an invite atmosphere, but you can only choose one to fill the line-up (assuming your best 200 meter runner is competing in the event). You hope to see them compete against each other in that week’s triangular meet, but it gets cancelled. So, you decide to run your top two, with hopes of being able to sort things out at a later date.
Since we are not going to be able to control the weather any time soon, our focus must shift on enhancing the invites which end up having above average weather. This can be done by altering the entry structure. A standard invite in Illinois allows for two athletes per individual event and one relay. While this keeps team scoring opportunities equal amongst participating teams (I think team scores are a great way to monitor program health and provide athletes with additional motivation to perform well), wouldn’t some flexibility be nice?
The following are options which would allow coaches greater flexibility, athletes greater opportunity, all while keeping the team component of track and field intact.
We used the swap method at the HF Outdoor Invite for the first time last year and received rave reviews. We allowed for three swaps. This is how it is phrased in our meet letter: “A school may elect to forgo up to 3 individual entries and add additional athletes beyond their 2 allowed entries. For example, a school may choose to not use their 2 entries in the high jump, and 1 entry in the 3200 meter run. They could then add an extra participant in (totaling 3 in each event) in the 100, 200, and 400.” A school could even use their swaps to get 4 or 5 entries in an individual event if they so desired.
The issue of who deserves opportunity to compete in an invite must be addressed here. Lets say a school has 5 athletes who run 4:25 or better in the 1600 m run, and their top long jumper has a mark of 18 feet. In my eyes the 3rd, 4th, and 5th 1600 meter runners are more deserving to compete in their open event at an invite than the school’s long jumpers. While I am all for equal opportunity, I think we need to provide more opportunities for our better athletes. I am sorry I’m not sorry for feeling that way. With flexible invite options, all-comer weekday meets can still be used to help make lineup decisions, they just do not have to be depended upon as much. It is hard to depend on something that has around a 33% chance of being cancelled.
The wildcard option gives a school an extra entry in an individual event. Schools who choose to use this option could give as many wildcards as they like. It is another great option to help coaches sort things out for postseason line-ups. *Credit to this idea goes to Minooka’s Nick Lundin.
The add-on allows for coaches to be able to add additional “competitive” entries. For example, each school may be given 2 individual entries per event, but may add additional athlete(s) in various events if the athlete’s marks are “competitive.” Host schools could set standards as to what they deem competitive, cap the number of add-ons per event, or give a set maximum of total add-ons. *Credit to this idea goes to Edwardsville’s Alec Holler / Chad Lakatos.
You Call It
This is flexibility to the extreme. Each school gets 28 individual entries and gets to choose how they use them. You want to have 10 shot putters, 10 long jumpers, and 8 pole vaulters compete? Go for it!
We are in coaching to give athletes a worthwhile experience. With this in mind, host schools should work with attending schools to give all athletes the best experience possible. An attending school should be able to contact the host school and ask for additional entries (within reason of course). To keep things equitable for the team score, the host school could allow this, but have the additional athletes be marked exhibition.
Our athletes already have enough working against them. It is our responsibility as coaches to get as much working for them as we can. It is time for us to raise the bar of opportunity.
Please comment with additional ideas.! I will do my best to update the article periodically. Also, please excuse any typos. I created this in haste to get the information out as fast as possible!
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