Updated: Jul 18, 2020
The sport of Track & Field includes multiple events, each with varying neuromuscular and energy demands. For example, shot put requires maximal anaerobic power and high-velocity movements in order to throw as far as possible; compared to the aerobic endurance required in the 3000m steeplechase. One of the fascinating things about Track & Field is that many participants compete in other sports as well, such as football and cricket. Many coaches across all disciplines of sport should recommend their athletes to partake in track and field. But why is athletics so important for these other sports? Why should a coach recommend that their athletes undertake Track & Field? There are three key reasons as to why this is and how it can make you a better athlete across all sports, and potentially life:
Reason 1 - Individualism plays a big role, even for a team sport
Aside from relays and other school events, where there will be some form of team score, Track & Field is primarily an individual sport. You are the one running around the track or throwing that discus into the sky. Sure, your coach will be helping you along the way and your friends might be competing with/against you, but ultimately it is up to you to get out there and chase that Personal Best you want to smash. You have to put 100% into your training sessions, it is up to YOU to recover properly and not do extra km’s that aren’t written on your program. From a certain point of view, individualism is a large factor to your success in Track & Field.
This same individualism applies to team sports as well. Let's look at Football for example; on any team you’ll have strikers, wings, midfielders, defenders, and the goalkeeper. Now whilst the whole team determines whether they “win or lose”, each player on the field has their own individual responsibility to the team. Relying too much on your teammates, thinking that they will do the job instead of you, could be a team's downfall.
Whilst you need to work and communicate with one another, you also need to bring out your skills into the match and training. “A team is only as strong as their weakest link” is a famous quote that emphasises the need for some form of individualism, as each member of the team should be on a similar level in order for the team to be at their best. Practising this, through Track & Field, might be beneficial not only to yourself, but to other sports as well.
Reason 2 - The physiological and skills learnt can be easily transferred to other sports
Many physiological aspects, as well as skill requirements, of Track & Field can be transferable to many other sports. The actions of some events will be very similar to some parts of other sports, and therefore, should be highly valued by all coaches. Let’s look at some similarities between javelin and rugby union, for example. Both sports have some form of run up (this is what most people are taught in rugby to do before they catch a ball off a pass); both require some form of overhead work (in rugby this might be the hooker); and both involve high velocity movements and actions, targeting our anaerobic energy system. These aspects of both sports go hand in hand, which highlights the importance for Track & Field for other sports. This is just one example; there are many other sports out there, such as volleyball and basketball, that involve similar action by our major muscle groups in Track & Field.
The additional training that is required for both sports, in particular strength and conditioning, will almost certainly be similar, aside maybe from sport specific movements and injury prevention exercises. Let’s compare a resistance training program for a runner and a swimmer. Although these are two completely different sports, the resistance training programs athletes might undertake can be similar; and as I have undertaken both sports I have an understanding of the similarities.
Both sports will have a strength and conditioning program that involves lower body exercises (such as a squat, or any variation of it), core work (such as crunches or planks), and upper body exercises (e.g. pull ups. And yes, runners should be doing some form of upper body strength training as we use our arms to help pick up speed and momentum in a race). The only differences will be the intensities, sets/reps ranges and the speed of movements (for runners it is better to “go slow” on the way down and “move faster” on the way up) prescribed by the coach. Even the same olympic lifts, for those athletes with a lot of experience with weights, can be in a swimmers and a runners program.
There might be individual differences between programs based on the athletes needs in a resistance training program, but the exercises used will be similar. Your running strength and conditioning program might be good enough for you to use as a Soccer resistance training program, depending on the exercises provided and the experience of the athlete with lifting weights.
Reason 3 - Being able to undertake multiple sports makes you a better athlete and person
The amount of times I have overheard someone proclaim that their son/daughter will be the best at one particular event because that is all their child does is astounding. What is more shocking is how wrong they are. If you want to become a really good athlete, especially from a young age, you should be undertaking 2-3 different sports throughout the year that require different skills. It should not be until the athlete is around 18 (in my opinion) that they should “specialise” in any particular sport, and coaches should preach this to their athletes.
Many superstars undertook a few sports prior to being the number 1 competitor in that event. For example, Sir Mo Farah (dual 5000m and 10000m olympic gold medalist at the 2012 London Olympics and 2016 Rio Olympics) had a fiery passion to play football at a young age. In fact, in his book Twin Ambitions, he writes that he only undertook running training during high school because he made a deal with his PE teacher that he could play football with his friends at the school prior to running training. If his PE teacher refused to let him participate in playing football with his friends, he might not have been the long distance star we know him as today.
In a more local example, Australian 100m sprinter Rohan Browning played rugby union alongside Track and Field throughout most of his high school years, only focusing on Track & Field close to the end of his secondary schooling. Although the sporting stars we know today are known for the sports they compete in now, they competed in a few sports when they were very young, and specialised into that sport once they were much older.
Even if Track & Field isn’t the sport you like the most, there are multiple events to try out that can help you be the better athlete in your future years. You will have an opportunity to improve upon your sporting skills and make even more friends. Variability in your training regimen is critical to your success, and why I think that Track & Field is important for other sports.
Keep up the running,