Since track and field is underway at the Olympics, I figured I would dedicate an entry to my favorite sport. Numerous people have tried to explain to me why they don’t consider track and field “a real sport”. People running to a finish line, jumping over a bar or into sand, or throwing a weighted implement apparently don’t compare to shooting a basketball, hitting a baseball, or tackling someone to the turf in football. This is probably more of a thought in America, where an emphasis is placed on team sports. In a country where people are known for looking to place the blame on everybody else but themselves, this makes perfect sense (No, this isn’t a rant about America). While there is a significant amount of personal accountability in team sports for the stars, it doesn’t compare to that which you see in track. Think about it, the stars in team sports can blame the officials or the teammates for shortcomings. In track, one can only blame his or herself for any failures.
Team sports are great to watch. Nothing is better than being at a game supporting your team (unless it’s the New York Knicks) or booing the team that you have come to despise. But what about the players themselves? We often hear of basketball players not showing up at practice, getting to games late, or not getting the ball enough during the game. The same can be said in football. Baseball is a bit different since it’s usually the pitcher vs. the catcher (pause) before anything else can happen. However in track, it is you, the individual, vs. yourself. Yes, you are competing against others, but it’s what you can do yourself that really matters. When you don’t run fast, jump high or far, or throw a certain distance, you really can’t blame anybody but yourself and perhaps mother nature during the outdoor season. Missing a few practice can be the difference between first and fifth place. Bare in mind that there are tiers of athletes. Not everybody can be an Olympian or professional athlete. In our team sports, once you finish college it’s pretty much over as far as serious competition. That men’s or women’s winter basketball league doesn’t really count in my book.
However, in track many athletes compete beyond college graduation to continue improving themselves despite the fact they most likely will not be a big time athlete. Their continued training is just an extension of their previous career. There’s a personal challenge that often drives the athlete to compete until they have reached an established goal before hanging up the spikes or shoes or poles. In team sports, what can a person do but continue to play as a recreational activity? Although in some areas, sports like basketball are really a way of life. They allow people to be the big man on the block/court, but that’s a totally different blog entry.
A lot of people also forget that their favorite athletes were once track and field stars at some point in their career. Given the decreased emphasis on track in the United States, this often gets brushed under the table. But the next time you try to argue track isn’t a sport, ask yourself if you could dedicate 10-20 hours a week to specific event and weigh training to improve yourself in individual competition where you know you may not be the best out there of all the competitors on any given day. You many not even be on a good track team and you still have to dedicate that time to self improvement. Could you do it? If your answer is no, then maybe track and field isn’t “the sport” for you. I, along with my fellow trackletes, suggest you re-evaluate what is and what isn’t “a real sport”. There is no “I” in a team, except for track and field, where everything is focused on the Individual effort.