Now that I’ve retired from track & field, the idea of “enjoying a track meet” has a very different meaning than it did 12 months ago. For very obvious reasons.
It’s no longer a mater of evaluating the track surface, the crowd energy, the caliber of food provided, the warm up facility, the call room check-in process, or even the ease of meet day transport.
As a former athlete who is on the other side “looking in” my perspective has shifted and I’m viewing the sport through a very different lens.
It’s now a matter of appreciating the ease of online streaming/TV viewing, how quickly results are provided, how equipped the commentators are, and how competitive the lineups are. Just to name a few.
I’m in a unique position where I have personal experience with competing at the highest level, but I’m also able to watch a meet solely from a fan’s perspective. On one hand, this position makes me critical in my judgments, but also very sympathetic at the same time.
For example, I am weary of placing unrealistic expectations on any athlete, but at the same time, I have very high expectations of meet directors and TV stations to provide the spectators at home with the best possible viewing experience.
With that, I’ve learned a few things.
Areas track & field can improve
- too much down time in between events during a track meet makes for a less exciting viewing experience. No matter how incredible the sports broadcasters are, the reality is that most people watch meets to enjoy the competition and excitement that comes along with it. Yes the commentators can help fill in the dead space, but I would definitely love to see the time interval between events be shortened substantially.
- too few competitions on TV leads to less interest in the sport. I get that networks show what viewers are interested in, and there’s a financial impact of choosing which sports are most profitable to brodcast, but with track receiving such little TV time it’s hard to inspire the next generation of track stars. With that being said, I do acknowledge that we have made big improvements in this area and I will touch on that shortly.
- it is way too difficult to access track meets from home. When competitions aren’t being shown on TV, there are sometimes streaming options, but many times you have to pay a monthly fee, or you have to live in certain countries to gain access to these streams. Now since I’ve been in this game so long, I’ve learned how to change my VPN and other tricks to access these live streams, but it definitely shouldn’t be that cumbersome to enjoy a track meet. Again, think about what message we are sending to the future generation of athletes.
Now that I’ve been a bit of a “Debbie Downer” about the state of track & field, I do think it’s important to highlight some of the positives as well.
Areas track & field is doing well
- Athletes are doing a better job of telling their stories and controlling the narrative surrounding their personal brands. With the boom in popularity of various social media platforms & the NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) legislature, I have noticed a lot of young athletes doing an incredible job of understanding the potential associated with using their platforms. They’re seeking out nontradional brand partnerships for compensation, they’re using their voices to speak up about social injustices, and many are coming together to improve the sport for the next generation. This is a far cry from the antiquated “shut up and run” approach some former athletes felt forced to take in years past.
- there is a bit more visibility of the professional track circuit so youth/college runners have an awareness of the career potential. Now it may seem like I’m contradicting the “area of improvement” I highlighted earlier, but things have undoubtedly gotten better in the last few years. With the increased TV coverage of the American Track League (ATL) series meets, and a few other (USA) domestic meets being shown on TV, progress has been made. But with that, the track enthusiast in me would still love to see even more meets on television.
- many university/college programs are being more open to allowing professional track runners to use their facilities for training. In years past, some pro athletes had to train at local high schools where the quality of the facilities are not as high as their college equivalents. The openness of college programs to allow professional athletes to train there not only decreases some barriers pro athletes once faced, but it can also elevate the level of focus and commitment of the college athletes simultaneously. It’s a win-win.
How being a sports commentator has shifted my opinion
I wrote a previous blog about being a sports commentator and how it has opened my eyes to its difficulty. This remains true months later as I’ve gotten even more experience.
Just because someone knows and loves the sport doesn’t guarantee that they will have the necessary skill set to deliver good commentary for a meet. With this knowledge, I give my fellow broadcasters a lot of grace when I’m listening/watching track meets and there is a level of gratitude for the men and women who do it well. This mindset shift has allowed me to enjoy track meets even more than before because I am coming from a place of understanding and deep appreciation.
How can we improve the landscape of track & field?
To be honest I am not sure if there’s a simple answer to this but here are a few practical tips:
- Tune into track meets on TV so the networks are aware there’s still a desire from fans
- Try to educate yourself about the sport so you’re not caught asking questions like “don’t track athletes only compete every 4 years?”
- Extend grace and compassion to athletes when they have subpar performances by remembering they’re human
- Acknowledge that there are gender disparities in sport in the pay, coverage, opportunities etc. Give female sports the same energy you give male sports
- Support athletes when they take a leap of faith by creating their own brands and/or selling merchandise
- Help to inspire the next generation of track stars in any way you can; words of encouragement can go a long way
If you can think of any other ways we can contribute to the betterment of track & field, I’d love to hear your thoughts.