Track is a wonderful sport, dare I say, a pure sport. It pits the athlete against his or her limits and removes the annoyances of other sports, such as lucky bounces or bad calls by an official. Athletes on the track team can become very self-focused and that is not always a bad thing. However, most of the best ones will say that they performed better when they had a strong team behind them.
For distance runners, the concept of team in the context of a track season can seem rather abstract. Sure, there are 4x400m relays and the occasional DMR or 4x mile, but those races are limited to the few and elite. So, what does it mean to be a teammate during the track season and how do we use our team strength to achieve personal and group success?
The answer lies in how each of us derives motivation from a team environment. Some of us look to impress our peers and coaches, and lead the way to victory. Others of us are nervous wrecks who need support to reach the finish line. Still, some of us just need to be reminded that the efforts given on the oval are not for our benefit alone... we run for each other and win for each other. After all, what good is it to be placed on a pedestal if no one is around to hold you up?
Teamwork is what makes the world go round. It motivates and it holds us accountable. In practice, we push each other to reach new heights and put each other in place when our heads grow two sizes too big. In order to reap the maximum rewards of teamwork, it must be practiced daily. There are many ways to practice good teamwork and there should be no days off from being a good teammate.
Make it a point to congratulate each other on strong efforts every day. Encouragement is great when it comes from a coach, but it is even better when it comes from a teammate. Take advantage of the competitive environment a strong team has to offer. Workouts are meant to be competitive, so go ahead and challenge one another. Take a chance at beating someone new and you will both benefit. Without that competitive culture, the whole team begins to look complacent and, well... slow.
Lastly, train with a collective sense of purpose. Individual goals are great, but team goals are also worthwhile. There are a lot of examples, and a good team can chase many goals within one season. How many runners will PR by 20 or more seconds in the 1600m? How many girls can break 11:00 in the 3200m? or 11:50? How many boys will run under 2:00 in the 800m? How many points can we score against Mission Viejo and Dana Hills? These are all great team goals.
What will our team shoot for this season?