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A Message to the Young Athlete


“Kids are just not running as fast they used.” I heard a coach say over the past six weeks of recent spring track and field competitions. When I attend my youngest’s track and field meets, I pay attention to just about everything. I talk to parents from other teams, who I’ve never met before. I converse with coaches from other teams or officials, usually standing by awaiting some announcement. Sometimes kids from other teams will comment about something that seems awry. If I’m in earshot, I will converse with them about whatever it is that was their wonderment on the field or on the track. 

And in that first line of this piece, that coach is correct. I’m seeing it only from a Bergen County, New Jersey standpoint. We are way down across the county in high school track and field performances, in the past decade or more.

Why? I could guess. One is that the competition in academics could interfere in the latter years of high school. Yet, that is a must to survive in the ‘real world’ nowadays. However, I digress. It’s somehow always been that way. It’s just that we are a tighter world now. Many things for teenaged boys and girls have improved in many areas concerning athletics. Our nutrition is better. Footwear and the availability of the best is better than twenty years ago and certainly compared to forty-seven years ago when I started running, then throwing a year later. 

In speaking with a coach this past week from another Bergen County Track and Field team. He felt that we were now relying on parents. I told him, “…in my day, we had enough specialty coaches… or so it seemed.” When I was a teenager my high school had over 1200 students. That might have been a benefit. And only those who qualified ran, jumped, or threw in all the meets. Yes, we left some of our runners, throwers and jumpers’ home. And they knew why, they were ineligible to attend every meet based on their past performances. But that’s what happens when you have a large population of tracksters to pick from.

In all of that, if anyone has heard of my coaching adults or recently high schoolers here and there, they’d never know how competitive I have been in athletics all of my life. Yet, that same spirit folds into my work ethic. No matter whether I was in the Marines, worked for someone in corporate, did charity, ran my own therapy business, wrote books, and screenplays to make a living. It’s all the same energy. Also, that same energy went into having been a wife, being a mother, cleaning our home, gardening and the like. And still does.

Parents, siblings, best friends may not always be there clapping for you. However, there are those not related to you or from another team that no less will cheer you on. As a teenager and an adult, I discovered that there were people who I was not related to—as well, not yet related to who would be enthusiastic for me. Off the top of my head, I can name two. Mr. Domerski, my high school Woods teacher for three of my four high school years. And my father-in-law, Herbie, also known as ‘Dad’. Both were enthusiastic for nearly everybody. 

Mr. Domerski, I’d never known him to be a coach. But I knew he had daughters. He was a young father during my high school years. Herbie was the total non-athlete. He was a World War II veteran. And when I met him, he was a CPA, a father of three and a grandfather. Both He and Mr. Domerski had cheered me on concerning my running. They did it when I had no one. After my freshman year of high school my mother was too sick to watch me compete. My Dad didn’t like my running because I was a girl. As well, it could have been because I had some birth defects. My foot plants were not a pretty sight, yet he was barely around to watch. To add on to the fact that my brother, to my Dad’s dismay was invested in his music not athletics as my Dad desired him to be. 

Because of my athletic efforts. Over the years, I’ve had some men say to me, that I was the son my Dad always wanted. Yes, that is how it has been. This brings me to teenagers volunteering their time to do athletic endeavors such as track and field currently. This is not a mandatory life event. Yet, if treated properly much will be gained by those teenagers who volunteer their time to train and compete in track and field.

Now I will divulge what is being meant by ‘treated properly’. It is this, first I want to make certain that the high school athlete is kind to others and themselves. Anybody can be ‘nice’, but not everybody may be ‘kind’. Next is, to pay attention to your academics and take responsibility for them. The reason being it will show the world your discipline. And it’s a matter of self-pride. Take my word, you won’t get too far without that. 

As an athlete, especially a young athlete, it must be fun. I will go as far as saying, it should be delightful to the young athlete to train and compete. With a sport such as track and field, it should benefit you, the athlete first. No one else, but you first.

My past coaching of adults and some teenagers privately has been aimed at bringing about what they want for themselves in their individual athletic performance(s). Not what I want for them. Not to have a twin of my efforts. But their own expectations, or desires of understanding sport. And if they so desire, helping them reach a potential or their desired athletic outcome. 

With all that, everyone has a different reason for wanting to be part of an athletic team. It could be for social reasons. It could be for reasons that may get you noticed by a college. It may be for staying in shape for life. It may be for any reason outside of the few I’ve mentioned here. That does not have to be announced by the athlete. As a teenaged athlete in track and field, you truly don’t need to explain your existence on the team to everyone. 

However, there will come a point when you must be frank with yourself and perhaps a coach as to why you even show up to train and compete. That, you need to be honest with. It is unfair to the team, if you don’t care about your performance during a team effort. Nothing half-baked ever gets done well. Especially, if you are not honest about wanting to understand your own efforts, why and the lack there might be. In the end, you do hurt yourself. Metaphorically, perhaps. But it still will have an effect in some respect on your future. --- Jody-Lynn Reicher


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