I really like to run the 100 (meters), but my coach not only makes me run the 200 some of the time, he also wants me to do relays. I hate relays because I don’t like to depend on other people. I want whatever happens to be up to me, not someone else. I want my teammates to do well, and I support them, but I don’t want to run with them.
Actually, you’ve hit on a bigger question, and constant issue for almost everything we do: What’s more important — group or individual success?
In team sports like baseball the group element is clear. Unless the pitcher strikes everyone out, he needs fielders.
Still, of course, there are clashes, usually involving ego. A player wants to lead off, but the coach bats him ninth. A softball player feels she’s the best shortstop, but the coach plays a senior instead. These conflicts are bred in the bone of team sports, and one of the speeches almost every coach makes before, during and after the season emphasizes accepting roles and making sacrifices for the good of the team.
For that very reason, many athletes gravitate toward track, tennis or golf, where the team element takes a back seat to individual performance. If you beat everyone else in tennis, you’re No. 1; if you have the lowest score after nine holes, you’re the top golfer.
But even in track, there are reasons for coaches to make adjustments that athletes might not care for. For example, the fastest boy in the 100-meter dash may also be the fastest in the 200 — and there may be more 100-meter dash runners who might score points in a meet than 200-meter dash runners. So maybe the boy with the fastest 100 time winds up helping the team more by running the 200, even if he doesn’t really want to.
Of course it’s the same with relays, which are an odd amalgam of individual and team competition. The runners all run on their own, and the only thing they do together is pass the baton. In the end, the result is what four people do and it can be frustrating for one fast runner to give his or her all and be dragged down by the speed, or lack thereof, of the other three.
All any individual can do is the best he or she can, and a strong performance in a relay is its own reward. There may be frustration, but if you think about it, that comes from the individual. If you want to be frustrated because the other guys aren’t as fast, you can be — but what’s the point? If they’re doing their best and you’re doing your best, then where’s the problem?
You may not like running relays, but you are part of a team and a school community that supports you with a track, coaches, uniforms and a platform for your skill. If the personal price is running a relay, or running the 200 instead of the 100, it’s really not much to pay. Just go as fast as you can, which is what sprinting is about, and let the rest go. You’ll be much happier, and enjoy the whole process a lot more.
Clay Kallam is an assistant athletic director and girls varsity basketball coach at Bentley High in Lafayette. To submit a question for Behind the Clipboard, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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