United States Track and Field: How To Return Track To Relevance in America

Tom DaleCorrespondent IOctober 24, 2010

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 29:  James Lilly and his eight-year old son, Jimmy, watch a track meet at the Glenbard West High School, on April 29, 2005, in Chicago, Illinois. James tries to encourage Jimmy to stay as active as possible and to particapate in as many activities as he can. James Lilly was shot twice, and paralyzed, while in a gang fight at the age of 15 in the South Side of Chicago. After the accident, James remained in the gang and his life continued to spiral downhill; until he decided to change his life around and move to Texas when he was 19 years old. Now, 20 years after the shooting, James lives in the south west side of Chicago with his wife and two kids. He is both a motivational speaker and a professional wheelchair athlete; the race he trains the hardest for is Sadler's Ultra Challenge, which is a 267-mile stage race from Fairbanks to Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

I don't think USA track and field does a particularly good job of marketing itself and making the sport accessible to the youth in this country. It is not that the United States is unsuccessful on the international stage, but the program could be so much better.

So how can you do this? I would suggest that the first step is to create a tie-in with the most popular sport in this country: football.

Having participated in both football and track in college, I am hard pressed to think of any event, with apologies to the distance runners, where participating in track would not benefit a football player. I only singe out distance events since the body type to be successful at them doesn't really lend itself to the football field.

Most football coaches would tell you that one of the most important aspects of the game for any player are their first five steps. Does that sound like fast twitch muscles to anyone? Sure genetics have a role in this, but like anything with an investment in training an athlete can improve anything about their performance.

Relays teach teamwork, field events teach upper and lower body explosiveness, sprints teach explosion from a stance and middle distance events are great for endurance.

So what is the plan? The first thing I would do if I ran USA track and field is send an informational packet to every middle and high school football coach in this country explaining how participation in track will benefit their football program.

There is not much competition from other spring sports in the secondary schools to compete with track. Generally most football programs run an optional weight training program in the spring. Involvement in track would make participating in weight training mandatory. In fact if I were a football coach I would make track "unofficially" a mandatory activity.

There are two other benefits that could be realized from this approach: corporate sponsorship and feeding the USA Track and Field program. Yes, USA track has some corporate partners, but that support is nothing in comparison to the support that football receives. Creating a tangible linkage between track and football would create a logical extension for corporations.

The second part of this is probably the most significant benefit for the USA team. The odds of a secondary school football player making a college football roster are slim. For those that do, the odds of making it to the National Football League are staggering.

Developing an appreciation for track and field in these athletes would open up an entire other avenue to display their talents that most don't currently consider and ultimately make the United States team stronger.