What happens at track and field practice? An inside look at Mitchell's pre-meet workouts
The Mitchell Kernels’ track and field team provided an inside look at how the team prepares for a track meet at practice on April 21
MITCHELL — Walking into practice for most sports, it would be hard to mistake what is happening. Whether it be a basketball team taking jump shots, a baseball team playing catch or a volleyball team practicing attacks, it wouldn’t take much time to discern what was going on.
But what about a sport like track and field? How does a team with over 100 participants ranging nearly 20 events budget time to make sure everyone is ready for competition?
The Mitchell High School track and field team provided an inside look at how it prepares for a track meet, as the Republic documented practice on April 21, a day before the Kernels sent athletes to two different competitions: the Greenway Relays in Mount Vernon and the Pierre American Legion Relays in Pierre.
The beginning of practice is the only time the team is fully together, with all 100-plus athletes doing the same thing. Broken into groups that are led by the team’s upperclassmen, athletes line up and do several dynamic stretches; warm-ups that are designed to help specific muscle groups get activated while simulating the running motion.
“Most of the dynamic stretching we do mimics the running process,” said assistant coach Eric Palmer, the designer of the team’s warm-up program.
Head coach Deb Thill said that before, the team used to do more static warm-ups with less of an emphasis on the running motion, but Palmer has changed that. He believes the warm-ups, when properly executed, are one of the most important parts of a track and field practice.
“People think you either run or you can’t run, but running is a skill,” Palmer said. “This is just like practicing takedowns in wrestling or shooting baskets in basketball.”
Once warm-ups are completed, athletes break off with individual event coaches and work on what they need to be ready for the next day’s competition. Runners and field athletes do specialized drills to make sure their form is as close to perfect as they can get it a day before an event.
One of the most important of these drills is the handoffs, as relay teams work on perfecting the baton transition at each point in their squad. Athletes work on the timing of when to leave their mark, communication and the fluidity of the handoff itself, hoping to shave tenths of a second off of their times.
“A tenth of a second or two makes a world of difference sometimes,” Palmer said. “If you are running your handoffs clean, it’s easy to make that time up.”
Another key workout for runners is the hurdle-hip exercises. Five hurdles are lined up on the track, and athletes walk through the hurdles while flexing their hips to clear each hurdle.
The workout is designed to help improve the mobility of the muscles around the hip, making it easier to move similarly when going at full speed.
Many events in track rely on muscles not always typically trained as frequently as others, so many of the workouts are designed to work on those and allow for a larger range of mobility for the athletes.
“Different muscles need different exercises,” Thill said.
The throwers also have their workouts, as they break off with coach Sterling Dockweiler to work on their event-specific drills. These workouts, especially before a meet, are pretty straightforward; throw, diagnose issues in their form and try to correct them. Things like release points and proper footwork are key to a successful throw, so athletes will attempt to find the right balance for everything.
Rest and replenish
Once the athletes have completed their tasks for practice, one more message is drilled into them before they leave: take care of their bodies up until and through the next day’s meet.
All of their hard work to shave fractions of seconds off of their time can all be undone by something such as a poor night’s rest or an unhealthy meal. The goal between the end of practice and the start of the meet is to make sure their bodies are in the best possible competing shape.