Keeping Track

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Keeping Track

Written by Rod O’Donnell on 26 March 2019.

The Aspen Institute, an international, non-profit think tank, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., recently released the Healthy Sport Index. The purpose of the study was to rank high school sports for both genders, based on three areas:

  1. Physical activity
  2. Safety
  3.  The effect on psychosocial behavior

The results place cross-country first, and track and field, third, among all male sports, with cross-country second, and track and field seventh for females.

To better understand how these conclusions were determined, you need to read the entire description of the survey. It sheds a very positive light on the sports we are advocates for, and it provides interesting data to use when recruiting athletes to track and field and cross-country. For example, cross-country appears to be ranked low in the psychosocial behavior category; this is partially true, due to the data used, such as the time that athletes train alone or in small groups. However, the results of others measurement factors, such as the prevalence of binge drinking and marijuana use, were shown to be the lowest among participants of the ten sports studied.

For more in-depth information of the study, go to

I have stated many times that, as coaches, we must constantly sell our sports, not only to our athletes, but also to the public, especially parents and school administrators. They need to know the effect activities have on the lives of young people. Additionally, for those who want to encourage participation in our sports, the Aspen Institute study is a wealth of information for parents and participants. It is well done and is a must-read for all those involved in these two sports.

It is as much our responsibility to tell others about the many benefits that are provided, as it is to learn the techniques of coaching; otherwise, the “audience” at events will be similar to the one at the recent Razorback Invitational at the University of Arkansas, where the top ten ranked Division I men’s and women’s teams competed in a beautiful venue where empty seats far outnumbered those that were occupied.

As I wrote the first draft of this month’s article, I was sitting on the beach at Hilton Head Island. A seagull landed nearby, seeking a quick snack. When it saw that I had no food, it quickly lost interest and flew away. We must always infuse new ideas into and provide positive messages for our sports, or those fans/followers, participants and parents will mimic the behavior of the hungry gull and fly away to other sports that will satisfy their competitive appetites.

Yours in track,

Rod O’Donnell

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