Saturday, September 10, 2016

Experience in Organizations

When I was in high school, I was a member of the HS Girls Track and Field team.  My freshman and sophomore years I ran on the Junior Varsity (JV) team and my junior and senior years I was part of Varsity.  The track team would practice monday through friday after school from 3:00 to 5:30pm.  On Saturdays, we either traveled to another school to compete in an invitational meet or met at our own school for a morning practice.  Most people did not come to practice on Saturdays, except the Varsity team (even though everyone was supposed to).  The organization that was our track and field team was led by a head coach along with one coach for each subteam (sprinters, throwers, jumpers, and long distance.  I will focus on the distance team i this post because I only raced and practiced with them.)
I gave a lot of time and effort to being on the track team.  I was slightly less involved my freshman year, but after that I came to practice every single day except in extenuating circumstances.  Being part of distance track meant more than just coming to practice during the track season.  I, along with most everyone else on the team, was also involved in summer training (which met every morning from 7-9), the cross country team (which was a similar time commitment to the track season), and winter running club (met every day for practice but there were no competitions).  Unless someone was especially talented or already committed to a different sport for one of the four seasons, everyone had to run during all four seasons to hold a spot on the Varsity team.  We had 7-9 girls on the Varsity XC team with slightly more on the distance track team because there were more events.  
My coaches faced a transaction cost in getting everyone to come to practice.  One of my coaches acted passive-aggressively toward a student after she missed practice but did not do much else.  My other coach did fun things to get us motivated to come to practice every day.  She came to practice every Saturday when there were ten-or-so of us there and bugged the rest of the team on Monday about not showing up.  She made a list of excuses that people had given and titled it “Why I Will Not Make it to State 2014.”  People started giving outlandish excuses like, “I was making cookies with my grandma”, “I was cleaning my room”, or “I played Dance Dance Revolution instead.”  It turned into a game where people were made fun of for skipping practice.  This effectively minimized the transaction costs she faced while also making the team more enjoyable.
We did something different every day at training, but our weekly schedule was pretty much always the same.  On Mondays and Wednesdays we would run timed repeats around the track.  Each runner had her own goal times set up by the coach, and we were expected to hit those times during every workout.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we would go out in the neighborhoods for a medium to long distance run (40-65 mins).  These were our “easy days” so we did not necessarily have to run at a certain pace.  Some of the members on our team were so motivated, however, that they ran super fast on our easy days.  On our Varsity team, pretty much everyone ran at the same pace in order to stay with the group.  So those of us who were not as motivated to push ourselves on non-workout days were encouraged by the team dynamic to run faster.  This served as a sort of positive peer pressure from the organization.  
The track and field team also affected me in positive ways academically, physically and socially.  Academically, it forced me to manage my time wisely because I usually would not get home until about 6:00pm.  I would eat dinner and get to work right away.  Physically, it of course kept me in great shape.  Beyond that, we had weekly meetings on Wednesday nights discussing healthy habits (eating, sleeping, rest & recovery) and motivational strategies.  Our distance coach also designed and printed books for each of us with space for meal diaries, workout logs, “How am I feeling today?” journals and goal setting.  The meal diary made me more mindful of what I was eating and kept me accountable for making healthy choices.  Socially, I made some of my best friends on the team and it was an environment where everyone did healthy things (running, weight lifting, journaling) together.  Spending so much time with the Varsity team and going through such tough workouts was a great bonding experience.


  1. I am curious how you knew you wanted to be on the track team in the first place. Do you have an older sibling who did that? If not, what else planted the idea in you?

    Believe it or not, I was on the tennis team in high school, but the practice was not nearly as rigorous then and it pretty much was only a spring activity. What you discussed is an amazing commitment, I would guess, because most other sports teams are seasonal. Apparently not with track.

    It might also help to explain who the coachers were and whether, apart from the motivation in getting the kids to come to practice, if they were knowledgable about doing the coaching job. Were they all teachers? Were any of them track athletes themselves in college?

    Then you might consider the relationship between practice and performance in a competition. Did everyone run during a meet or were there some starters and some alternates? If the latter, how were the starters chosen? Did people get better in the actual races because of the practice in a way that was evident?

    You'll recall in class we talked a bit about deliberate practice and improvement as a consequence of that. You're in a good position to comment whether the coaching you got encouraged deliberate practice or not. For example, you mentioned doing timed repeats. But you didn't say how the time was set for those.

    Finally, I wonder whether you run now and if the high school experience had some down the road impact on you in college, even if you don't run competitively. That would be interesting to learn about.

    1. Professor Arvan,

      The reason I joined the track team in high school was because I wanted a place to make friends, stay healthy, as well as have something to put on my college applications. When I was in elementary school, my friends would tell me I was fast, and I was good at the running games we played at recess. Because of all these things, joining the running team just seemed natural.

      The coaches were all teachers who were former track athletes. My distance coach placed third in state in the 800m and went on to run Cross Country and Track for a D1 team in college.

      Everyone ran in a normal track meet (races during the week against two or three other schools), but only a few could run in the varsity races. Special meets, including invitationals on Saturdays and the Conference, Section, and Regional meets at the end of the season, only had enough spots for about 20 top runners. Those who came to practice most often or were the fastest (for the most part the two were highly correlated) were the ones to get the spots in these meets.

      People definitely improved over the course of the season due to practice. In cross country, we did not do as many timed repeats and the ones we did were less individualized. Our team did not place as well over all, and times remained relatively stagnant over the season. Track was a different story. Over the course of one season, I went from running a 6:23 mile to 5:54. These 29 seconds mean a huge difference when one is already running a mile as fast as he or she can. By the end of my senior year, my best mile time was 5:29, something I thought would never happen when I first joined the team (I remember stepping into the car after my first day of high school practice saying "Mom! I ran for 20 minutes straight and only stopped to catch my breath once!")

      To set the goal times for repeats, our coach had us run a time trial at the beginning of the season and then paced us each according to "goal times" that she wanted us to hit at the end of the season. Times were adjusted on an as-needed basis as the season went on.

      Today, I don't do timed repeats and wouldn't even think of trying to run a mile in less than seven minutes. Even so, I still run several times a week just for enjoyment and fitness. Once in awhile I will participate in a charity 5k or 10k and remember how fun it is to race with a big group of runners. I can say that my experience on the track team has given me a lifelong (if my health allows it) habit and taught me about the importance of a healthy lifestyle.