TO THE PARENTS OF OUR HIGHSTEPPERS
The Fort Meade Highsteppers is a track and field club and one of the Youth Services activities serving the greater Fort Meade military community. It was founded 26 years ago by Will Gaither and army Major Charlie Green, who was the 100 meter bronze medalist in the 1968 Olympic Games. The Highsteppers offer Fort Meade youth ages 7-18 the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of track and field. The club’s young athletes compete in local, regional and national meets under the auspices of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and United States Track and Field (USATF). The season begins in April and extends into the last week of July for those competitors fortunate enough to compete in the USATF Junior Olympics, which will be held in Baltimore, MD, from 23-29 July 2012.
The sport of track and field is demanding, perhaps the most demanding of all sports in that it pushes athletes to their highest physical and mental limits. Accordingly, training must be conducted in a demanding and disciplined environment that is supervised by coaches who are nurturing and supportive because they want these young competitors to be motivated to excel. The training that your kids experience over the next few months is geared to improve their track and field performance, and thus, their enjoyment and knowledge of the sport. Their track and field experience will also provide them with the physical fitness and mental toughness to excel at other sports that require speed, endurance, quickness, and strength, such as football and basketball. If they are fortunate enough to win while competing they will experience a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that is hard to match. Winning, however, can be elusive, especially against top competitors. They can also experience satisfaction and accomplishment by reaching a personal best or personal record (PR). This goal can be just as rewarding as winning and sometimes, given the level of competition, more realistic.
Some events, particularly those that require running or race walking for more than 1 lap around the track (400 meters) can be demanding in the extreme, especially for youngsters who are not physically or mentally accustomed to demanding physical activities. Accordingly, the preparation for competing in these events can be tough. The typical kid prefers to simply stop when he or she becomes tired, i.e., after about 1 minute of running. Therefore, the practices must be tough and attendance should be regular. Although an occasional missed practice is sometimes unavoidable, it can disrupt and set back the development of a budding young runner, race walker, jumper, or thrower. So, please encourage your youngster to attend the practices. The experience will be tough for your child, but productive.
Never forget that the kids are in development and their experience this season is only one of many stages in that development. Their progression, if they remain committed to track and field, is a long term effort that requires years of dedication and hard work. No one is an overnight success and precious few are even a one-season success. Even the legends of track and field had to “pay their dues,” i.e., endure the drudgery and sometimes pain of long and hard training, only to lose often in their fledgling track career. Therefore, be supportive of your kid’s efforts, regardless of the results. Always provide encouragement, not pressure. Monitor your kids’ progress by observing their practices as well as their competition. Here’s hoping that all of us involved in this enterprise - kids, parents, and coaches - have a fun and rewarding season.
Practices will be held at 1800 to 1930 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays beginning 2 April and continuing through July. Hurdles and field events practices will be held on Tuesdays and Thursday. Practices consist of general conditioning and assessments for the first two weeks and then become gradually become more challenging and event specific as the season progresses.
Training and Recovery
Training is only one part of an adaptive process by the human body to attain more of the basic components of fitness: strength, speed, stamina and flexibility. Training and conditioning, among other things, breaks down muscle fibers, which accounts for the soreness that is felt after a hard workout. The body then replaces those broken down fibers with stronger muscle tissue that is able to tolerate the new physical demands placed on them. When does this replacement take place? During rest and recovery periods. Inadequate rest and recovery between workouts can disrupt this adaptive response to training by leading to poor preparation at best and injury at worst. Proper recovery also means hard workouts are 48 hours apart. For example, if hard running occurs on Monday, then hard running is not done again until Wednesday. Proper recovery also means getting a good night’s sleep, at least 8 hours, and refraining from extra practices (well meaning parents who believe that extra practice on the side will be beneficial should beware that they may do more harm than good).
Another note on injuries. We intend to help the kids distinguish between discomfort (the soreness associated with improved conditioning) and pain (the body’s signal that damage has occurred) and closely monitor or seek medical treatment of the latter when it is persistent and/or disabling.
Proper Attire and Shoes
Early season weather in April has a wide range of temperatures, sometimes as cold as the upper 30’s to the mid 40’s accompanied by wind and rain. Other days are rather mild or even pleasant, with temperatures in the 60’s to 70’s. Every Highstepper needs to dress appropriately for the weather at each practice. A sweat suit with hood or knit cap and gloves is appropriate for low temperatures. As the weather becomes milder the knit cap and gloves are not necessary, but a sweat suit or light fabric warm-up garment would still be necessary to prevent muscles and joints from becoming cold and stiff. In the warmest weather of the season, with temperatures in the 80’s and above, light fabric running shorts and tops are best for freedom of movement and heat dissipation. Please, no baggy basketball shorts or regular everyday attire such as jeans and other clothing that would be more appropriate for school attendance than the athletic field.
Shoes bear special mention. Running shoes, i.e. athletic shoes with good cushioning and stability, are the proper footwear, especially for the kids who are age ten and above. The cushioning addresses the frequent foot impact and a stable shoe with firm heel cup prevents excessive inward or outward rolling of the foot (pronation and supination, respectively). A well fitted pair of cross training shoes would be fine for kids under the age of ten. Avoid basketball sneakers, which do not provide the stability or cushioning of running shoes.
For competition you will want to consider specialized shoes which are generally lighter but less durable than regular running shoes; and some of them have spikes for better traction. Race walking flats feature thin soles with no spikes. However, the advantages of these specialized shoes make them a little pricey. But it’s worth it if your child is making a long term commitment to track and field.
The intense levels of exertion during practices inevitably leads to sweating, the body’s attempt to cool itself. Therefore, every child needs to consume water or a suitable sports drink at regular intervals during each practice session. Every Highstepper needs to bring a container of water or a sports drink to each practice. At least 32 ounces should be sufficient. In case any of the kids deplete their containers some of the coaches bring water so the kids can refill. The kids should not bring sodas or other sugary drinks that contain empty calories. Water, Gatorade, Powerade, or other similar sports drinks are suitable. The sports drinks have an advantage over water because they not only rehydrate, but also replenish minerals (electrolytes) lost during sweating.
Athletes in training benefit from eating a variety of foods, including vegetables, fruits, poultry, and especially complex carbohydrates such as pasta, rice, sweet potatoes, cereal, bread, other grain foods, etc. Complex carbohydrates provide most of the energy needed for the intense exertion of training. Fruits, juices, and energy drinks are also a source of carbohydrates and provide quick energy. Some simple carbohydrates, such as candy, sodas, and other junk foods containing refined sugar, should be avoided since they contain few essential vitamins and minerals. Fried foods, though tasty, should also be avoided, at least in large amounts, since they are loaded with saturated fats and do not digest quickly or easily.
Heavy meals should be avoided at least two hours before practice or competition. Light snacks such as sandwiches, juice, fruit, etc. can be consumed with little risk of gastrointestinal distress within that two-hour period before practice.
We will compete in at least five meets during May and June with only two or three meets on successive weekends. The meets will help assess progress of each competitor in his or her events and are, essentially, extensions of the practices. Genuine competition occurs during the two meets in which the athletes attempt to qualify for the Junior Olympics in late July.