Asking athletes to conserve energy, i.e., not to compete with 100 percent effort, can be risky, particularly in shorter races. For example, if your runner eases off the throttle too much, and finds himself too far behind his competitors, there are only seconds to try to catch up. Additionally, some runners may find it difficult, mentally, to compete at three-quarter speed in a heat then try to shift gears and go 100 percent in the final.
Far better for the coach to use his or her lineup card as the key to an energy-conservation strategy. A successful track coach once told me that his philosophy boiled down to four words: “Don’t be a pig.” Just because a sprinter is permitted to run in four events doesn’t mean he must run in four events. Just because a runner is capable of competing in two distance races in the same meet doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
A coach must consider the number of heats in various events, as well as each individual runner's ability, stamina and mental toughness, as well as the competition that each individual will face. For example, say your best sprinter wants to compete in both the 100 and 200, as well as a relay. First, add the number of heats in those events and consider, realistically, how tired the runner will be toward the end of the meet. Additionally, look at the competition your runner will face. If your runner is clearly superior in one individual event, it might be worth the risk to run him in both, knowing he has a strong chance to win at least once. But if both fields are highly competitive, you might choose to focus on one event, to give your runner the best chance to win, rather than tire him out and perhaps settle for a pair of third-place finishes.
In the end, it boils down to how well coaches know their athletes. If you know your athletes well, trust your instincts when you make out your lineup. But always keep in mind the "Don't be a pig" rule. When you allow your competitors to focus on the events in which they have the best chance of success, you’ll generally get the best results from your star athletes, and from your team.