Every track and field head coach eventually faces the same question. How best to use your runners at a major competition that includes events with multiple heats? Do you instruct your top athletes to conserve energy during early heats? Is it better to tell your sprinter, for example, to take it a bit easy in the first heat of the 100- and 200-meter races, or should you tell him to go all-out in the 100, and not use him in the 200?
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- 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.
- Rather than asking runners to conserve energy during a heat, a coach should use the 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.
- When setting a lineup, 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.
- If your best sprinter wants to compete in multiple events - for example, let's say he wants to run both the 100 and 200, as well as a relay - the coach should add the number of heats in those events and consider, realistically, how tired the runner will be toward the end of the meet.
- The competition a runner will face is also a key consideration. If your runner is clearly superior to the competition in one individual event, it might be worth the risk to use him/her in two events, knowing your runner 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/her 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.