School is finally out. Summer has officially flowered. And for hundreds of area youth track season has begun. What this means to parents are long hours in the hot sun (or freezing rain) in order to watch a few minutes of their child’s event. Listed below are a few tips on how to survive and even flourish during these hours.
1. Prepare for a long stay. Track meets can last up to five or six hours so pack a cooler full of cold packs, water and healthy snacks like fruits, nuts and even cheese puffs. Concessions are generally available but do you really want your kid running a 1600 after wolfing down two slices of questionable cheese pizza or clean up the aftermath? Also, pack a bag with books, toy cars, a soccer ball, whatever will help keep your participant entertained between events…which can be a long time.
2. Buy a canopy or make friends with someone who has one. The only shade at the two area tracks, Brewer and Old Town, is the shade you bring yourself. Old Town does have a very nice, shady area tucked behind the 100m starting area but as the host team they’ve, wisely, commandeered it for themselves. Anyone is welcome to lounge with them but if your kid is from Orono, Blue Hill, Bangor, etc. all your kid’s friends are probably somewhere else. Not to worry, your team will soon construct an interconnected tent city with ample shade to cool down and/or huddle under. One tip, put the tent stakes in, you never know when a sudden gust will send your canopy soaring into the bright blue sky.
3.Don’t bring a tent. Just imagine for a moment your child zipped inside an enclosed space with six or seven or twenty-three of their best friends and a dog or two. You can kiss that tent good-bye because it ain’t going to survive. Tents also make it hard for your coaches to find event participants. Screens are fine but don’t use a tent…trust me on this one.
4. Sunscreen! And lots of it! Even if your kids is adverse to getting slathered their attempts to run away from you will serve as a good warm-up.
5. Locate the bathrooms. The two tracks that host meets in our area, Old Town and Brewer, boast impressive new surfaces, stands and field event areas. Alas, only Brewer boasts impressive bathrooms. These are located near the start of the 100m and are cool, clean and easily accessed. As lovely as the Old Town complex is the only bathrooms provided are three port-o-pots behind the baseball field and one down by the tennis-courts. As one might imagine, by the end of the day, under a hot sun, with about a thousand people using them, they get a bit full and funky. As an alternative, you can make the trek to the school for a more extensive experience or you can show your little one to the heavily wooded area behind the track. Adults should probably not use the wooded areas. No poison ivy encounters have been reported as yet but it’s something to be aware of. It would be kind of Old Town to provide one or two port-o-pots in the backstretch field where a number of teams set up their command posts or construct a more accommodating commode experience or even kinder to build a permanent structure with pipes and everything.
6. Watch some events. If you go into the day thinking how bored you’re going to be and spend the next five hours trying to fight that boredom with ipad viewing and facebook updating you’re gonna be pretty miserable. Instead, head over to the grandstand or find a good view spot and watch a few races. Cheer for your teammates even if you don’t know their names. Field events take a bit of effort to watch but races are inherently exciting and can even be inspirational. You’ll be amazed by Ruth White, a tiny little 9-year old girl keeping up with the 13 year-olds or the sheer speed of your kid’s best friends, Isaac and Mac, and, like me, you’ll probably weep just like when you were watching Inside Out when you see five-year old Alex Roach from Old Town. I’ve never met Alex and I’ve never seen him finish higher than last but I’ve never seen him quit that 800 and he’s getting faster and faster every time. This is inspiration at it’s core. Whether you’re young or old or your legs don’t work right you keep going, you don’t give up, you don’t give in. To see our kids push through, and learn the lesson that they can push through…as has been noted before, I’m a sucker for ‘triumph of the human spirit’ movies and going to a track meet is like five hours of them. Watching Zane, Augi, Ruth, Isaac, Mac, James, Carmen, Alex and all the rest of them, all I can do is clap because when I raise my voice to cheer it cracks.
7. Give your participant some space. Each team is staffed with volunteer coaches who will get your kid to their event. It’s a good idea to know where they are – under the canopy, in the bushes, under the bleachers- but once located the coaches will get them there. When they’re at the event, find a good place to watch that isn’t right in their laps. Space can get tight over by the long jump, high jump areas so be sure you’re not in the way. If you feel sand between your toes you might be standing in a landing pit and you might want to move. For track events, be aware that running next to your little one, screaming at him to run faster (as witnessed last year) with a water bottle in one hand, your phone in the other, your purse slung over your arm and your heels falling off is not only not helpful it’s against the rules. This act is considered ‘pacing’ the runner and will get the runner disqualified. Find a good spot along the fence or at the base of the hill and cheer with gusto but stay out of their way and for goodness sakes, stay OFF THE TRACK!
8. Temper expectations and praise effort. You can’t coach speed. As particpants progress they learn about race strategy, pacing and technique –especially in field events- but raw speed is either there or it ain’t. If the kids are trying, they’re winning. Having said that…
9. Push ‘em if they need it. If your kid is really fast or can heave a 6 lb ball really far get into it with them. As the boys were headed out to the 800 last week I said, “Go get ‘em!” Mac looked insulted. “I don’t want to go get them. I want to crush them.” While he didn’t quite crush them, he did win and that was important to him. If they’re into it, help out. Keep a record of their times or personal bests if they want that. Push them to try harder, plan better, practice smarter, eat right, rest more because if they are really into it, they’ll respond and appreciate both your interest and help…hopefully. Just be ready for that trip to States or Regionals or Nationals or the Olympics when they’re suddenly not the fastest kid out there and it hurts.
10. Bring the bathing suits. In Orono, the town pool is open until 7:30 on Thursdays and both you and your kid will probably enjoy a dunk in the near freezing water. There are pools in Brewer, Old Town and the one with the water slide in Bangor. Before you collapse for the night, go for a swim. Then enjoy a cold beverage of your choice…unless it’s been raining all day. Then you might want to just go home, put on some warm clothes and watch Cool Runnings, the one about the Jamaican Bobsled Team.
Hopefully these tips will help you through a long season that requires long hours but is rewarded by more than ribbons and names in the newspaper. Track season brings with it a community of caring parents and awesome kids doing what kids do best: run, jump and toss things about.