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Choosing a High School - Large School vs. Small School

Updated: Jan 31, 2020

I grew up in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, running in the Ohio Capital Conference. We averaged one dual meet per week, as there were eight schools in our league. The schools themselves were large, with around 1000-1800 students, and the competition was fierce from week-to-week. I remember on three different occasions being called on to run the 4x800m, followed by the open 400m, the open 800m, and the 4x400m, against the toughest teams in the league. The minimal rest between the 400m and the 800m was rough to say the least. Needless to say, at the end of each of these meets, I was totally spent. In fact, at one point the opposing team’s coach was trying to chew out his team after losing to our school, but he couldn’t get his team’s attention. I was out dry-heaving uncontrollably on the field, and all eyes were on me. Realizing that I wasn’t going to be reviving from my condition anytime soon, he yelled at his team, “Get out of here! When you come back tomorrow, you’re all going to be doing what he’s doing!” I did not know this at the time, but the high number of hard efforts I was forced to put my body through were not actually making me a stronger runner, but were causing me to peak early and then plateau.

My first high school coaching job was at a small school in South Florida. We had no track, but plenty of field space. I would actually paint a three lane 400m track on the field, complete with hurdle marks and exchange zones, and refresh the paint every time the grass was cut. My boys won FHSAA Region 4, in spite of the fact that we had no track ( They even placed first in the 4x100m relay, having only my painted exchange zones to practice handoffs. My girls weren't too shabby either, placing seventh in the FHSAA State Finals.

The small school track scene in South Florida was a lot different than the large school scene in Ohio. There were no dual meets to have to worry about, unless we wanted to schedule a friendly meet that meant nothing. We could focus on hitting a few big meets, like the Pepsi Florida Relays, and then train to peak at Districts and Regionals. While I was there, we broke every single distance and relay school record, because we could just focus on hitting it hard when it counted, rather than desperately trying to stay out in front of our league competition from week-to-week. My kids put forth three to five hard efforts in a season, including Districts, Regionals and State Finals, and they peaked when they were supposed to.

There is a point to all of this. Everyone who is involved in the club track world knows the only difference from one club to another is coaching. You choose your club based on the coach, plain and simple. However, a lot more thought needs to go into choosing the high school to which you will send your elite level eighth grader. Do you want a large school, where the competition week in and week out will be fierce? Is that what is going to distinguish your elite athlete? Do you want the small school, with little competition on a weekly basis but more opportunity to save big efforts for big meets. In the coming blogs, I’ll try to ask and answer the tough questions related to school choices and the implications they may have for your rising track star.

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