Running track and cross country at the college level

A lot of high school athletes are interested in running track and field and cross country at the college level and want to know what they can do to increase their chances to be able to run for the college or university of their choice. Taking your high school track and cross country dreams to the college level is a very exciting feeling and is not an impossible goal for most athletes. It will take some hard work, determination, confidence, knowledge, and clear communication between the coach and athlete.

The first step in increasing your chances in running track or cross country
at the college level

Step one requires you to work hard in your running or field events. It doesn’t matter if you are a long distance track and cross country runner, a sprinter, a jumper, or a thrower. No matter the event, you’ll want to be pretty darn good (you don’t have to be the best) if you want to increase your chances to compete at the college level. This doesn’t mean you need to win the state title in your events (still awesome), but qualifying for your state meet is a great start. Even if you don’t qualify, there is a good chance that you might still possess great athletic qualities that coaches are looking for (Please see the four examples below).

The second step in increasing your chances in running track or cross country
at the college level

Step two requires you to stay on top of your academics. If you are not challenging yourself in the classroom then you are just setting yourself up for recruiting nightmare. Mediocre grade point averages (GPA) and ACT or SAT test scores will put a huge barrier in front of your college track and field or cross country dreams. If you do not have the appropriate GPA and ACT/SAT test score, you will not be able pass the NCAA clearinghouse standards and you will not be able to run track or cross country at the college level in your first year.

I really don’t know if I could say it any other way other than to focus on your academics and learn as much as you can while in high school. Don’t shoot for the bare minimum C grade point average and 19 ACT score. Challenge yourself to be a better student-athlete and strive for knowledge and academic progress. Doing this will most likely result in a B or better GPA, while getting a 21 or better on your ACT’s. Oh, and you’ll pass the NCAA clearinghouse standards too.

Four great examples of why you don’t need to be mind-blowing fast in high school in order to thrive at the college level

The four examples I am going to reference are two athletes I used to compete against, and two athletes I have coached.

Example 1: I used to compete against an athlete who ran cross country and track in high school and ran his 5k’s in the 16’s and 17’s by his senior year. He later went on and ran track and cross country in college and ran an indoor 5k in 14:36.

Example 2: I used to compete against an athlete who ran a 4:42 mile in high school and later he ran track in college and ended up running a 4:11.

As for the two athletes I have coached in college…

Example 1: There was a 5-stepping hurdler who during our team tryouts was barely a “walk-on” according to the head coach I worked under. I campaigned to keep this hurdler, and taught her how to 3-step. She ended up being better than the girls we recruited on scholarship.

Example 2: I had an athlete who ran the 200m in high school in 23.3. After two seasons with me at the college level, he ran the 200m in 21.25.

These are real people and these are real results. The biggest limitation most high school athletes have is the one they put on themselves by saying things like “I don’t know if I can run in college”, or “I’m not good enough to run in college”. Don’t let this be you. If you really enjoy pushing your body’s limits and competing in a sport you love, then do it! It’s an exciting ride and you certainly won’t regret the experiences you will have as a collegiate track or cross country athlete.

What do I do if a track or cross country coach tells me
I am not good enough to run for their team?

Some track & field and cross country coaches have a lot on their hands and might tell you that they are looking for someone with better race performances than you. They usually say this because they might not want to invest the time to see if you have what it takes. If this happens don’t be alarmed. This doesn’t mean they don’t like you. It’s most likely that their program is full of scholarship athletes and the coach does not want to feel that they need to spend more time with you than these scholarship athletes.

If you are dead set on a particular school and a coach tells you right away that your high school performance is not good enough, you can try to talk to the coach and convince him or her to at least let you tryout during their early season conditioning phase. If the track coach says no to that, ask him or her if there is anything that can be done other than a tryout. Basically, the idea is to keep the lines of communication open so that the coach can develop a relationship with you.

As a last case scenario, you could use your academic successes as leverage if you happen to be an above average student. Track and cross country coaches take pride in having a high team GPA and are honored as an All-Academic Team by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) if the team maintains above a 3.0 GPA. So, if the coaching staff knows you are serious about your academics, they might be interested in your academic leadership and make an exception. Once again, keep the communication flowing and develop a relationship with the coaching staff.

What do you do when a coach finally says yes?

If a track and field or cross country coach says yes after you have finally convinced them through all of your communication efforts, you better be prepared to work your butt off and NEVEREVER…miss a practice or team meeting or be late for these practices or meetings…EVER. Don’t give the coach a reason to regret letting you into their track or cross country program. You should be a responsible student-athlete who wants the coach to remember you for your responsibility and hard work, not your failures.

Turning a worst case scenario into a best case scenario

If all of your communication efforts prove to be fruitless and the coach still says no, it is suggested that you contact other coaches and find one that genuinely wants you on their track or cross country team. This could prove to be better for you in the long run because the coach who wants you will most likely spend more time with you. If this happens, there is a good chance you could potentially be a better student-athlete due to the unforced relationship you may have developed with this different coach.