Hockomock Dual Meets – This is the base upon which athletes and programs are built. It is guaranteed yearly competition that creates rivalries and culminates in a meaningful yearly reward for a dedicated program – the Hockomock Dual Meet Champions. Athletes get schedule of competitions that allows them time to develop, get measurable improvement and gauge their competitiveness vs. fixed opponents. Unfortunately, the tri-meet format allows only four such meets. There were eight dual meets when I first started coaching – plenty of time to move new and emerging athletes forward while allowing seasoned stars the opportunity to experiment in other events. Though I fought hard to retain the status quo, my arguments fell to those coaches who wanted to practice more than compete – some for valid reasons and others who saw fewer times away from home. It was an easy financial choice for AD's. There has been some sentiment among coaches to revert, especially among teams with user fees that have realized they are asking some beginner sprinters for up to $250 per season to run the 50M dash four times ($500 per minute of competition!). As I predicted, one done, it is doubtful there will ever be the consensus to return to an eight meet schedule
MSTCA Freshman-Sophomore Meets – Program building coaches have to think in at least four-year time frames. Since there is not a regular schedule of junior varsity meets, the majority of competition for new athletes is at the varsity level. They watch the seasoned athletes pull away with ease and it becomes easy to hold self-doubt. How persuasive must a coach be to convince an athlete to stick in a program where they seriously get their butt kicked every week. Kudos to the Hock for allowing unlimited JV heats at dual meets, but it still falls seriously short of an athlete getting to step onto the podium at Reggie Lewis and hearing their name announced. That first trip into the Mecca of Massachusetts track is when athletes (whether they place or not) realize that this is a real sport and that they have a place in it! I only wish there were JV meets (and yes, a JV championship) at the league level because entries at the state level are limited to two athletes per event. Some athletes take longer than others to develop and it is a shame to lose “diamonds in the rough” to their limited competition opportunities.
State Relays – I've often said that relay meets are a true measure of a TEAM! That's because relay meets require more depth of athletes. Any coach can get lucky enough to be in place when the perfect compliment of elite athletes walks in the door. Based on the athletes available, (Melody, Missy, Karen, Beth and Kelly) it would have been tough to lose NA's 1986 state championship. But it took another twenty athletes to win the state relays that year. The challenge was not just to get a few “outliers” to perform at their best, but also to make the program important enough to the average athlete. It's those average athletes who sustain a winning tradition while it waits for the atypical recruiting class to “win the big one”. BTW, I use the term average athlete with the utmost reverence because isn't that what most of us are? So, back to the point. Relay meets give average athletes the chance to be just as important as the stars. Three studs can't win a 4X4. Someone else has to cover that last 400M.
MSTCA Invitaionals – This is a bridge to championship season. Consider it Cha Cha lessons before the big dance. The top athletes may not have run their specialty at the Reggie Lewis Center yet. Consider it the difference between playing a sport on grass vs. an artificial surface. The corners are different, and it might be their first time on a banked track or wearing spikes (most other tracks in the state are flat, don't allow spikes and have corners that you can't sprint through). The differences are most profound in sprints, but there's also a huge psychological shift for the two-miler doing 16 laps vs. the 22 at Franklin. So whether its an athlete trying to throw down a big time or experimenting at a new distance, the SCI and Elite Meet have a lot to do with prepping for success later down the line.
Hockomock Championship – The words “League Champ” have a great ring to them. The Hockomock means something. Some athletes are just trying to make it to the meet while others are trying to etch their names in history. Either way, the Hock Championships bring out the best in athletes. Typically it is also the last meet available to qualify for states.
State Divisional Meet – This meet is hosted by the MIAA and is the next natural step for championship caliber athletes. It widens the spectrum of competition to all schools in that state that fit your school-size profile.
State Finals – This is a fitting end to state competition. The top athletes from each division meet, the winner of each event and the team scoring the most points is dubbed “All State Champion”.
New Englands – This is a bonus meet. Often, schools may not even have a single qualifier. Most times it is only a few. This is usually considered the end of a team's season.
State Pentathlon – This meet is an add-on. It involves three members of the team who each must compete in five diverse events. For girls it is the high jump, 55M hurdles, 200M, 800M and shot put. It reveals all-around ability. I made this a yearly staple of the program (even in years where the school wouldn't financially support it) for many reasons. It is a fun meet where athletes are forced outside their comfort zone, thus revealing more about their character and latent talents. The athletes always came away feeling special, having found new abilities (or even limitations). Although it meant extra practice, once an athlete had the opportunity to compete they usually looked forward to setting higher goals the following year.
Nationals – I'm ambivalent about nationals. More athletes go to them than should. I used to be fond of saying, “That's a long way to go to get your butt kicked”. Yet, for some athletes it will be the only meet to teach them humility and to help them realize there is a far bigger world of talent outside the borders of New England. “Nationals” are held by more than one organization in more than one location. There is no true determinant of a single “national champion.” It is not sanctioned by the MIAA (the governing board of Massachusetts high school athletics) and athletes are not allowed to wear school uniforms. I've gone and my athletes have occasionally but it cannot be legally sponsored by the school and is therefore competition is not for the school.
There are other invitaionals that occur throughout the season, each with varying rationales. A few years ago the team went to the Rhode Island Invitational because we had a schedule gap of more than two weeks. One school record set at that meet still stands. We've also attended the Dartmouth, Brown and even BC Invitationals but that was before Reggie Lewis became the Mecca for most meets.
Taken for what its worth, here's my advice.
To coaches : Each meet presents distinct opportunities to push a team forward. Plan a season with the needs of all athletes (and the program) in mind. Give them every opportunity to succeed.
And to AD's : Never lose sight of that most important role of being an advocate for athletes. Hard times make for tough decisions, but never fall prey to the philosophy that some meets aren't important. Any cuts in schedule have negative impacts on team and individual success.