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The Case for Relays

Relay meets are like no other. So why bother? Here's what I think!

#1. Educational Value

Relay meets develop interdependence. To be successful an athlete has to rely on and invest time in others. The rewards are deeper when shared by more. Relays turn track and field into the ultimate co-operative activity, teaching athletes how to work together. Relay meets are a great way to develop team harmony and camaraderie.

Relays also create opportunities for more athletes. The fourth person on the depth chart (and often deeper) now becomes important. If there is educational value in athletics, relays bring that opportunity to more athletes.

#2. Team Building Value

It is often the underclassmen that end up filling out relay teams. Their importance to the team becomes evident at an earlier stage, thus helping to keep the beginning athletes more focused and involved. More of the slow starters/late bloomers on the team find a reason to stay around while they physically mature.

Relays also build positive team dynamics. Athletes within the same event help each other rather than compete against each other. From my own experience, building a team that values relays has helped us keep our participant numbers high and has created a team in which upperclassmen invest heavily in the improvement of our beginning athletes.

#3. Team preparation value

1. Relays encourage athletes to be more versatile
In an attempt to fill more relays, athletes are encouraged to try other distances or field events. Many athletes find new events at this meet. Coaches often find out more about their athletes.

2. Helps identify weaknesses
Putting together relays is a great way to find out about a team’s depth in events.

3. Prepares a team for the state relays
The league relays is a valuable practice meet for the state relays. Without this meet athletes go into state relay meet competition without ever having run most of the events competitively. Until someone has been involved in the shuttle hurdles or the third exchange in a 4X200 under meet conditions with all lanes filled, they cannot fully be prepared.

#4. Sport Promotion Value

The increased participation brought about by the relays intruduces more parents to the sport. In turn, this increases the support base for the track and field program in general. Being a weekend meet, it draws more fans which generates greater early season excitement. Once you’ve developed the fan interest it is easier to keep them coming back.


There are some negatives that have been brought up about relays that deserve comment.

Relays are unfair to small teams!

I agree it is harder for small teams to win relay meets. Its also harder for them to win any kind of meet. But that doesn’t preclude them from winning individual events. In fact, as some larger teams try to fill more relays, it opens up the opportunity for small teams to put in a few strong relays and place high.

It takes time away from training

That continues to be a mantra for having fewer meets of any kind. Competition is also part of training. Coaches have the flexibility in this type of meet to determine how many relays they are going to enter and how many events each athlete competes. If they feel it is too disruptive to the training process of an individual, there is no requirement that every runner has to run. But to eliminate this meet removes the opportunity from teams whose athletes want more opportunities to compete.