It is a dominant question surrounding the activities of sprinters during the fall season and whether they should run cross-country. For power/speed gurus, the answer will strongly be “NO!” However, the question is more complex than intended.
The topic of early specialization has been prominent around the youth sports scene, and the awareness is gaining momentum, no matter the belief. A well-rounded athletic experience is a must for young children and developing adolescence. For a nine-year-old to be on several travel baseball teams, visiting private batting instructors during the off-season while excluding all other sports is great in one aspect, but negates the fun of socialization and discovery that comes with the participation in a variety of team and individual sports.
There are valuable skills to be learned from a variety of sports that can be exclusive to one sport and not another. Developing children should learn how to work with a team, learn how to win and lose, learn how to use different parts of the body and solving problems. These experiences will aid in the development of making a “better athlete” that will be beneficial to appropriate specialization in the later years of high school and beyond.
With that, the “sprinter” participating in cross-country will not be as detrimental to the long-term development, given proper planning and modifications are made by the coach.
Fall Season is a critical time
If the athlete is involved in other fall sports, there may not be a need for a sprinter to compete in cross-country. Generally, the other sports will provide the needed coordination, speed, and endurance training necessary to be considered general preparation for the upcoming track season, whether it be indoor or outdoor. There may also not be a need to participate in cross country if there is a convenient track club or program that provides the necessary general preparation needed for sprinter-type athletes. The last thing a sprinter should do in the fall is nothing, so the alternatives need to be explored.
Sprint-type athletes are such because they are simply built differently (muscle type, mentality, etc), so rarely would you find a sprinter voluntarily taking on long runs and repeats that would fit more of a distance specialist. However, great distance training programs are more than long runs and mile repeats, but include the elements of general strength, coordination and even speed. A good program includes circuit training for strength, drills and short sprints for coordination, so a simple modification of volume within the endurance factor is all that is needed.
Having the defined “sprint-type” athletes go through general endurance, strength, and basic speed activities during the fall is necessary for the development of sprinters. It is certainly more beneficial than not doing anything, however, the concept is developing well-rounded athleticism. Simply showing up to another sport or being a part of a program that is not known to create athletes, may also be more harm than good, but that is another topic.
Make note that true “sprint-type” athletes are defined differently for high schools around the country. Not every school is lucky enough to have high-caliber sprinters that are gifted with physical traits of true power and explosion. So for majority of schools, there are those that can run faster at shorter distance, and those who can run faster at longer distance.
Overall, if there is a mature, high-caliber sprint athlete, then a more specific fall program would better suit the athlete, as fall is generally the preparation phase. Seasoned track coaches will argue that a base must be built according to what you want to develop. But, these athletes are rare and are often engaged in other sports for the fall. For the overwhelmingly majority of the classified “sprint-type” athletes, participation in cross-country, with proper modifications will be sure to show benefits that outweigh the negative effects that can be possible.