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Track and Field | Healthy Sport Index | Aspen Institute Sports and Society Program

3rd

out of 10

Track and Field

Boys

Track and field is a sport with many different events – shot put, hammer, discus, javelin, short-and long-distance running, hurdles, triple jump, pole vault, high jump, long jump – that move the body in many ways. Recommended complementary/alternate sports for track and field athletes include tennis and cross country.

Rankings in orange circles compare this sport with nine other sports offered for this gender before customization – meaning each of the three health categories is given an equal one-third weighting. The ranking is comprised of data collected or developed from various sources (75% of score) and expert opinion (25% of score). The healthiest sports in each of the three categories – physical activity, safety and psychosocial benefits – and in each data measurement are ranked No. 1. Note: Some sports did not have significant differences between each other in the data. Learn more about our methodology.

2nd

out of 10

Physical Activity

Expert Opinion Rank: 4th Out of 10

Key Characteristics: Track and field physical activity at practices ranks second among the 10 boys sports studied by North Carolina State University. Track athletes have 60.1 percent vigorous activity; the 10 boys sports average 48.5 percent. Thirty-one percent of track and field practice time focuses on fitness compared to 30 percent on skills. 

1 North Carolina State University research observing high school athletes in North Carolina, 2017-18.

4th

out of 10

Safety

7

Injury Rate2

(4th out of 10)

8.5%

Injury Time/Loss3

(5th out of 10)

0.11

Catastrophic Rate4

(5th out of 10)

2.8%

Injuries Requiring Surgery5

(4th out of 10)

0.1

Concussion Rate6

(1st out of 10)

Expert Opinion Rank: 4th Out of 10

Key Characteristics: Track and field has the fourth-best injury rate among boys sports, according to the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study. More than one-third of injuries are to the hip, thigh and upper leg, more than any other body parts. Track and field has the lowest concussion rate among boys sports.

2 Injury rate per 10,000 exposures, National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 2016-17.

3 Percentage of all injuries resulting in greater than three weeks of time loss from the sport, National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 2016-17.

4 Non-fatal catastrophic injury/illness rate per 100,000 exposures, National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, 1982-2016.

5 Percentage of all injuries requiring surgery, National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 2016-17.

6 Concussion rate per 10,000 exposures, National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 2016-17.

9th

out of 10

Psychosocial

Aspen Psychosocial Survey7

3.154

Personal Social Skills

(10th out of 10)

2.424

Cognitive Skills

(9th out of 10)

3.525

Goal-Setting

(8th out of 10)

3.663

Initiative

(8th out of 10)

3.41

Health

(10th out of 10)

1.122

Negative Experiences

(2nd out of 10)

Substance Abuse

Cigarette Use8
11.2%

(1st out of 10)

Binge Drinking9
22%

(1st out of 10)

Marijuana Use10
19.9%

(2nd out of 10)

Academic Achievement

Cut Class11
22%

(T-1st out of 10)

A/A- Student12
36.3%

(T-5th out of 10)

Graduate From College13
62.6%

(3rd out of 10)

Psychological health14

4.23

Self-Esteem

(T-7th out of 10)

2.23

Fatalism

(T-2nd out of 10)

3.75

Self-Efficacy

(7th out of 10)

2.55

Loneliness

(7th out of 10)

1.99

Self-Derogation

(T-6th out of 10)

4.16

Social Support

(5th out of 10)

Expert Opinion Rank: T-7th Out of 10

Key Characteristics: Track and field rates ninth among the 10 boys sports in the Aspen Institute/University of Texas psychosocial survey, but the gap isn’t far behind No. 1 football. A lack of negative experiences is a strength for track and field. Track and field has the fewest rate of athletes engaging in cigarette use and binge drinking, according to Women’s Sports Foundation data.

7 Aspen Institute/University of Texas psychosocial benefits survey of high school athletes nationally, 2018. Scoring ranges from 1-4, with 4 being the best except for the Negative Experiences category.

8 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport smoking cigarettes in the past 30 days. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

9 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport binge drinking alcohol in the past two weeks. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

10 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport using marijuana in the past 30 days. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

11 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport who cut class for a full day in the past month. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

12 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport who have an average grade of an A or A-. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

13 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport who expect to graduate from a four-year college. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

14 Average scores of high school seniors in the sport in psychological health report card. Data for these six categories came from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters. Scoring ranges from 1-5, with 5 being the best for self-esteem, self-efficacy and social support.

Compare Tool

Select Other Boys Sports to Compare and Scroll Down

Track and Field (Boys)
Baseball (Boys)
Basketball (Boys)
Cross Country (Boys)
Football (Boys)
Lacrosse (Boys)
Soccer (Boys)
Swimming (Boys)
Tennis (Boys)
Wrestling (Boys)

Complementary Sports

Healthy Sport Index recognizes the benefits of youth engaging in more than one sport during the year, through organized or casual play. Some youth also may want or need to find alternate sports, due to interest or roster-size limitations. There are two types of benefits to sport sampling: athletic/skill development in their primary sport, and overall health. First, let’s take a look at sports that can help develop athletic/skill development.

Athletic/Skill Development

For youth whose primary sport is track and field, Olympic champion and USA Track and Field board member Jackie Joyner-Kersee recommends the following complementary sports.

Other Recommended Sports/Activities for Skills

Jump Rope, Skating

Rationale: Given the different types of events, track and field is a sport that involves the development of many different skills. Jumping, throwing and running are critical elements in most of the events. Cross country provides a good complement based on endurance. Basketball helps develop jumping ability.

Not chasing an athletic scholarship or elite performance? Let’s now explore complementary sports that are less tailored to develop skills in this particular sport but can help build a well-rounded athlete for life.

Overall Health

For youth focused on this sport, the following are activities worth considering to build overall health and fitness. They are recommended by the Healthy Sport Index Advisory Group in consultation with the American College of Sports Medicine. Considerations include whether the primary sport is a team or individual sport, the amount of time the primary sport spends at practice on fitness, and options for sports that carry low-injury risks.

Other Recommended Sports/Activities for Health

Cycling, Golf, Hiking, Ice Hockey, Kayak, Martial Arts, Pilates, Rock Climbing, Rowing, Skiing, Ultimate Frisbee, Yoga

Rationale: Track and field is an individual sport that would benefit from a companion team sport. It generally is a high-fitness sport, with some exceptions, such as throwing events. Leg and thigh injuries are by far the most prevalent for track and field, which is a relatively safe sport.

Best Practices

Tips on how to make track and field active and safer

  1. Don’t overdo workouts. Two-and-a-half-hour, high-volume, high-intensity workouts on a regular basis won’t serve the needs of athletes. No athlete needs more than two hours in a given practice session. Overtraining overloads the central nervous system, and the average high school body eventually breaks down from overstimulation.
  2. Practice technical skills at least three times per week and while athletes are fresh. Being fresh allows them to execute the skill correctly. Athletes must try these technical challenges often to become acclimated to the resistances applied to their body.
  3. Sequencing matters. Don’t begin a practice session with slow strength exercises like core or weightlifting. This will fatigue muscles and weaken joints ahead of technical drills. In a 90-minute practice, select no more than two training modes (technique, sprinting or plyometric drills, cardiovascular workout, strength exercise) and devote 30 to 45 minutes each.
  4. Eat healthy. Having a meal three to four hours before a workout is ideal. Eating before early-morning training could include an energy bar, banana, dry cereal, and low-fat milk; an afternoon training meal might be a wheat bread turkey sandwich, pasta salad or fruit and small energy bar. Have a snack about 30 minutes before the workout.
  5. For athletes wanting to reduce body fat, it’s important to eat more frequently throughout the day. Eating every three to four hours and focusing on lean protein, fruits and vegetables and whole grains will help improve body composition.

Learn More About Best Practices
Nutritional Information (USA Track and Field)

7 Principles of High School Track and Field (Simplifaster)

Best Practices for Disability Track and Field (National Federation of State High School Associations)

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)