Olympic Finalist John Gay reveals his advice for high school track and field athletes
I write this as I simul-cast the Penn Relays and Payton Jordan invitational, two of the hallmark events of the Collegiate running calendar in North America each spring. In watching the incredible performances taking place on opposite sides of the continent at the same time, what struck me most this year is the incredible depth in Collegiate track and field that allows two meets of such high calibre to take place simultaneously, without any compromise to the calibre of competition in either location. As a fan of track and field, this is incredible; as a prospective collegiate athlete trying to decide where to take your talents at the post-secondary level, it’s downright daunting.
Temper your expectations
It’s no secret that high school track and field is having a moment right now. Every time I tune into social media I’m peppered with a barrage of new HS records, state & provincial wins, and a general excitement around the sport that is the envy of anyone old enough to remember a time when downloading some dubious PDF from the depths of the internet was the only way to get a clue as to what sort of marks were being laid down by any prep peer that didn’t live within driving distance of your local meets. During my own high school career I operated in a perpetual state of ignorance—the simplest form of bliss—with regards to the level of competition that surrounded me. In my senior year I made the trip to the hallowed grounds of Hayward field for the Oregon Relays, where my own 15+ second personal best in the 3000m was barely enough to scrape into the top 10, and where the winner ran a time that, prior to that night, I didn’t even know was physically possible for a human. Fast forward 8 years, to the 2022 edition of the Relays, where I sat gobsmacked as the newest crop of high school talents obliterated the times that during my day had seemed already unfathomable.
Focus on what is right for YOU
Dwelling on the accomplishments or decisions of others robs us of the joy that comes from celebrating our own victories, whatever they may be.
With so much information at our fingertips it is all too easy to succumb to the pitfalls of comparison and allow externalities to dictate our self-evaluation of performance, of growth, and indeed of worth. What my career in athletics has taught me thus far is that the things we can control are the only ones worth focusing on. Dwelling on the accomplishments or decisions of others robs us of the joy that comes from celebrating our own victories, whatever they may be. In the context of navigating the waters of college recruiting, this means thinking long and hard about what is right for you, and dismissing the outside noise of what program may look coolest splashed across your Instagram bio. Ultimately it is you who will be living the day-in-day-out reality of the college athlete lifestyle and you bring with you all the relationships, experiences, likes and dislikes that make you the unique individual that you are. With the exception of your circle of trusted advisors (coaches, parents, mentors), it’s critical not to allow your perception of what others will think dictate the schools you hinge your future career on attending. Just because a program is touted as the go-to for others is no guarantee it will fit the criteria that you need to see you through 4-5 years of studying, training and living a balanced, happy, and fulfilling college experience. While Power-5 gear drops and seeing a school-mascot window decal at every intersection are undoubtedly cool, these types of novelties fade quickly and can’t replace being immersed in an environment where you feel supported to grow at your own pace and in your own way.
Use your support system
Thus, I recommend all prospective collegiate track and field athletes to ask those aforementioned trusted advisors what they think the key ingredients are for you to succeed. Inviting people you trust into the recruitment process affords you a perspective outside of your own, a perspective that is likely to pick up on the blind spots that you miss yourself. These advisors have likely seen you at your best and your worst and you may be surprised by just how perceptive they are of what makes you tick. Speaking personally, it was not until a former high school coach took the time to write out her opinions on what options would best suit my long-term development that I even considered schools other than the one in my hometown. So set was I on sticking to the familiar option that I knew would seem popular amongst my friends and teammates that I had precluded any other possibility without giving it a fair trial. If not for those insightful words from someone who cared about me, both my academic and athletic careers would have taken a very different path.
Understand your needs and prioritize them
Once you’ve consulted with those trusted stakeholders some common themes are likely to emerge that can then inform the trajectory of your recruiting process. Using the feedback of your support crew alongside your own ambitions and inclinations you can begin tailoring your search towards programs that meet the criteria most central to your aspirations on the track and in the classroom. This is where Streamline Athletes can play a fundamental role, as their database of schools across all regions, divisions, and leagues can help connect you with programs that you may never otherwise have considered. Along my own journey within collegiate track and field I had the privilege of competing with and befriending athletes from virtually every league and region. Contrary to what I had assumed as a high schooler, nearly all these athletes will tell you that it isn’t the school budget, record books, championships, or gear that makes your university athletic career fulfilling so much as it is the people you surround yourself with, and the quality of people is something that no divisional metric will ever be able to compute.
Team culture is important
Finding a school where you can immerse yourself in a community of like-minded individuals with a shared set of passions is nearly a guarantee that you’ll be happy in your collegiate sporting journey, and if there’s one thing I know it’s that a happy student-athlete is a successful student-athlete. So while you’re taking in the livestream action at this season’s biggest college meets, imagining yourself decked out in a college kit on some historic starting line, take a moment to consider who will be in the stands cheering you on. Your college coach, your new teammates who you’ve trained tirelessly with for this moment, and maybe even those mentors who helped you along the way, on hand to witness your collegiate debut. If the people you encounter on your recruitment journey are ones that make you excited for that imagined experience to become a reality, ones who you know will be there win-or-lose, then I can say with confidence that you’ve made the right decision.
Processing your application
There was an error sending the email, please try again
Great!Check your inbox and click the link to confirm your subscription
Back to Homepage