Your Average High School Track Team: How My Coach Sees It vs. How I See It

Questions about stress, eating and studies

| 15 Sep 2022 | 04:00

A vital part of education is what happens after school hours. For me, that’s sports. Two hours running with my teammates a day is what gets me through another thirty-five minutes of Spanish class. As an eleventh grade Ethical Culture Fieldston student, I am on my school’s cross country, indoor track and outdoor track team. Running is something that makes me live in my own world, but at the same time makes my stomach churn all day. I thought it would be an interesting experiment to interview my coach and see his perspective on our team – and how it compares with mine.

Alan Bautista has been a coach for about 10 years not just at my school, but citywide. He has coached World-Ranked women in the Masters Division, helped people achieve Division 1 scholarships, and guided marathon-runners to get sub 3 times (times under 3 hours). He has a license under the Road Runner Club of America and is an All-American athlete, known for his killer 400 meter time (which is 54.87 as a masters runner at the age of 40).

The first question I asked him is if he’s seen any stress on our team. “There is stress. Of course there’s stress ... but I don’t feel that as a track and field coach at Fieldston that kids are stressed to a point that you know it affects their day. But, I don’t know; I might be wrong. I think it’s more of an individual thing. Take you for example. I know you’ve got ... I’ve seen you stressed, but I would hope not to the point where it would discourage you from pursuing running. I think there might be 1 or 2 outliers ... Track and Field is one of the hardest sports in high school.”

This question is particularly interesting to me because I suffer from anxiety. When it comes to race days, my stomach has butterflies all day. It’s not the kind of butterflies that are just nerves, it’s an influx of irregular breaths and the tight squeezing of my palms. It doesn’t sound like a big deal on paper, but honestly, it’s one of the heaviest feelings I’ve ever dealt with.

The dread of a stadium watching me, the pressure of doing nothing less but my best, the validation I seek from my teammates, the overwhelming fear of coming in last, and the knowledge that it’s going to be several minutes of pure pain (I run the 1500, which is 100 meters less than a mile). It takes over me, and it feels almost like a burden, regardless if it’s also something I enjoy. But I keep it all inside, and my coach has no clue because, frankly, I don’t show it.

Bad Eating Habits

My second question: Have you seen any bad eating habits, body dysmorphia, etc. in your coaching experience?

Bautista responded, “Maybe I’ve seen some mild instances with it but not I wouldn’t say in our school I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it with adults,” and then began on explaining how he’s seen it outside of our track group.

There would be times when I showed up to practice without eating anything for lunch. There would be times when all I had was a protein bar. There were multiple times when all I had was 300 calorie bagels with nothing on them. When I’d run my stomach would make noises or I’d have random waves of nausea. When I got home I would make up for it by stuffing food in my face (to balance out with the calories I burnt while running), but before that I would constantly be running on an empty stomach (and also a bit of dehydration).

When I fractured my ankle I couldn’t run, and I had to watch my teammates do what I once was able to do with ease. I felt an unhealthy pressure to work out regardless of the rest I should’ve let myself have. I went onto the elliptical knowing it was most likely not doctor recommended (it wasn’t), I did 400 meter repeats at a fast pace when I wasn’t permitted to, I hurt my ankle doing high knees and jogging when I was instructed not to.

My mindset was: eat whatever you want when you run because your body is healthy. But when I didn’t have that anymore, all of my obsessive thoughts came crawling back (not that they were her really gone to begin with).

Education or Sports?

My third and final question was: Education or sports – which comes first?

To him, it was easily education, because in his words, “They go hand in hand, they’re not mutually exclusive.”

And I would like to say the same, but it wasn’t the case for me this year. I would prioritize practice when I had a math test the next day. I would get home at 6:45 p.m., and yet start my homework at 8:30, exhausted and not in the right headspace to focus. Sports were what I needed in my life, it rewarded me with serotonin that made each day feel complete. So at the beginning of the year, it was very hard for me to just casually miss practice when I had a major assignment. After all, I was in high school, and I had a major assignment at least once a week.

It came to a point where my grades weren’t suffering, but just not reaching their full potential, and my dad had to sit down and have a conversation with me. We had to make a plan to be able to miss practice a few days a week so I could focus on my studies; it wasn’t like I was trying to run in college, it was just something I loved. But sometimes you’ll do anything for things and people you love.

My coach and I are very close and have a tight-knit relationship. However, sometimes he becomes blindsided by what I’m keeping within me. Being one out of few girls on my distance team, it’s really hard for me to express myself and ask for help. I always feel pressure within society to present myself as strong and not fall into gender stereotypes (even though I constantly complain about doing workouts). I open up about some things, but not enough that anyone would know anything is wrong.

The truth is, everyone has a thing, and for me, my thing is running. It makes me smile when I go to sleep at night, and when I feel confident, I feel like I’m soaring. But there are so many factors within it that make it challenging for me, an insecure teenage girl, to pursue it.

We might think that since it’s a co-ed sport, boys and girls are held on an equal playing ground, but it’s not the case. Being a girl and also being a runner is a juggle, because you have to fit the criteria of being a typical runner: confident, tall, fit, skinny, flat-chested, hard-working, and goal-oriented. Then you also have to fall out of the stereotypes that your friends might paint the “track girl” as: scrawny, unathletic, weak, weird, innocent, and quirky. It’s an almost impossible race with a finish line that falls somewhere in between these standards.

So it’s no wonder that my coach couldn’t see this; if I was him, I wouldn’t be able to see it either. But we as female athletes have to reach within ourselves and make sure that our passions are something we are actively passionate about. We need to work on confidence and use it to make us stronger, not just for the love of the sport, but also for the love of ourselves. And if we do this, then maybe we’ll be on the right track.

“We as female athletes have to reach within ourselves and make sure that our passions are something we are actively passionate about.