from In the Arena
While I was in Birmingham this spring for my first European meet of the year, I noticed that they hosted a few events for youth in conjunction with the elite sections. With my involvement in In The Arena this past year, I thought it might be fun to take part in something like this at my meets in the future. When I found out that I was accepted into the meet in Lausanne, I explored the website and discovered that they did, in fact, have some youth and children’s activities planned. I emailed the women in charge and a few days later she got back to me with a positive response. I connected with her when I arrived and she added me to the program list. I laughed to myself as I read the list of athletes who were requested to participate…..of course it was all the stars….and me.
Two days before the meet we were picked up from the hotel and driven over to the stadium. There we found 300 kids waiting for us! We were given a warm welcome and introduction before spreading out to join groups of kids for a warm up activity. The game they had organized required the kids to dip a cup into a mini kiddie pool and race around cones and over a hurdle to drop whatever water remained into a second kiddie pool at the end of the course and sprint back. I couldn’t help but think that it was a great introduction to the best event on the track (the steeplechase). After this, we were assigned another group to work with for the remainder of the session. I was paired with an 800m runner who took the lead on a few more stretches and warm-up activities. We did some skips and strides and then lined them up again for a proper beginner steeplechase lesson. First we had them jog over the cone/stick hurdles. Then sprint. Then we placed one of the kiddie pools at the end. Their faces lit up as we let them know that they could choose to either jump IN the water or try to leap over it completely. All but a few chose to take the plunge! With the time we had left, the 800m guy taught them how to start from a waterfall line and we did some longer sprints back and forth down the 100 stretch of track we had to work with.
Overall, it was a very similar experience to many short, afternoon kids clinics I had helped out with before…only loosely organized and slightly chaotic. The organizers probably left us volunteer athletes with too much freedom, resulting in some confusion and a little too much down time. But overall, I think the total experience was salvaged by the fact that we were elite athletes giving our time and attention to the group. Oh, and the last difference from other clinics I have been involved with was that I’ve never been asked to lead a group of children who speak a completely different language! Luckily we had high school and college kids to translate but it did make for an interesting dynamic.
We finished by signing autographs and taking pictures. The kids made a tunnel for us to run through on the way out of the stadium and we were thanked generously.
I am really glad to have been able to take part in this little afternoon event. The organizers were very conscientious of our time and energy expenditure and made the experience a very pleasant one. As well-attended and hyped up as the Diamond League events are here in Europe, I think that there are probably more meets that host youth activities in conjunction with the elite program. After this one, I look forward to reaching out to other event organizers in the future to inquire about taking part in something like this again.