Those of you the followed my advice and wrote to USATF Youth Committee Chairman Lionel Leach have found out that he has already made up his mind. He vehemently does not want to support the rule change that would add the hammer throw to the 13- and 14-year-olds age group. Mr. Leach has sent out the following response to those that wrote him:
We as a division have made every attempt and good faith effort to have this event in our meets. Before I was chairman it was not in our program we allowed first in our 17-18 age group then 15-16 age group then both the junior olympics then our youth championship as an exhibition with a 2010 full event we did it as a full event in 2008 2 years early. Then to have it as an event at regional and association meets I have bent enough on this. finally it is only 2 states that has this event their are not enough qualified coaches in the country to teach the event I am not risky kids getting hurt.
While Mr. Leach has been kind enough to talk to those that have contacted him, myself included, his arguments are misguided and he has made many inaccurate statements. Along these lines, I would like to present some additional facts and arguments that not only reinforce our position, but also respond to Mr. Leach’s position.
Note: If you are already in favor of this rule change, click here to skip my arguments and see what the next steps are and how you can help.
Business 101: Reinvest in Success
Before I address Mr. Leach’s concerns, I’d like to point out that the main reason this rule change should go forward is because it will build on an already successful program. No matter how you measure success in track and field, it would be difficult to find a better poster child for it over the last decade than American youth hammer throwing. If success means medals, America won the 2010 world junior title and swept the top two spots at the 2008 World Junior Championships. Prior to that, the U.S. had been the world’s doormat in the event and hadn’t won a gold in any international championship at any level since 1956. If success means records, just look at how every national single junior, high school, class, and age-group record at the national level has been broken in the past five years. Every one. If success means participation, just look at how the number of competitors has increased from just a few throwers to over a thousand. If success is the number of elite athletes, that has also increased. Back in 2000, the national rankings listed just 5 high school boys over 200 feet and 19 over 175 feet. This year, there were 17 boys over 200 feet and 51 over 175 feet. The girls have improved even more rapidly, tripling the number of throwers over 140 feet from 12 to 36 kids over the last ten years. Finally, if success means having fun, let’s just say there is a reason so many kids are flocking to this event.
All this success has not been due to luck. It has been due effort. Performances were already improving in the late 1990s, but the event was still limited to a few pockets of athletes around the country. The hammer really took off when it was added as an event for 15 to 18 year olds at the Junior Olympics. Though the change took a lot of effort by the USATF Youth Committee and associations nationwide, it allowed competitions to immediately spring up in every corner of the country and athletes emerged with them. This rule change would expand those opportunities. The infrastructure is already in place, we just need to take it to the next level.
Responding to the Arguments Against
There are a variety of people that disagree with me for a number of reasons. Below I address each potential concern.
There are not enough coaches – It’s obvious that there are more distance coaches than hammer coaches in this country, but there are plenty of coaches to support youth hammer throwing. Presumably, there are enough coaches in the youth ranks already since this was not a big enough issue to stop the Committee from adding the hammer throw to the older age groups several years ago. If there are enough coaches for 15 years olds in this country, surely there are enough for 14 years olds too. In a quick census of hammer throw coaches over the past 48 hours, I already identified over 300 youth coaches covering nearly ever state in the union. Mr. Leach feels that Harold Connolly and the hammer community did not live up to their side of bargain by training more coaches after the Youth Committee added the hammer for older age groups. Contrary to his belief, Harold worked tirelessly to train more coaches. First, he published free online coaching resources and guides on his website. He toured the country giving clinics and hosted a special coaches clinic every summer at the Olympic Training Center. He also answered numerous inquiries every month from aspiring coaches looking for help. And Harold has not been the only one working. College coaches across the country have been conducting more clinics in recent years, as have I through the Evergreen Athletic Fund. Track Coach also published an article I wrote on teaching youth to throw the hammer in their latest edition. There are already many hammer coaches and we are working hard to expand their ranks.
There are not enough athletes – Some argue that the USATF should not add the event since only a few athletes participate in it. It is true that only a few states offer the event as an official high school event. However, thanks to the Junior Olympic program, athletes are now spread across the country. In 2010, athletes from more than 25 states were represented on Bob Gourley’s national rankings of the top 100 throwers and the top six boys came from six different states. We have worked to compile state records and nearly every state has had a thrower break its record over the past decade. In 2010 alone, 19 state records were bettered. The beauty of adding the hammer as an official youth event is that it will give athletes a chance to compete even where they are not allowed to do so at school. For example, one 8th grade boy and girl (14 years olds) made it onto this year’s national rankings even though could not find a sanctioned competition. In this era of budget concerns many schools are looking at limiting funding of athletics. Therefore, it will be even more important for non school initiatives to be supported, including club athletics and USATF youth participation.
There are not sufficient facilities – Again, this rule change would not increase the demand for facilities. Again, while it is easier to find a place to run than it is to throw the hammer, there are presumably enough facilities already since the event is allowed for older youth throwers. Adding it for a younger age group will not create an increased need for facilities.
Youth are too young for the event – This is not what the IAAF believes. The IAAF is in support of youth hammer throwing and has recognized the need to begin training young in order to produce top results. They sanction the hammer throw at the youth level and recommend the same lightweight implements for 13 and 14 year olds. Canada allows the hammer down to the 12 year old age group despite having perhaps fewer or more isolated coaches and hammer facilities. These young men and women are not toddlers, they are on the verge of entering high school. They are old enough to officially throw the javelin and compete in the pole vault. The hammer throw is not too much for them to handle. For example, a Hungarian who is just one year older this age group threw the 4-kilogram hammer over 280 feet this year.
The hammer throw is too dangerous – Whether it is danger to the participant or others that is being raised as an issue, neither is a valid basis for rejecting the proposal. Like all events, the hammer can pose risks, but statistics have shown that it isn’t dangerous. My experience has been that safety is the first topic discussed when coaching, conducting clinics and during competitions. Safety is a concern in all areas of daily life (commuting to work, at work, at school, at play, etc.), but that does not mean that all activities are dangerous to such an extent that they should be avoided. If danger or safety was the primary criteria, then javelin, discus, pole vault, football, etc. would all need to be reevaluated. Insurance data in Rhode Island (the state with the largest number of high school throwers) show that there have been no claims for injury from the event. Risks may even be lower with younger kids since they are not throwing the hammer as far and are using lighter implements. The event also does not pose a substantial risk of harm to the thrower since injury rates are much lower than the javelin and other track and field events.
As I said last week, I encourage you all to express your opinions to Youth Committee chairman Lionel Leach (917-913-5505, firstname.lastname@example.org). While his mind is made up, it will help our cause both now and in the future for him to know the number of youth coaches and throwers nationwide. Specifically, he feels that even the coaches we have are unattached and have just one or two athletes. This is not the case and hopefully you can provide him with examples to the contrary.
What will be even more effective is to utilize contacts you have at USATF. Obviously, if you know someone at the top, get them on our side and voicing their support to the Youth Committee. But more importantly, if you know someone involved with youth athletics at the association level, have them contact Mr. Leach too. Mr. Leach is very concerned about the impact the rule change will have on the local associations since they must implement the rules. Having those same people support us will provide us with tremendous support.
Finally, you can always attend the USATF Youth Committee Meeting and show your support. While opportunities to participate there may be limited, support never hurts.
Whether this rule change passes or not, we need to keep this issue front and center so that we can continue to provide more opportunities for American hammer throwers well into the future.