Why Track Matters in Football
Each sport has their own identity, their own sense of pride. To the sports fan, each athlete they see is 100% dedicated to that sport. The reality is there are multi-sport athletes, especially in the developmental stages for an athlete. The idea of cross training and competing in multiple sports is not new. The top athletes have all cross trained, from Venus and Serena Williams, to myself, to Deion Sanders, to Bo Jackson and beyond. And yes, some are so good at their cross training sports, they can play them at the pro level too.
The Curious Case of Lynn Swann
If you're in football or a sports fan, you know Hall of Fame Receiver Lynn Swann. I've had the pleasure of meeting him and knowing the person - let me tell you, there's a reason he's accomplished all that he has. Football fans know that Swann has four Superbowl wins with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001. Swann is many things, and yes they're all champion qualities. What he was doing as a rising star in college and the Pros proved the concept worked - he ran Track. I've never asked him if Track was a love (first or second to football) or if it was a cross training moment. What I saw was something amazing happening with the rise of his incredible talent. In 1970 Swann won the CIF California State Track and Field Championship title in Long Jump. Incidentally, the person he beat yes the #2 guy, Randy Williams went on to win gold in the 1972 Olympics.
For many collegiate football players, Track & Field opened the door to better strength and conditioning. I don't know if this was Swann's motive, but for me, playing at Purdue, running Track got me out of Spring Ball (in single-digit weather). Hey everyone has a motive right? Just like Lynn Swann, I wanted to find my competitive edge. I wanted to expose my body and mind to a different type of competition. Track allowed me to face an opponent doing the same thing I was trying to do - be the fastest and win. Track taught me to focus on all of the fundamentals and techniques that made me better than my opponents. In Track, the starter gun goes off, and the best athlete wins at that moment. I lived for that. It was exhilarating and what I needed to build a champion's mindset.
Track gave me an opportunity to focus on technique, grit, overcoming fatigue, strength, and learning how to vomit and still keep going (Thanks Coach Poehlein). Why do football players run Track? Because the best in football showed them what they can become.
Rod Woodson + Speed Equals Destiny
Who would have thought that out of all of the schools I had to choose from, that a guy from Fort Wayne, Indiana would be on the right side of the field as a Corner and playing Safety locking down the back end at Purdue with me? Remember I was switched to Corner when I got to Purdue. Having Woodson on the other side meant a few things. One, if I didn't get it together quick, I was going to see a lot of action - and that wasn't a good thing if I wasn't ready. Second, we came in the same year - we had a chance to dominate if we did what we were recruited to do. So now, I'm 18 years old playing on the opposite side of the field with this guy - I'd better rise to the occasion. Woodson and I both ran Track. Like I mentioned, for me it was a way to avoid Spring Ball and training in cold winter weather. Indoor Track was first, and that was all I needed to become a dual sport collegiate athlete. What happened during track was nothing short of magic at Purdue during that time. The Purdue Track & Field team - coaches included were dead serious about winning. They didn't care if you were in your "second sport", they cared about you giving your "first sport" effort. I don't think people realized how strong and fast Woodson was at Purdue. I had a front row seat to his talent, and I tell this story all of the time...
There was a particular Track meet, and Woodson ran the 60 meter hurdles. He not only knocked down every single hurdle, he won and set the NCAA record that day (one that still holds at Purdue University). Even more impressive, while running Track at Purdue, Woodson qualified for the 1984 Olympic Trials in the 110 meter hurdles. While Woodson did elect to pursue Football instead of Track, if you're curious, the 1984 Olympics (held in Los Angeles, CA, USA) saw Roger Kingdom of the U.S. win the gold - who was from the University of Pittsburgh on a Football scholarship but elected to pursue Track professionally.
Darrell Green Is Speed Period
Playing with Darrell Green was an education into work ethic, greatness, and ability. I remember watching him in practice, like this can't be real. Playing on the other side of the field with Green, meant I had to be ready. We've had the good fortune of teaming up and speaking to groups since retirement. We always talk about what made us better was our willingness to redefine better each day. I went to the Redskins as the "young guy", but I was 8 years into my career, Green was 13 years in, and he was still faster than me! We were a duo that I hope the fans enjoyed watching, because having him on Sundays in the back field with me was a good combination.
We had some fun with some shirts that we made up back then, "Old and Older, Fast and Faster". Yes I still have mine and it makes me laugh. We outpaced a ton of people because we had work ethic that was cultivated in part during our Track & Field days. Yes you guessed it, Darrell Green ran Track and was incredible. He racked up 10 All-American certificates in Track & Field before turning Professional. When I got to the Redskins I noticed that Green would run AFTER our practices. He would lap the stadium inside and out. He would do all of the extra, and after 20 seasons, it made his difference. Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008, the Football and Track star remains a sports phenom.
It's About Work Ethic
I want athletes to think about that. The football players who chose to cross train with Track used their minds to condition their feet, and those feet blossomed into long successful careers as professionals. Cross training with another sport trains your mind in new ways that your "main sport" may not do. Also, cross training offers mental and physical conditioning that your competitors may not have. This means you get a leg up - and hopefully two faster, stronger legs than your "main sport" competitor. Fast forward in my own example I continued to train in Track & Field while playing 13 years in the Pros, we all did. In the off seasons I trained with Coach Rahn Sheffield in San Diego, CA. Martin Bayless, Robert Griffin, Bubba McDowell and a few other players would be my training partners. We trained hard together and loved the spirit of what it meant to be working toward better versions of our best. That's what Track gave us. It gave us a mentality to win, an opportunity to win, and that's what made us winners in other areas of our lives.
The Best Advice I Can Give Football Players
If you're playing the sport, run Track. If you want to be the best in football, run Track. If you're tired one day and you don't want go to practice, get over it, and get to Track practice.
I'll see you on the field.