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Track & Field Meet

Track meets are a great way to let kids explore a variety of events and are easily organized for schools or the community.

Tags: event guide

Track and field meets are typically held in the spring or summer (or winter if indoor facilities are available). They include sprints, distance races, and field events that revolve around throws and jumps. These instructions are for a low-key "open" track meet where individuals choose their events and events are scored by heat or division. If you are looking to put on a more competitive or official track and field event, you should refer to the official USATF rules and use certified officials.

1- EVENT LOGISTICS

Great events start weeks in advance with thorough planning and forethought. Use the following resources to prepare:

  • The Event Planning Guide will help you consider the important elements in staging your athletic event.
  • The Planning Timeline will help you carefully schedule your event preparations.
  • The Track & Field Meet Staffing and Supplies Checklist will help you assign roles to your colleagues and ensure you have everything you need for a successful event.

2- LOCATION/VENUE

You will need a safe and accessible track for this event. A 6- or 8-lane track of 400 meters is preferable, but a smaller track can work if needed.

  • Look for a track at nearby high schools or community colleges; you can also contact your local parks department.
  • Make sure the lanes and all start and finish lines are clearly marked. Use tape or chalk to define lines and a measuring wheel to measure distances, if necessary.
  • The facilities available will, in part, dictate the field events you can include. See the Events section below for more information.

3- DIVISIONS

Typically, participants compete in groups based on age and gender. Decide on divisions based on the range of participants you expect.

  • Boys and girls usually compete separately, but may be combined for the longer running events if there is only a small group.
  • If a relay team is short a runner, consider having a girl run on a boys relay team or a younger runners joining an older team in order to allow everyone to race.
  • If you have a large number of participants, give them a colored wrist band, sticker, or other identifier for their division to make it easier to group them at each event.
  • Depending on the overall number of participants, each division may need to be subdivided into smaller groups, called heats, to avoid having too many runners starting at once.

4- EVENTS

We suggest you choose a range of events that include at least one sprint, long distance race, relay, throw, and jump. The number and type of events you choose will depend on time, space, and participant interest and ability.

*1500-meter run can be considered long distance for younger age divisions. 

*1500-meter and 3000-meter runs can be substituted for 1 and 2-mile runs, respectively.

Here are some of the most common events to choose from:

  • Sprints: 100, 200, 400 meters
  • Middle Distance: 800, 1500 meters *
  • Long Distance: 1500, 3000 meters *
  • Relays: 4x100, 4x400 meters
  • Jumps: Long jump
  • Throws: Shot put

All running events finish at the same place but may have different start lines. Check out the standard start and finish locations for each race when run on a 400-meter track.

Sprints have one runner per lane in each heat. Remind runners to stay in their lane for the whole race to avoid disqualification. You may choose to be lenient with beginners, but sprints are difficult to score if runners don't stay in their lane. Because outer lanes are longer than inner lanes, used staggered starts for the 200 and 400-meter dashes as shown here.

Middle and long distance events have runners start on a curve as shown here and instruct them to move toward the inside lane after the start. Each heat can include 15 or so runners.

Relays are made up of 4 runners per team. Relay teams in the 4x100-meter dash must stay in their own lanes. Only the first runner on each team in a 4x400-meter dash must stay in his/her own lane. Use a staggered start for both events, as shown here. Make sure to have staff on hand to line up each leg of the relay teams in their appropriate places.

Long jump participants run at full speed down a runway and jump as far as they can into a sandpit. A jump does not count if a participant steps over the takeoff board/marking located at the end of the runway; for beginners you might be forgiving of this rule. The jump is measured from the front edge of the takeoff board/marking to the nearest point of contact in the sand-filled pit. (For example, if a participant jumps and then falls backwards on their hands, the jump is measured as far as the hand marking.)

Shot put is usually performed from a circular concrete base with a toeboard at the front; an official shot put circle is not necessary. Athletes start by crouching low on one foot with their back to the toeboard and the shot held below the chin. They then twist and thrust toward the front of the circle and shove the shot forward. The athlete may touch but not go beyond the top of the toeboard. The throw is then measured from the toeboard to where the shot put first lands. Given the weight of the shot, it's important that kids are trained and supervised properly to avoid injury. Beginners can start by practicing throwing technique while standing still at the toeboard. Use these weights for children:

  • Ages 5-6: 400 grams
  • Ages 7-8: 2.2 lbs
  • Ages 9-10: 3.3 lbs
  • Ages 11-12 year olds: 6 lbs for girls and 4 kg for boys
  • 13-15 year olds 4 kg for girls and 12 lbs for boys

5- SCHEDULE

Establish a schedule of events, post it clearly, and make regular announcements during the meet.

  • Estimate how long each event will take. While sprints are quick, they usually draw the most participants and require multiple heats.
  • If you run ahead of schedule, let participants know in advance that this may happen.
  • Move through the divisions in the same order for each event. We recommend starting with the youngest divisions first.
  • If you hold track and field events simultaneously, tell any participants doing both to go to their running race/heat first and then the field event.
  • You might need to limit the number of events each participant does to two or four events to keep your meet on schedule. If you do, have staff check in advance that athletes are not participating in too many events.
  • Relays are often a fun event to end a meet with.
  • Have staff at the start of each event checking participants and only allowing the appropriate athletes near the starting line.

6- TIMING AND SCORING

Timing and scoring differs from event to event:

  • For sprints where there will be one runner per lane, write down who is in each lane before the start of the race. You can use this sample track heat sheet for that purpose. Give that sheet to someone at the finish line. Try to have one timer per lane. Each timer starts his or her watch when the starter blows the whistle and/or signals the start by lowering a raised arm in a quick chopping motion. Each timer stops their watch when the runner in their assigned lane crosses the finish line. We recommend someone watch the finish line as an added judge for tight races. Have timers record results on the heat sheet.
  • For distance races where the runners will not stay in a specific lane, you can use one timer. If you have an advanced stopwatch, the timer can click it each time someone crosses the finish. Someone else can be in charge noting each runner's finish place. Do this by keeping the runners in order until you can take down their names. Later, match the first time to the first finisher and so on. If you do not have an advanced stopwatch, the timer should call out the time when each runner crosses the finish line for someone else to write down. Again, you can match the times and finishers up after the race. An alternative is to call out the times and leave it up to runners to remember and report them.
  • For field events take down each athlete’s name on a sheet with the division clearly marked on the top. You can use this sample field event heat sheet. As each athlete competes, record their jump or throw distance next to their name. Typically each athlete gets three tries and their best score counts. Determine each athlete's place after all athletes in the heat (sometimes called a flight in field events) or division have finished.

Additional tips:

  • Give each athlete stickers to wear on their shirt with their name and division on it for each event they will participate in. Then collect their sticker and stick it onto the record sheets to track their time/distance and place at each event.
  • Keep events moving quickly by having someone run the heat sheets from the start to the finish for the sprints. You can line up multiple heats at a time in rows behind each other to get heat sheets ready in advance.

7- AWARDS

Awards are an optional component of the event. You can give awards to all finishers, top finishers in each heat, and/or top finishers in each division.

  • If giving awards to all participants, hand them out as athletes finish their race or field event. Specific ribbons for the top three  places and participant ribbons for the remainder are common awards.
  • If you give awards to the top finishers in each heat (in which case there will be multiple winners per division for each event) you can also give them out directly after the race or field event.
  • If you give awards to the top finishers in each division overall (in which case there will be only one winner per division for each event) you will need time to determine the best performances after all heats have finished and will have to call the athletes back to receive their award.

8- WATER

Have plenty of water on hand for runners.

  • We suggest 24 oz (3 cups) for each participant if there aren't available water fountains.
  • Set up a water table for thirsty participants. Buy gallon jugs of water and small cups.

9- ADDITIONAL IDEAS

Friendlies

Friendlies are simpler versions of track and field meets; there is no scoring involved and less focus on competition. Typically a Friendly is put on for 20-100 students and includes 3-4 short events that do not need to be official track and field events. For example, a Friendly could include one lap around the field race, a sprint down the field race, and a standing long jump. Students are divided into groups of 4-10 based on height, age, or ability; groups go one after the other until all students have participated before everyone moves on to the next event. The races and events are not timed, measured, or scored.

Team Scoring and Competitive Rules

If you are interested in team scoring or rules for a more competitive track and field meet, please contact youthprograms@nyrr.org for help with your event.

Spikes

For a track and field meet with many beginners, we suggest you disallow spikes; spikes are shoes with metal spikes that improve a runner's traction. Check with the venue about their rules about spikes.

10- RESOURCES

A complete list of Track & Field Event planning documents: 

Event Planning Guide (pdf)

Planning Timeline (pdf)

Track & Field Meet Staffing and Supplies Checklist (pdf)

Layout: Track Meet   (pdf)

Layout: Sprint Events Starts  (pdf)

Layout: Middle & Long Distance Events Starts  (pdf)

Layout: Relay Events  (pdf)

Heat Sheet: Track Events (pdf)

Heat Sheet: Field Events (pdf)

Sample Coach Instructions (pdf) 

Sample Staff and Volunteer Email (pdf)

USATF rules (website)

Youth and Schools