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Dr. J. on Running

Track Etiquette for Officials

Meets Require Structure

Published January 17, 2000 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

A successful track meet requires collaboration among athletes, officials and spectators. Track etiquette dictates the desirable conduct of athletes and spectators. "Stay off the mats." "Look both ways before you cross the track." "Keep your boom box at home." "Mind your language and appearance." "Do not bring food or drink into the arena."

Evidently, many developmental track meets aim to develop athletes, and feature a certain level of informal and casual administration. However, at least a few select meets must provide legitimate competition and professional conduct. The burden rests with the officials.

Track etiquette for officials aims at elevating competitive track meets above the all-comers developmental status. My top picks include:

  • Require early registration: eliminating on-site entry simplifies meet administration, improves planning, and permits smooth execution.
  • Obey the rules: all track and field meets must follow the national and international rules of competition. Proper curbing and timing validates record performances. Thorough documentation and timely submission of results should be the norm.
  • Charge an admission fee: in a society that subscribes to the principle that "you get what you pay for", meet directors should charge every athlete and every spectator a nominal admission fee, even as little as $1.
  • Print and distribute a program: early registration permits assigning a unique bib number to each athlete. Admission fees permit printing and distributing a program containing a detailed schedule of events, complete with the names and numbers of every athlete in every event with their predicted performances.
  • Start the meet with the Star Spangled Banner: a track meet is a celebration of our freedom, our rights and our privileges as citizens, and serves as a remembrance of past generations and a reminder to future generations.
  • Choose one athlete to recite the code of athletic sportsmanship on behalf of all competitors.
  • Run the meet on time: in deference to the athletes' need for proper warm-up and out of respect to the spectators, the schedule of events must specify a start time for every event. If officials insist on finish times to the nearest hundredth of a second, they can certainly strive for start times to the nearest minute.
  • Announce the line-up and the results of every race: a knowledgeable announcer can communicate with the audience. Call each competitor to the line, and announce the results of every event acknowledging the lengthy preparation of these athletes.
  • Limit the competition to one heat per event: few things in life are more boring than an hour-and-a-half of 55-meter hurdle heats. I prefer a richer selection of events and shorter meets instead of endless repetition.
  • Invite as many teams as you have lanes: collegiate and scholastic invitational meets should limit the number of teams to the width of the track. In the true spirit of competition, one athlete per lane per event adds to the excitement of the meet.
  • Establish entry standards: unlike fun runs and developmental meets that cater to the masses, competitive track meets should establish entry standards commensurate with their missions. I prefer to see separate novice, elite and masters meets. Those athletes not competing become valuable volunteers and spectators.
  • Provide healthy concessions: every track meet must have a concession stand catering to the needs of the athletes, spectators and officials alike. Hot soups, cooked foods and fresh baked desserts satisfy more than the needs of the body.
  • Keep the media informed: an early press release announcing a meet and inviting the local press to cover it, and friendly results at its completion go a long way towards involving the media in our sports.
  • Take advantage of the Internet: the World-Wide Web is the preferred medium for posting meet entry forms and complete results. Organizers should also consider accepting electronic entry forms, emailing the results to all participants, and even webcasting live the entire meet.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains, the world leader in live track webcasting, and receives email at

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