Running in high school gives BYU athletes a boost in other sports

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BYU women’s soccer players Rachel Bingham, left, and Madie Lyons, right, pose with BYU soccer coach Chris Watkins, center, at the 5A high school track and field state championships in 2014. Bingham, Lyons and dozens of other BYU athletes benefit from running in high school in addition to playing their main sports. (Matt Lyons)

Several BYU athletes ran track or cross country in high school to improve their athleticism and mental toughness in their respective sports.

“Track is so hard,” Lyons said. “You would think, ‘It’s just a race. It’s just running.’ But it’s a lot harder than people make it seem to be.”

Lyons and fellow BYU soccer player Briana Hatch ran on their high school track teams while also playing on club soccer teams.

BYU baseball player Mason Marshall began running cross country his freshman year at Bingham High school. The right-handed pitcher said he hoped it would improve his chances of making the school’s baseball team in the spring.

“I wasn’t very good at football, so I decided to run cross country,” Marshall said. “I ended up being kind of good, so I just stuck with it.”

Marshall ran his freshman through junior years of high school and lettered all three years. He said he would have loved to run his senior year, but chose to focus on baseball to help prepare to receive an athletic scholarship.

Gary Rowles coaches both the cross country and track and field teams at Highland High School in Salt Lake City. Rowles said some coaches prefer their players to specialize in one specific sport year-round while others like their players to diversify themselves.

“I see a trend towards specialized (sports), but (the) reverse is actually more beneficial,” Rowles said.

Rowles said his purpose is to teach his athletes how to run efficiently. They may not all be the fastest, but running efficiently will improve each of their speeds.

Learning proper running technique made a big difference for Lyons. She said soccer players often have short strides, running with their feet close to the ground. But you can lengthen your stride through pumping your arms and picking up your feet.

“With soccer, we’re sprinting, but we don’t know the techniques and so when we actually learn the techniques, it makes us that much faster,” Lyons said.

BYU women’s soccer player Madie Lyons, center, sprints for Alta High School. Running track benefitted Lyons as a soccer player. (Matt Lyons)

Marshall said the individual effort of cross country helped him as a pitcher. Pitchers need to be well-conditioned because they use their whole bodies to throw the ball as hard as they can over the mound.

“With the running, it kept me in shape,” Marshall said. “I could last a long time in games and I didn’t ever get real sore or I could throw on few days’ rest.”

Competitive running also requires mental toughness. Lyons said the individual effort in track was challenging because she was used to relying on her teammates in soccer.

“Mentally, it was really hard that I had to rely on myself,” Lyons said. “I think it made me stronger mentally.”

The mental toughness Marshall gained on the cross country course helped him play through pain on the baseball field. He learned to just keep going to the finish.

“You’ve got to be in shape, but you have to have that mentality when everything hurts — because it does hurt — that your mind just shuts it off and tells you to keep going,” Marshall said.

Playing multiple sports also brings other mental benefits. Marshall said focusing too much on one sport can be overwhelming and make him feel burnt out. Running track gave soccer player Brianna Hatch a break and helped to relieve stress.

“Especially if you’re focusing on other sports, it’s always good to have another sport just to relax you and not be so worried and stressed about,” she said.

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