The Why Of The Cross Country Scrimmage

It almost, but not quite, feels like the start of the season when the gun goes off for the start of a scrimmage race. Photo by Alan Versaw.

Note: This is (mostly) a rerun of an article from August of 2016.

Many of you are pointed toward a cross country scrimmage on Saturday. But, what, exactly, is a cross country scrimmage, and why do teams do them?

A scrimmage is a kind of cross country meet that isn't really a meet. The main thing that makes a scrimmage not a meet is that CHSAA rules expressly forbid official timing or scoring of the meet. Mind you, coaches are busy timing their athletes, but nobody gets together and figures out who won the team scoring (it is, however, usually evident enough who won the individual race).

Most teams do not wear school uniforms for scrimmages, though I tried in vain earlier this week to find that as a written rule in the CHSAA bylaws.

To participate, an athlete must have participated in five official practices (not counting more than one per day) prior to the scrimmage. That means anyone who missed a day of practice this week should NOT be running in a scrimmage on Saturday. That's not to say those same kids could not run in a local 5K this Saturday, only that to participate with their team in a scrimmage meet on Saturday, they must have the requisite five practices in.

As a matter of fact, there are a few teams around the state that purposely run in a local 5K rather than participating in a scrimmage. Among other things, it can allow a coach to get a more focused view of just his or her own athletes, and it does neatly circumvent the five-practice rule. I am not, however, assigning motives to coaches who employ this practice. I'm certain they have their own reasons.

So, why a scrimmage? Or why a local 5K?

The answer to that depends a lot on the athlete. For a new-to-high-school-cross-country-runner, a scrimmage is a great opportunity to learn the race-day routine without the added pressure of racing for a team score or a particular place or time. It is a "light" learning session. Among other things, you learn you don't just show up five minutes before the race and run. You also learn that there's typically some jostling involved in the first 400 meters or so of a race. 

And, for these typically younger athletes, a scrimmage race is a great place to start learning about pacing, and maybe a little about tactics, too. This way, they feel (or at least should feel) a little more confident and a little less anxious heading into the first invitational in another week or two. 

For more experienced athletes, it's a nice reminder of what running 5K at an elevated pace feels like, once again without the pressure of a regular invitational meet. It's also a nice checkpoint on fitness relative to last fall.

For both, it's a nice break from the usual practice routine, though the more experienced runners on your team likely aren't done running for the day when they reach the finish line of the scrimmage.

For parents, it's a fabulous opportunity to meet and greet all the other parents on the team that you'll be sharing experiences with through the fall. 

Each team is allowed two scrimmages during the season, plus an additional scrimmage between regionals and state. Honestly, I've never heard of a team doing more than one scrimmage per season. It just doesn't happen--and especially not between regionals and state. But, so that all sports under the CHSAA umbrella are treated equally, the two-plus-one model for scrimmages applies to cross country as well. 

To repeat something mentioned at the top of the article, do not expect to see scrimmage results on Colorado Track XC or elsewhere in print. By CHSAA rule, no official times are kept or reported from a scrimmage. Undoubtedly, your coach has a stopwatch on every kid on the team, but the record of those times should not otherwise appear in publication.

So, whatever your reasons and whatever your motivations, enjoy your scrimmage on Saturday. And, remember that bigger things will follow.