How to Keep Score at a Track & Field Meet
Not all track meets are scored the same, or even scored at all. The size and purpose of a meet determines how it’s scored. For meets where teams compete (not just individuals), a score is generally kept. Consequently, most scored meets are school competitions. There are two common types of scored meets:
- Dual or tri meets: Two or three teams compete head-to-head.
- Championship meets: Usually conferences or national meets, individual and team champions are determined.
Knowing how scoring works is important for everyone involved: The coaches, athletes, and the fans. Follow along and you’ll learn the basics of how to keep score at a track and field meet.
Athletes score points for their team by placing in each event (first place receiving the most points, and so on). The depth of scoring (how many athletes score in each event) varies. Meets with more teams typically have more depth. The most common depths for scoring are three, six, and eight. Respectively, this means that the top three, six, or eight athletes will be given points in each event. In championship meets, relay events are typically scored in this manner. It’s common in dual meets, though, to only award points to the first-place relay team.
Below is an example of how points would be awarded if the depth of scoring was eight :
- First place: 10 points
- Second place: Eight points
- Third place: Six points
- Fourth place: Five points
- Fifth place: Four points
- Sixth place: Three points
- Seventh place: Two points
- Eighth place: One point
Typical six-person scoring is 10-8-6-4-2-1. Three-person scoring is most common in dual or tri meets, scored 5-3-1 and 5-0 for relays.
Notice that in each case, the scoring benefits those who place higher disproportionately more than those who place lower.
Commonly Contested Events
In every track meet, regardless of the level, there are certain events that are commonly contested.
At the high school level, there are 14 events that are most commonly contested:
- Eight track events: It’s common to have three sprint races, one distance race, two hurdle races, and two middle-distance races. In high school, the 1,500-meter or 1,600-meter is often considered a distance race.
- Six field events: All four jumping events (the high jump, long jump, pole vault, and triple jump) and usually two throwing events are contested. The shot put and discus are standard high school throwing events, but the javelin and hammer are often left out for safety reasons.
At the collegiate level, there are 18 commonly contested events:
- 10 track events: There are generally three sprint races, two middle-distance races, two distance races, two hurdle races, and the steeplechase.
- Eight field events: There are usually four throwing events and four jumping events.
Nuances of Team Scoring
The breakdown of events has a huge impact on team scoring. For example, athletes who can sprint and jump, as well as middle-distance runners, are more able to compete successfully in multiple events compared to throwers or distance runners.
Consequently, teams that are strong in the middle distances or sprints and jumps are able to score in more events than teams that are only strong in throws or long distances. This is particularly true as the level of competition rises. There are two things that weigh heavily on how a team breaks up its event groups:
- The number of events contested within each event group
- The depth of scoring used at the meet
When athletes are capable of competing in multiple events, it becomes important to strategically plan how to best match a team’s athletes against the competition. A team essentially wants to place more athletes in the events they can score in, whether or not it’s their best event.
The size of the meet also indirectly impacts the strength of a team’s event groups. In smaller meets, a greater number of athletes from each team have a greater impact on scoring. At larger meets, fewer athletes from each team are likely to place (score). Consequently, a single point goes farther at a larger meet.
While it often takes well over 100 points to win a conference championship, it’s often impossible for a single athlete to score enough points to ensure victory for her team. However, Bonnie Richardson did the impossible. Richardson was able to win two consecutive Texas high school state team championships singlehandedly. Once in 2008 and again in 2009, Richardson competed in five events: The discus, 100m, 200m, high jump, and long jump. Scoring in all five events gave her 42 points in 2008 and 38 points in 2009. In both cases, Richardson’s points alone were enough to give her school the victory.
Watching a scored meet can be very exciting because a different team can take the lead at the end of each event. In a close competition, a small shift can make a big difference.
Following the score yourself will definitely require a pen and paper. Luckily, most meets will have an announcer who updates the scores as each event concludes. Still, there are a number of things you can do to help yourself follow along with the scoring:
- Know how many athletes score in each event: It’s important to know the depth of scoring ahead of time. That way, if an athlete from the team you’re rooting for gets eighth place, you’ll know whether it counts for anything. You’ll also know which teams are getting the most points in each event.
- Figure out the strengths & weaknesses: Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each team will help you figure out what and who to look for in each of the scheduled events.
- Know the remaining events: If your team is down 11 points, but strong in the remaining events, you can stay optimistic about the final outcome.
Sit Back & Enjoy the Meet
Scored meets tell you that it’s going to be a team competition, and that means more advanced tactics and a stronger connection among the teams as a whole. Now that you’ve read this guide, you can follow along and appreciate the scoring at any track and field meet.