Over-Seeding: Just Part of the Game, or Plague on our Sport?


Don't let yourself become a victim!  A public-service announcement from your friendly neighborhood webmaster.


Veteran coaches talk about it whenever they sit together, shaking their heads in a mixture of amusement and resigned disgust.  Parents in the stands wonder to each other whether their children are being affected by it.  Athletes may even be unaware that it's happening right beside them.  It's OVER-SEEDING, and some people think it's one of the biggest problems in the sport of track & field.  Before you decide if you're at risk from OVER-SEEDING, make sure you have the facts!



  • When coaches enter athletes into large meets (or championship meets), they are required to provide a "mark" (time, distance, or height) that indicates the athlete's ability level.  These marks are used to arrange the athletes into "heats" or "sections" (depending on the event) with athletes of relatively equal ability.  This process is called "seeding," and so the marks are called "seeds."
  • Sometimes, coaches enter athletes with seeds that are beyond their actual ability level.  That's OVER-SEEDING.


What causes OVER-SEEDING?

  • Sometimes, coaches practice DELIBERATE OVER-SEEDING.  For example, the athlete may have been performing well in practice, but not had a chance to demonstrate that in meets.  These coaches attempt to calculate which heat the athlete "belongs" in, and then adjusts the seed mark to make that happen.  This tactic can backfire tragically if the calculations are off and the athlete ends up in a section that is too fast.
  • If the meet is the first of the season for the athlete, the coach is forced to estimate the athlete's ability level.  This can create ACCIDENTAL OVER-SEEDING.  Lack of experience on the part of the coach can make this occurrence much more likely.
  • One of the most subtle forms is OVERLY OPTIMISTIC OVER-SEEDING.  This happens when coaches confuse potential with current ability, and come to believe that the athlete just needs to be in a fast race to "bring out the best" in him or her.  This aspect of the disease has a close cousin in school systems all over the world, but that is a story for another day.
  • In rare cases, problems with seed marks can escalate, leading to HABITUAL OVER-SEEDING.  Coaches can bring shameful reputations down upon their schools when their athletes are regularly seeded over their heads.  Unfortunately, this advanced form of the condition is often accompanied by a devastating case of APPARENT TOTAL CLUELESSNESS, rendering the coach unaware of the snickers and side-eyes that cast in the program's direction.  (This is truly the saddest version of this terrible disease.)
  • In some cases, what appears to be OVER-SEEDING might be an honest mistake, such as hitting the wrong key combined with failure to proofread.


What harm does OVER-SEEDING cause?

  • Athletes can be victimized by OVER-SEEDING when they are placed in sections that are too fast for their current ability level.  This can result in severe embarrassment for the athlete and for the school, as the athlete is unable to hang with the competition in the race.
  • There is a more insidious way that OVER-SEEDING can affect athletes.  For every athlete that gets into a faster heat with a faulty seed mark, someone else is "bumped" out of that race and has to compete in a slower one.  In this way, top-flight athletes that are honestly seeded are denied the competition they deserve, and the public is denied the opportunity to witness the best match-ups.


Can OVER-SEEDING be cured?

  • There is hope!  OVER-SEEDING can be fought by exposing the behaviors that lead to problems.  In this era of published seed times and results, we can shine the bright light of truth (not to mention fully-automatic timing or "FAT") on this terrible condition in all its forms.  AlabamaRunners is proud to play a role in helping to bring this scourge to an end.
  • Be careful not to blame the athletes; they are just victims of OVER-SEEDING and are not responsible.  


OVER-SEEDING.  Just don't do it even once.  No.