Our season has got off to a fast start! As of this writing, we have had two throwing sessions and two weight room sessions. Two of our fab five are still in the middle of their volleyball and soccer seasons respectfully. Another thrower had a family emergency this week. That leaves us with two throwers that have practice with me.
As with life, we have to roll with the punches. It is difficult to prepare for situations that come up out of nowhere. One really cannot predict that something is going to take us away from sport for any length of time. However, a few days lost at the beginning of the season are hardly enough to cause panic or frustration in an athlete. She may tell you otherwise, but a couple of days to be with loved ones in a different state will not be cause the demise of a season.
That is why my expectations for each season are very similar to one another. Our team expectations are:
The only person that truly knows if they have given their best effort is the athlete. If they are able to leave practice, look themselves in the mirror, and be happy with their effort for the day, I consider that a win. As an aside, I attended SUNY Fredonia’s Alumni Weekend this past weekend. The current SUNY Fredonia Head Coach and I were teammates for two years (2001-2002). We were talking about effort and accountability a lot with many of the alums that were in attendance. From the sounds of the conversation we had, how one defines effort and expectations has definitely changed from the late 1970’s.
The 1976-77 track & field team was honorarily inducted into our sports hall of fame as being recognized as the first track team to win a SUNYAC championship. It was the start of a string of 20 consecutive outdoor SUNYAC track championships. In discussion, she shared some stories of how their coaches coached, and what they expected of everyone. Now, to give you some perspective, each track team through the late 70’s into the late 90’s had at least 2 All-Americans each season. In some cases, they would outscore each other team combined at the SUNYAC indoor and outdoor championships. Think about that for a second. One team would outscore the remaining seven or eight teams combined. The 1988 team scored a phenomenal 300 points at the indoor SUNYAC meet, scoring places 1-6. They swept the shot-put and weight throw, scoring over 60 points for the team in just those two events. That is a ridiculous number!
Maybe we are blurring the lines a bit between culture and expectations, but one thrower told me that it was expected that everyone would score at a championship meet. Tough to do when you sweep places 1-6 and have seven or eight throwers. In 2018, SUNY Brockport men’s shot-putters placed 2-8. That is even more ridiculous to think about today. They placed 7 of 8 men. Talk about giving your best effort when it counts!
I have only had a couple of experiences in which teammates were not as supportive of each other as I would have liked. I told them as such after they almost got into a fight at a meet. Their competitive nature got the best of them, and they had to be separated during one of the outdoor meets. I’m all for competition. However, I pulled them both aside during the meet and as nicely as possible expressed my disdain and concern for their actions. Even though they were in the middle of a fierce discus competition, I told them that in under no certain conditions that they should communicate and act towards each other the way they did that day, especially in front of other coaches and athletes. It was embarrassing.
Encouragement is key. I have made it a point to have individual conversations with each thrower I’ve coached over the years at some point before the start of a competition. No long lectures or anything of the sort, but I make it a point to stress their strengths, great things they accomplished during the week, and to enjoy themselves during the meet. I have some new activities I’m going to try out this season. With such a larger group of throwers than we have had in the past, I’m going to involve each athlete more than I have in the past.
I listened to a podcast the other day in which Jon Gordon interviewed Tim Ferris. In the interview, Jon asked Tim what advice he had for writers that were just getting started with their craft. Tim said that he encouraged people to write their first books for themselves and maybe a friend or two. Just start writing, even if you are writing for yourself. I wish I would have listened to that episode when it first came out. I probably would have finished my book sooner than I did.
What I have found in coaching and teaching alike is that your attitude and the effort you put into a task are directly correlated to that task being finished or being successful. You cannot fake those two traits. Either you are moving forward with a task and have a positive attitude or you don’t. You either put forth great effort or you don’t. There really isn’t anything in between. A great talk Lou Holtz gave a couple of years ago goes into much more detail than what I described. I’m a firm believer in his message. Either you are growing or dying. Accountability, attitude and effort may be the most important ingredients in throwing successes. Either you hold yourself accountable or you don’t. You have a positive attitude or you don’t. You put forth effort or you don’t.
The last one is pretty simple to understand on the surface. Do what is right and avoid things that may get you in trouble. Another great message from Lou Holtz that I first began to incorporate at SUNY Fredonia back in 2004. Many of the athletes I’ve coached have gone on to become classroom teachers and administrators in some capacity in a school district. One of the big ideas I always preached was to not do something that would cost you the opportunity to continue pursuing your career goals. Our campus newspaper would post a section similar to a police blotter in some of the larger newspapers. I stressed the importance of not doing anything that would cause you to have your name printed in that section. That goes for all majors and career paths. I am more familiar with education, and sat in on interviews that things like that cost people a job offer in a school district. Just don’t put yourself in a situation you think may lead you there.
Those are the four big tenants I discuss with my throwers at the beginning, middle, and end of the season. As a team, we have 9 tenants that we go over as a whole team. They are all important. I choose to focus on these four because they are directly correlated (in my opinion, I have not conducted the research) to building a positive and nurturing culture where athletes are able to thrive and grow as individuals. If they throw far along the way, awesome. In the long run, throwing far comes a distant second. My main goal is to make sure my athletes are safe and leave Nazareth College better prepared to tackle the obstacles they will encounter after they graduate. Doing what is right, giving a great effort, being accountable, supporting people, and having a positive attitude will do that.
As always, thanks for reading ~ Charles
Dr. Charles Infurna
Charles Infurna, Ed.D., is the owner and lead coach of Forza Athletics Track Club. Dr. Infurna has coached National Record Holders, National Champions, All-Americans, and Conference Champions at the Post-Collegiate, Collegiate, and High School level.