This year is the first time in as long as I can remember that I am not coaching at the collegiate level or enrolled in graduate school. For the past 10 years, I have either been enrolled in an administrative program, coaching, or taking doctorate level courses. This is the first time in a long time I have been able to take a breather during the fall semester of a collegiate semester.
It did not stop me from coaching Luis at the Nazareth College Alumni Meet this past Friday, December 6th. It was my first time coaching Luis in a meet since the 2016-2017 season. Not coaching collegiate athletes gave me the opportunity to sit, watch, and take in what was happening around me during the course of the evening.
Something interesting happened while I was at the meet with Luis. Not worrying about running around from event to event gave me the chance to really sit, be in the moment, and pay attention to what was happening around me. And believe me, I heard a lot. Much of what I heard was fairly common around the throwing circle. Other things, however, caught me off guard.
Conversation 1—Overhead Close to the Shot-Put Area
Coach—Nice job. That is a personal best by .5m.
Athlete—Yeah, I guess so. I was expecting to throw farther.
Coach—You threw a personal best by almost 2’.
Athlete—I thought I could have done better.
A couple of interesting things strike me about this conversation. First, it doesn’t seem like the coach or athlete had clear expectations of what to expect with this first meet. A personal best is always a great accomplishment. If the athlete expected more, it tells me that the athlete has had much better training sessions that would lead them to think they would have thrown farther at this meet. Also, it doesn’t seem like a plan was in place for the first meet. I would always tell my athletes that the first meet would serve as a benchmark for the remainder of the season and that they should be able to throw at least 90% of their personal best regardless of the conditions. In this particular situation the athlete accomplished that by hitting a new personal best, but was it at the expense of the remainder of the season? Lastly, this conversation also leads me to think that the athlete doesn’t have clear expectations of themselves for the season. Hitting a personal best is great. Hitting a personal best in the first meet is also great.
Conversation 2—Overheard at the Weight Throw Cage
Coach—Focus and be aggressive this meet.
Coach—Relax and get after this first throw (as athlete walks into the circle for their first throw)
I’m not really sure what to make of this one. Telling an athlete to focus in a meet is something that has boggled my mind for years. I’m 99.9% sure that most of the time athletes are trying to focus on throwing at a track meet. The other percentage I know is distracted by schoolwork, other things going on around them at the meet, etc. I know because on occasion my athletes take out course work and finish homework assignments in the middle of meets. To be honest, I’ve never observed this at Division I meets. What I mean is that I’ve never observed Division I throwers working on homework at track meets. I’ve been to my fair share of Division I meets over the years across the Northeast, and I’ve never noticed a Division I thrower or Division II thrower working on course work.
Anyway, getting back to being relaxed and aggressive at the same time. Yes, as athletes, we should be aware of our arousal levels in competition. We should be excited, but not that excited. We should be ready to compete, but not to the point that it will hinder our performance. In my opinion, this is something that takes practice and that athletes should be aware of how ‘jacked’ they get in practice to try and replicate those feelings in meets. In practice, it is much easier to practice because it is practice. That is the best time to work on new things, rather than trying something new at the meet for the first time.
Conversation 3—Before the Start of the Men’s Weight Throw
Coach—Is the focus still on staying flat through 3?
Athlete—Yes. Make sure the ball is flat until 4.
Coach—Staying flat through your 3rd turn.
This is the conversation that Luis and I had before the men’s weight throw competition. With it being his first meet, the focus was on making sure he kept the weight flat through his 3rd turn. We didn’t discuss distance. All we discussed was this technical cue. It was something that he has been working on back at Ashland for a couple of weeks. Rather than try and grip and rip the weight, Luis focused on technique and stuck to the plan we discussed earlier. We had a game plan and we executed it.
I think far too often coach and athlete don’t have conversations similar to the one Luis and I had. Even when he was a college athlete, we would focus on one or two technical cues each meet that we knew would help move him closer to achieving his ultimate goal(s). Of course, we wanted to throw far every meet, but distance will come with solid technique, understanding your body, and having a plan to execute each meet.
Moving forward with the remainder of the indoor and outdoor seasons, I encourage athletes and coaches to engage in conversations about meet day expectations, seasonal expectations, and how to focus on one or two technical cues per meet. Far too often I hear coaches reciting doctoral dissertations on what went wrong during a throw and then listing off all the ways to make technical cues and corrections. Emphasize the positive from each throw. The provide one or two pieces of information that can be easily implemented during the course of the competition. Most throwers only get three attempts in the weight, shot, discus, hammer, and javelin per meet. Focusing on one or two technical cues per meet will benefit the athlete and coach by creating a less stressful environment in which the athlete is trying to focus on an endless list of things to correct for the next throw. We only have 5-10 minutes in between throws. Being able to process all that information creates a less conducive environment that will lead to higher athlete stress, anxiety, and nervousness. Stick to the positive, support your athletes, and love them regardless of the outcome!
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.