As with the start of any new season, hope and success fill the thoughts of athletes and coaches alike. Hope for success. Hope to remain healthy. Hope to accomplish goals.
Success can be defined in a multitude of ways. Setting a new personal best. Winning a conference championship. Qualifying for nationals. Becoming an All-American. Winning a National Championship. As goals go, success perhaps should be defined early in the season. Early enough to put a plan in place to accomplish one’s goals. To reach their defined version of success.
My season began in late August. August 22ndto be exact. That is the day that our third little man was born. My wife a very healthy pregnancy. Similar to our first two. Nothing out of the ordinary. Santino was born in the early afternoon. All was well the first day and night. I woke up a couple of times just to make sure everything was ok. Unlike our first two boy’s initial nights in the hospital, this little man slept pretty much all the way through. Not like our first two.
It was during the tail-end of day two that our nurse thought something was wrong. Something with his breathing was off kilter. We were told to bring him to the neonatal room in the hospital. Definitely not what we were expecting. He spent the better part of the next two days there. We couldn’t take him home until his breathing returned to normal, normal for an infant. Our plan was to sleep in our van if we were discharged from our room.
I begged and pleaded with our nurse to let us stay just one more night. Just so we didn’t need to sleep in our van in the parking garage. She somehow worked her magic and gave us the opportunity to stay one more night. The following afternoon we were told we could take Santino home with us. It was a great first night at home!
After the two older boys went down for the night, I finished listening to a Jon Gordon podcast interview from Entreleadership. In his podcast he mentioned that every year he picked a word to focus on. Something to help guide him through the year. That night I selected my word for the upcoming season. My word was resiliency.
It seemed fitting that my word for the upcoming year was picked due to what had happened to my wife and I over the course of the previous few days. I consider us very fortunate. Our situation could have been much worse. I feel blessed to have left the hospital only a couple of days later than we should have. I think about that moment often. When things get difficult. When I’m searching for something to help me move forward.
Reflecting back now, selecting that word was, in a sense, foreshadowing things to come.
Our season started with only Tyler and I. We both had high expectations. Maybe too high. Our plan was to have a successful season. Unfortunately, Tyler and I had different expectations for what we wanted to accomplish. I say we because it takes both coach and athlete to realize dreams and accomplish goals. One cannot do it with the other. Well, maybe an athlete can achieve their goals without a coach. It may be more difficult. But it can be done. A coach, however, will not be able to realize their dreams without athletes. Definitely doesn’t work both ways.
It did not live up to either of our expectations. I don’t mind sharing. I don’t think Tyler will mind either. Tyler had a goal. He wanted to win the 2018 DIII Indoor National Championship in the 35lb. Weight Throw. He said as such in July. On Twitter. For the world to see.
A lofty goal indeed. One I thought he could accomplish. He was teammates with a National Champion. He was able to see what Luis went through to accomplish his goal. We didn’t do anything special in 2016. Our practices were rather boring and uneventful. We had a plan back in 2016. I had an idea in 2018. I don’t think Tyler did.
You see, simply stating that you are going to do something won’t actually get you to doing it. Yes, that is obvious. It takes a little more than that. Like Dan Chambliss said, “The most dazzling human achievements are, in fact, the aggregate of countless individual elements, each of which is, in a sense, ordinary.”
Tyler and I discussed what he needed to do in order to realize his dream. Diligently complete your weight room sessions. Watch your throwing videos. Watch other throwers’ videos. Ask questions. And most importantly, train with a laser-sharp focus. Some of all these elements were missing. Some of these elements were present though. Our indoor season come to a rather unassuming end at the Empire 8 Indoor Championships. Actually, it came to halt by 6cm. Tyler threw 14.94m. The qualifying throw needed to advance to the Atlantic Regionals was 15.00m in the 35lb. Weight Throw. Our season came to a close. Some might say it was a good season. You were close. We weren’t close at all.
As we transitioned to our outdoor season, Tyler took a couple of weeks off from throwing. A little bit of time to re-charge his batteries before traveling to Virginia to open our outdoor season. Without knowing it, or maybe he did, or maybe he has, Tyler took the necessary steps to put himself in position to have a successful outdoor season. He in fact become more resilient.
Joining us for our outdoor campaign was freshman thrower and swimming phenom Kaela. I say swimming phenom because she almost single handedly won the team Empire 8 Swimming and Diving Championships for Nazareth College. In total, Kaela scored 60 points. And by the way, she is a great discus thrower and shot-putter.
It took a few weeks for everyone to come together as a unit. The trip to Virginia assisted in the awkward transition from our indoor season, and with Kaela’s transition to a new team. It took a few weeks to shake out the throwing rust. Conversely, as the season progressed Kaela and Tyler gelled very well together.
I do not want to get into that many details about why the word resiliencyforeshadowed Kaela’s season. I’ll let her explain that herself one day. As our outdoor season was coming to a close, I realized we were running out of time. I think most coaches feel like that at some point during a season. I often think to myself that we only have four weeks left, where athletes may be wishing the time away. I do not wish it away anymore. I did when I coached at Fredonia. I was focused on the outcome. All the time. I wanted my throwers to throw far all the time. I wanted them to set personal best throws in every meet. It was highly unrealistic, but that was my mentally as a new coach. I knew I was judged based on their performances. It was a terrible mindset to have. Now I feel I’m at the total opposite side of the spectrum.
With our season coming to a close, I realized we had indeed run out of time. Not their fault. It was my fault. We had established goals at the beginning of the season. We didn’t revisit them as the outdoor season progressed. Kaela and I only really discussed goals for the season in March. We didn’t write anything down. It was a brief conversation about outcome goals. We didn’t discuss process goals at all. We had a number in mind. A very realistic number. A couple of realistic numbers in fact. We achieved one goal-we hit one number in the shot-put. Discus was another story.
Our outdoor season came to a close last weekend on the campus of St. John Fisher College. We were as prepared as we could be. Our day started off with a personal best throw by Tyler in the hammer, surpassing the 45m mark with a throw of 45.11m, good for 8thplace. This was by far the most competitive men’s hammer competition I have been a part of in the Empire 8 Conference. In 2013, my first season at Nazareth, it took just over 36m to make the finals. For some added perspective, at the 2013 New York State Outdoor Championships held at St. Lawrence, Luis finished 8thwith a throw of 41m. Kaela did not have a personal best throw in the hammer. I thought to myself that it was ok. Her two best events would be contested on the following day.
Unfortunately, we suffered a similar fate on Saturday. Kaela qualified for the finals of the discus, ranked 6thgoing into the finals. She was in scoring position. No Nazareth College female thrower has ever scored at an Empire 8 Championship. She had a very good opportunity to be the first. In round 4, she was passed by a thrower from St. John Fisher College. A thrower from Houghton extended her distance to maintain 5thplace. Kaela dropped to 7th. In round 5, a thrower from Utica leapfrogged everyone to go into 4thplace. This dropped Kaela to 8thplace.
With one throw to go, Kaela needed to throw just over 30.50m to secure herself 6thplace. That throw would only need to be 6’ less than her personal best. In my mind, this is the moment where throwers rise up to the occasion. Or they succumb to the pressure of needing to throw far when it really counts. Not needing a personal best, but to throw just far enough to put yourself in contention. Neither happened. As her last throw fell just before the 30m line, I was flooded with emotions.
My initial thought was that I had failed Kaela. It was my responsibility to prepare her for moments like this. I didn’t. It was my fault. I thought that she could summon something deep inside, similar to what she did during the swimming championships. It was not to be today. As with the discus, shot-put went just as well. A 10thplace finish, not qualifying for the finals. In both events, her throws in 2018 would have scored in pretty much every other meet over the course of the past 7-8 years. We’ll have to wait until next season.
Tyler suffered a similar fate in the discus. While Kaela finished 10thin the shot-put, Tyler finished outside of the top 10 in the men’s discus. No personal best. Not even a season best throw.
Well, reflecting on this season has been quite difficult. I can make up a thousand excuses in my mind as to why our season ended the way it did. What else could I have done? How else could I have prepared them? I’m torn. I think back to the conversation Dan Chambliss and I had at Hamilton College last month.
Dan I spoke at great length about coach and athlete accountability. We spoke about maintaining the balance between the two. He shared something with me that no other coach has in the past. He told me it was ok if my athletes didn’t live up to expectations. It was ok for them to not want it as much as I did. “Just focus on the athletes that want it as much as you do, Charles.” That is a difficult pill to swallow. I feel that a coach that takes that mentality is giving up on their athletes. But then again, is it? If your athletes don’t fulfill their commitments, is it ok to let them fail? I guess it would be ok to let them fail as long as their failing doesn’t have a negative impact on their teammates.
Looking forward to next season, I haven’t selected my word for the year. I have a pretty good idea. I won’t share it quite yet. I’ll let it simmer for now.
For all the remaining athletes competing in the hopes of qualifying for regionals and nationals, best wishes to everyone for continued progress towards achieving your goals.
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.