Quick show of hands, how many of you have your own unique routines and rituals? I’m willing to guess most people raised their hands. Whether we have daily routines about the time we get up every morning, workout, go for a walk, or go to bed, we may have never thought about them.
Last week during our weight throw session, we had a short break in which I was asked about ways to relax during competition. One of my athletes said that she gets nervous in meets when people watch her throw. I thought that was a bit odd because as throwers we are called to enter a circle in which we are not able to step out of until our implement lands in a sector. Then we are able to exit the back half of the circle. At a typical meet, there may be two or three people watching your feet to ensure you follow the specified rules.
I asked her what she thought about before she entered the circle. She said that she thought about a specific number/distance she wanted to throw. We started the next round of throws, and I noticed that she entered the circle differently each time. I stopped her before we started the third round of throws. I told she that she entered differently each time, and that she didn’t take the time to cue herself.
When I work with my collegiate athletes, we spend time during the season discussing ways in which to better relax and feel more comfortable in the circle. One of the elements we discuss are the routines we can put in place to assist our minds when getting ready to throw. I suggest to my athletes that they have two or three cue words they throw; one as they enter the circle, another when they set their bodies, and one before they initiate their throw. Each athlete is different. Each athlete will have different cues based on what will make them feel more comfortable in the circle.
Getting back to my high school athlete, I stopped practice for a couple of minutes to discuss the purpose of routines, cue words, and how they are to be implemented. Much like we practice the art of throwing, we must also practice the art of routine building. I encouraged both athletes to begin to focus on their routine during their normal high school practices. I strongly suggested that they should begin to develop their own routines and how to best come up with cue words that would make them feel most confident as they enter the circle to compete.
Next week at practice I will spend more time working with my high school athletes about routines and rituals. It is difficult to cram a lot of throwing and teachable moments into two hours of practice time. With my college athletes, I am able to take the time to focus on other elements besides just throwing. I have more control over their environments. They know what to expect from me, as I know what to expect from them.
What are some of your throwing routines? What makes you feel most comfortable in the circle? How did you develop those throwing rituals?
As always, thanks for reading ~ Charles
Normally when I attend high school track & field meets I tend to keep to myself. If I am approached by an athlete or coach, of course I engage in conversation. I’ve actually been spending a lot more time speaking to families about the recruiting process, completing loan forms, and what competing at the collegiate level is like compared to the high school level. That is a topic for another blog post. For now, we’ll get back to joining that elusive club.
At a recent high school meet, a parent of a thrower approached me while some throwers were warming up for the next flight of weight throw competition. In our brief conversation, the parent inquired about the success some of our high school athletes have been having this season. Disclaimer, I nor Luis, take any credit for the success of the high school athletes we work with. The athletes we work with would reach the same success without us in the picture. If anything, we spend most of our time at practice discussing other things besides throwing.
I said thank you to the parent, and followed up with what I just said above, that we cannot take credit. The parent continued with, “Well, you must be doing something right because they both have records. There must be some secret, right?”
Totally floored. I said the athletes do all the work and we are merely providing mentoring and support. The parent looked at me, right in the eyes, and said, “What is the secret then?”
The build-up and hype to this blog post probably could have been better. The mystical secret to throwing far. Yet, in one way I’m flattered. Flattered in the fact that someone thinks I know what the secret is. If there was one magic bullet or pill, one might think more people would implement that secret in the daily regime.
For a brief moment I was back in Akron, OH, May 2004, standing next to Derek Woodske and Adrianne Blewitt, asking them if they had any secrets. Well, in thirteen years since that conversation occurred, I can comfortably say there isn’t one secret. If anything, there is a combination of ingredients that are included in the secret recipe.
One secret, if you consider it one, is to be deliberate about what you want to do, and you plan on doing. In her book Grit, Angela Duckworth spends a considerable amount of time discussing deliberate practice, what is entails, and how the cycle persists. As our practice ended this past Thursday, I spent about five minutes talking about it with two of our throwers. One of the reasons why they have been successful is due to the fact that they have a plan for practice, meets, and the season as a whole.
They receive constructive feedback, apply it, implement it, revise it, and move forward. The cycle continues for them. All too often we may practice for the sake of practicing, not really focused on any one particular element of the throw, and just go through the motions. We spend weeks working on one little part of the throw, master it, and then move onto something else. Giving three or four or five cues is a lot for anyone to handle. Work on one thing, master it, and then move onto something else. That is one ingredient to the recipe.
Looking back and reflecting on my coaching career, I now think back to May, 2004. By asking elite throwers what their secret was basically discredited all the hard work they had put into their careers. Adrianne was going to throw at the Olympic Trials in a few weeks. Derek had the best 35lb. Weight Throw distance in the world that year. They were nice and humored me with their response. Yet, thinking back now, and thinking about the great athletes I coach and guide now, they really just work hard and have a passion for throwing. They are focused, reflective, and want to learn. No secrets there. I’ve written about it before, the most vital elements to success, or the ingredients to success, cannot be coached. Instilling a work-ethic and dedication into someone is difficult (believe me, I’ve tried). As coaches, we cannot make athletes do anything. We cannot coach up their heart. They have to want to do it for themselves. They have to want to because it is something they are passionate about. They have to want it. That, my friends, is what I believe makes up the recipe of success.
What ingredients do you think are necessary in the soup of success?
This past Sunday we held club practice at Nazareth College. We had a little break during practice, some downtime if you will, where I asked about track schedules and upcoming meets. One of the young throwers that was in attendance said, “We are competing against (insert rival name here) this week, and I just want to beat them.” I then asked, “Will that help you achieve your throwing goals?” I got a very quizzical look back. The athlete asked me what I meant by that. It got the attention of the other thrower there, who before my comment was scrolling through Instagram.
The thrower I was speaking with then asked me, “What’s the difference between the two?” I’m not going to quote the rest of the conversation, however I do believe there is a difference between wanting to beat someone and achieving your goal. What follows is my perspective on the difference between achieving your throwing goal and simply trying to beat someone.
My philosophy on the example between winning and beating someone is this, specific to throwing. Non-conference championship meets are better served with trying to hit or chase the big mark, or to work on a new technique, or to try something you might not want to try in a championship meet. Basically, coach and athlete have a conversation about it, agree to try something new, and maybe give away a meet in order to experiment with something new. What I mean by giving away a meet is to sacrifice a potential good performance to experiment with a new technique that may not produce an extraordinary result (trying a four turn throw in a meet for the first time, or trying the rotational shot when you are primarily a glide thrower).
I think most coaches would agree that the goal of the championship meet is to win. You can set a personal best at a conference championship meet, but still not throw far enough to win. That certainly happens from time to time. From my previous conference championship experiences, the winner does not always hit a personal best. Therefore, if there are a couple of throwers within 50cm of each other in the Weight Throw, it may not take a gargantuan effort to win, because more often than not your competition won’t set a personal best either.
When Luis and I went to Indoor Nationals in 2016, the goal of the meet was to win. Rather than discuss the idea of trying to hit a mark or distance, the goal was the win and leave as the National Champion in the 35lb. Weight Throw. We could have said the goal was to throw 20m, or to set a personal best. Yet, what if he did throw 20m, but someone else threw 20.01m? You hit your goal, but you didn’t win. Would you be satisfied with that?
I’m not sure if I did a good job explaining this example. There are other coaches that probably could better explain this than the way I attempted to. Has anyone else ever been in this situation? How did you handle it? Would you handle the conversation differently depending on the age of the thrower (high school compared to collegiate thrower)?
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.