Our first practice of the spring semester was scheduled for February 1st, 2021. Unfortunately it was scheduled for then. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we are pushed back another week. We have access to the weight room and training facilities, but are just unable to throw. With the majority of our season happening in the spring, it isn’t that much of a loss. We will still be able to train specific exercises that transfer over to the throwing events.
I spoke about this group of throwers in a presentation I gave the other day to staff members I work with. We are trying to coordinate and launch a virtual social emotional learning sports coaching programming. Part of my presentation to staff involved sharing my previous experiences as a coach and what the current literature has to say about coach-athlete relationships.
My coaching philosophy has changed quite a bit since that first season at SUNY Fredonia. I’ve written about it before, so I won’t go into all the details again. If you’d like to read about those previous experiences you can click HERE.
When I transitioned to my position at Nazareth College in 2012-13, I took a much different approach than the one I implemented at Fredonia. Not that I didn’t try to develop positive relationships with my athletes at Fredonia, but a majority of the first group of kids I coached were my teammates. I didn’t take the time to get to know them more as people, and not just athletes.
I made a concerted effort to be open about my experiences at Fredonia. As the season moved along, I felt as though we grew closer as a group. It was just the four of us. Jess was in her second year of throwing, Luis had never thrown before, and Brandon had experience downstate. You can read more about those first couple of years by clicking HERE.
Transitioning back to Nazareth for the 2015-16 season was difficult at first. I was only able to attend half of the track meets because I was enrolled in my doctorate program at the same time. Our class schedule required us to attend every other week. Fortunately, the schedule worked out that I was able to attend our E8 conference championships and Nationals. I learned that communicating more effectively and efficiently was going to be imperative if we were going to have a successful season. This season helped me become a better coach for a couple of reasons. First, it required me to communicate more efficiently with my kids. Second, it allowed me to be more present in what was happening during practice and at meets. Third, but most important, I got to know my athletes on a more personal level. Once things started clicking, we started rolling and the team came closer together as a unit. They took really good care of each other at meets when I wasn’t able to attend due to class, they took turns writing in our throwing journal, and they kept me informed of what was happening at the meet via text message.
With my team this year at Alfred State, communication has become paramount. We’ve had a couple of virtual team meetings where Coach G. and I discussed the upcoming spring semester happenings and expectations. I text my throwers on a regular basis. We’ve only had a handful of practices. Getting the physical components of throwing down is important, but establishing solid coach-athlete relationships is critical!
We all have something that motivates us, that pushes us when we don’t want to be pushed, that sparks a fire within us to go beyond what is necessary to achieve our goals.
What drives us to succeed is going to vary by individual athletes and teams. Regardless of what our goals are, we all have that special something that sparks the fire. For some the flame burns until we achieve what we have set out to accomplish. And yet for others the flame burns out way too soon. The goal may not have been realistic, the individual lacked the necessary support system, they got bored, they lost focus, or there was too much clutter in their lives.
That spark is what gets us moving towards accomplishing our goal(s). For some it may take years to accomplish what we set out to do. And yet others may not give themselves enough credit and accomplish their goal well before they expected. In both those instances and all points in-between, a road map is necessary in figuring out where we want to go.
You Have One Too
When I think of a spark for a team, I can’t help but first think about professional wrestler Tully Blanchard. Tully was a founding member of the 4 Horsemen stable in Jim Crockett Promotions. Alongside Tully were Double A Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson, and Ric Flair. In one of my favorite wrestling dvd’s, Ric Flair and the 4 Horsemen, Tully is interviewed about the 4 Horsemen after he left the stable. To paraphrase, Tully says that he was the blasting cap (or spark) that got the 4 Horsemen going-the instigator if you will. If you haven’t, go out of your way and either watch the interview or the whole dvd. You will not be disappointed.
I mention Tully Blanchard and the 4 Horsemen because much like how Tully describes himself, I believe that everyone has their version of Tully Blanchard living deep down inside them. A spark, something that gets us out of bed everyday, working towards moving one step closer to our dreams. If you don’t have something that immediately gets you out of bed every morning, think about what you enjoy doing.
We all have something that we are passionate about. What are the things that fire you up? What is your Tully Blanchard spark...
In this journey we’re setting out on, there is a specific path each of us will take with our athletes. As we begin to map out our process with our athletes, it’ll be important for us as the coach to include what is going to give our athletes the best opportunities to be successful. In this case, we act as a Sherpa.
In mountaineering terms, a Sherpa let’s the climber pick the mountain they want to climb. Then the Sherpa lays the ropes out in advance so the climber can move along the mountain faster and more efficiently. And possibly the most important part of the Sherpa-climber relationship is that the Sherpa tells the climbers what they don’t need to take in order to make their summit. Like coaches, Sherpa’s outline an action plan (or path) that gives the climber the best opportunity to be successful in achieving their goal.
As we review our 16-week outline to compete at our outdoor conference championships, as coaches we need to only include the tools necessary to get our athletes where they want to go. Where they want to go.
The critical component of planning, in my opinion, is working one-on-one with each athlete to set forth a path that gives them the best opportunity to be successful. Hence why communicating with our athletes is so critical before we set out the path.
Our role as coaches is get our athletes where they want to go. Laying out the rope (or path) beforehand gives them the best opportunity to achieve their goal. It also instills a sense of accountability. To get from A to Z, we need to make a few stops along the way. It isn’t often that we will go right to Z from A. We will probably make some stops along the way, move some rope around, and continue on our path. We may approach a path that is blocked (by no control of our own), backtrack a little bit, and then continue moving forward. How you do that is going to be determined by your coach-athlete relationships. Much of our athlete’s successes are going to hinge on a couple of critical factors: their own intrinsic motivation, why they want to achieve their goal(s), communication between coach and athlete, and a willingness to make some sacrifices along the way.
As we reflect back on our 16-week example, this is how we are broadly going to prepare for the upcoming outdoor conference championships. The following six weeks are going to be incredibly important in planning. Athlete accountability is going to be key because our athletes at Alfred State are still training from home during time. As I previously mentioned, each athlete has a general weight lifting program to follow. Similarly, they each have unique throwing programming to follow based on the equipment they have.
January 31-February 6
The month of February is going to be used as a general prep period to get back into “throwing” shape. These four weeks are going to be spent throwing indoors. Mostly because of how much snow we get in Western NY, but also because it gets dark at around 4:30pm. Our indoor training is going to be focused on each athlete’s main event (what they want to focus on for the outdoor season). In such a time crunched season, it will be difficult to excel in 3 or all 4 throwing events. We have limited practice times and dates, therefore communicating with our athletes is so important during this time. The critical ropes will begin to be placed along the mountain side during this time.
That leaves us with 8 weeks of outdoor throwing before our conference championships. In the past I used a formula similar to what I’m going to share here with my athletes about preparation for events during the outdoor season. With athletes that are interested in competing in three events (shot, discus, and hammer), the larger focus or main event will receive 60% of the throws/training time. The second event, depending on the possible success rate of the athlete’s performance will receive 15%-25%. The remaining time will be dedicated to event three.
In Luis’ senior season at Nazareth, his outdoor season was 75% hammer and 25% discus. He finished 3rd at DIII Nationals in the hammer and also held our school record in the discus for a majority of the outdoor season. We knew that he had a chance to win the hammer outdoors, and that throwing the discus would support the team by finishing in the top 6 at our conference meet. We put a majority of our eggs in the hammer basket, and it worked out well. In Jen’s senior season at Fredonia, after our SUNYAC conference championships, Jen wanted to drop discus training altogether. We knew she had an outside shot of qualifying for nationals in both the hammer and discus in 2005. She continued to throw the discus in competition, but didn’t hit the standard necessary to qualify in the discus. She entered nationals seeded 11th in the hammer.
Conference Championship Week--April 30th - May 1st
March 28-April 3
Communication is important because realistic expectations will come into play. Having a sense of where our athletes are both physically and mentally gives us as the coach (or Sherpa) the information necessary to create an environment conducive to goal-achievement and a rewarding season. I encourage coaches to have these conversations. Sometimes they might be difficult, but having our athletes express their goals is obvious in creating a culture of success.
You can succeed as long as the inner satisfaction and peace of mind that come from knowing you did the best you were capable of doing-Jim Tressel
Happy New Year!
What better way to begin 2021 than by beginning with the end in mind. We last left off discussing how my graduate program at SUNY Fredonia aligns with coaching. Beginning with the end in mind in graduate school lends itself to beginning with the end in mind with coaching. The end I will be discussing today in part 2 is preparing for our outdoor conference championships in the spring semester.
This is a very unique year. With COVID still running wild and wreaking havoc on collegiate sports programming across the country, this plan will provide a unique look at preparing for an outdoor championship (that may or may not even take place).
For the sake of this article, I’m going to guesstimate that our outdoor conference championship meet will be held on Friday, April 30th and Saturday, May 1st, 2021. I’m just guessing. Now if we count backwards, our seasonal plan would look something like this:
Conference Championship Week--April 30th - May 1st
March 28-April 3
February 28-March 6
January 31-February 6
Up until our conference championship meet, our weekly programming begins on Sunday. Our week concludes on meet day, which is typically Saturday. Again, I’m really guessing here because I’m not sure if we will have any meets on Friday besides our two day conference championships. For all intent and purposes, we may only have our conference championships on Saturday. As you can see, it really doesn’t leave us a lot of time to train and prepare. We have 16 weeks until our conference championship week.
From my perspective, this really isn’t a lot of time to prepare. Our athletes at Alfred State return to campus for in-person classes on February 1st. Our indoor season is still in doubt, so our plan right now is to move forward with a successful outdoor campaign.
Now that we have our weeks figured out, we’ll need to look at individual preparation for my athletes. I’ve had some conversations with them individually since we have been on break. Some have access to training equipment. Some have some throwing implements. They have all received programming and basic outlines they can follow while they are home. Those athletes that sit around until practice on February 1st will have missed out on about 8 weeks of training.
At this point, communicating expectations is really important. And again, everything is based on individualized action plans for your athletes. When I was coaching at Fredonia and Nazareth, each athlete’s season was based on realistic expectations. For example, at Fredonia, we have a really good feeling that Julia was going to qualify for nationals each season. Beginning with her sophomore season, she competed at 3 indoor and 3 outdoor national championships. Similar with Luis at Nazareth. We knew his senior year was going to be big, so we planned around that. For many athletes across the country, their season usually concludes with their conference championships. At this point, only 20 athletes per gender and event attend nationals. That leaves many hundreds of athletes preparing for either the outdoor season or the following indoor season.
In my next installment, beginning with the end in mind, I’ll provide you with a sample program that can be implemented with your athletes based on the parameters discussed in this article.
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.