The other day I wrote a short article about purposeful practice for throwers. With most athletes training on their own for the past couple of weeks, it is critical that we as throwers are not simply getting reps in just to say we hit our quota for the day/week/month. There should be a rhyme and reason behind each throw. What your goals are will ultimately determine how purposeful you really are.
The 4 Steps to Purposeful Practice:
Well Defined, Specific Goals
This makes perfect sense. Each training session should have well defined and specific outcomes we are attempting to accomplish. If one wants to improve their distance, simply stating that you want to take 25 hammer throws in the session just won’t cut it. It takes much more than that.
If for example our Monday training session calls for 25 hammer throws, what is it about those 25 throws that will move us forward towards accomplishing our long-term goal? Is the focus of the session to be able to take 15 throws with the 16# and focus on being patient on the entry because you are making the transition to a toe and 3 (a toe turn followed by 3 heel turns)? Or is the focus of the session to only focus on a flat entry with our first turn with the hammer? Another goal may be to focus on staying in the circle for 19 of 25 throws because we have transitioned to 3 heel turns from 2 heel turns. The list of specific goals for the session is going to vary depending on the experience of the thrower. A beginning thrower may have a goal of taking 3 turn full throws with the hammer by the 3rd practice session off the week. As a coach, then it is important for us to be able to create a plan that will allow our new thrower to get to full 3 heel throws by their third session. These goals should also align with our long-term goal(s) for the season. Each session builds upon the previous one in order to move us one step closer to accomplishing our ultimate goal.
This may be the most difficult step to achieve during the training session. I’ve written about the art of focus many times in the past. You can read more about focus by clicking HERE or HERE or HERE. Essentially, we are trying to minimize any distractions during our training session. One way to minimize distractions is to practice for no longer than 1 hour (if possible). If the training session is planned out ahead of time for multiple throwers, it shouldn’t be that difficult to get 20-25 reps in for two or three throwers in an hour.
If your mind is wandering or you’re relaxed and just having fun, you probably won’t improve-Anders Ericsson
With the current crisis that has overtaken the world, training with large groups of individuals in the same physical location is pretty much frowned up. Receiving feedback from your coach is critical in towards achieving your goals. As I’ve mentioned before, mindless throwing for the sake of getting reps in will not help you as much as you think it is. Sure, you may have a couple of technical looking throws or the implement might go far, but if we are trying to throw the farthest with the most efficient technique we are capable of, then throwing under the watchful eye of a coach is important. Receiving feedback or technical ques allows us to zoom in and focus on what our specific training session goal is. Receiving this feedback tells us whether we are improving our technical throwing model, becoming more efficient in the circle, and actually working on the skill we intended to work on during the session.
Getting Out of Our Comfort Zone
If we are throwing alone, it may be difficult to get out of our comfort zones. Rather than focus on executing certain aspects of our throw, we simply may just try and throw as far as we can on each successive throw. Again, that won’t necessarily help us in the long run. For example, if our thrower is making the transition to a toe turn followed by 3 heel turns for the upcoming season, they will need to get out of their comfort zone and focus in on making the transition to the toe turn. There are many drills that can assist a thrower with making that change, but if after a couple of training sessions we don’t seem to be making progress, we might want to quit and transition back to 3 heel turns.
In this situation, getting comfortable and reverting to old habits probably won’t lead us to achieving our long-term goals. It might take thousands of turns before the thrower begins to feel comfortable with the toe turn. If the hammer doesn’t go as far for a couple of weeks or months may cause us to get frustrated. That is ok. Making this transition for a thrower takes a lot of time, effort, diligence, and a focused mindset that won’t allow you to revert back to old ways. Getting out of our comfort zone doesn’t have to be about adding another turn either. It may be about adding or taking away a wind, hand placement on the entry, or foot placement on the finish. As I’ve mentioned before, each thrower is different. Everyone has their own level of comfort when it comes to throwing. Getting comfortable feeling uncomfortable will lead to positive progress in the long run as you continue on your journey towards achieving your goal(s)!
One of the best nuggets of coaching advice I can give is to set up your training program so that you are constantly seeing concrete signs of improvement, even if it is not always a major improvement.
When I was a middle/high school teacher, I would spend countless hours preparing lessons and activities for my students. A majority of those hours were spent preparing individualized instructional opportunities for my students, providing them with the best opportunity to meet their educational goals. As was then, is also now.
Even though I’m no longer a classroom teacher, my new classroom is the throwing circle. My students are my athletes. The athletes that come to train every day, hoping to make progress from the previous training session. My job as their coach is to provide them with a road map that helps get them where they want to be; at the end of the current season; before they graduate.
It isn’t always easy. I made many mistakes along the way. One that I wish I could take back was not taking the time to prepare individual goal-planning sessions with my throwers when I first began my coaching career 16-years ago. It was my assumption that everyone wanted to throw far and be a conference or national champion. As a 22-year old coach, it was difficult for me to comprehend why someone would come to practice every day without hoping to become the best thrower they could be. Some simply just wanted to be around a group of individuals with similar interests as them, be part of a group, and not necessarily focus on throwing farther. It took me a long time to figure that out.
When I did figure it out however, I ran into another road block. When I started coaching at Nazareth College, I asked each thrower to spend some time with me discussing their goals at the beginning of each semester, along with another more informal session at the end of the spring semester to prepare for the summer that lay ahead. It wasn’t until this time that athletes would pull me aside and tell me that I was, “playing favorites” or “spending more time with others than with them”. It took me some time to construct a response that wouldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. It took a couple of years actually.
During the 2015-16 season, we had a thrower that wanted to become the next weight throw national champion. I also had 6 freshmen throwers, 4 of which had never thrown before. Rather than have everyone practice together, I broke up practice into two sessions lasting about an hour and a half each. As a throwing team, I sat with everyone at the same time and explained why I was making this decision. It was to focus on everyone’s unique goals, keep them safe, and to ensure we would be making daily progress towards achieving their goals.
Once I shared my thoughts with everyone, I think they began to understand the rationale behind this decision. It didn’t make sense to have more experienced throwers sit idle while I taught 6 new throwers how to turn with a hammer. Similarly, it wouldn’t be fair to have 6 throwers be essentially thrown in the circle to just throw without learning proper technique first.
As the season progressed, for the most part everyone made small progress on a weekly basis. Not everyone threw a personal best each week, but series averages increased and our new throwers became more comfortable in the circle. They were making small concrete improvements every day. This would not have been possible if I had 11 throwers all in one session every day. As I prepared everyone’s daily and weekly throwing action plans, it became evident to me that teaching kids how to throw is much like teaching kids in a classroom when I was a teacher. Everyone has a plan. Everyone has something to focus on that is unique and important to them. And it was my job as their coach to ensure they were making progress along the way.
This brings me back to our opening quote. It takes time to develop individualized training programs for athletes, and especially so for throwers. It also takes time for each thrower to understand that the instruction may be different for everyone, but that is because everyone has different needs at different times. I always encouraged my throwers to focus on what their daily instructional cues were. Sure, there were 5 or 6 of us at practice every day, but it was important to really have them think about what they needed to execute upon that day to move forward towards accomplishing their goals.
Our season ended on a very high note. All of our 6 freshmen throwers improved from the first meet of the indoor season to their last indoor meet. In total we had 10 throwers compete at our indoor Empire 8 conference championships. Similarly, 8 of those 10 throwers also competed at our outdoor conference championships. We our first female thrower make the discus finals at those same conference championships. I’m also very happy to say that those same 8 throwers have all graduated and are either currently in graduate school or in their professional field of study. That is my proudest accomplishment as their coach!
Anders Ericsson, the world’s leading expert on expert performance, defines purposeful practice as having well-defined and specific goals (Ericsson & Pool, 2016). Simply stated, it means to have a well thought out idea or action plan for your upcoming practice or training session. On the flip side, Ericsson and Pool (2016) define naïve practice as essentially just doing something repeatedly, and expecting that the repetition alone will improve one’s own performance.
I begin today’s post with these two definitions because with the onset of the COVID-19 virus putting a halt to professional, collegiate, and high school athletics, many people are taking to practice on their own without a coach (and likely without a plan as well). It is definitely a strange and difficult time right now for everyone around the world. I’ve had some conversations with many of my collegiate track & field coaching friends about the effect this will have athlete preparation in the near future, and they have had interesting perspectives on the idea of letting their athletes go train on their own until the 2020-21 indoor season begins. Making positive gains and improvements without the watchful eye of a coach may seem daunting or difficult, but positive progress can be made over the course of the next few months.
Let’s take a look at an imaginary conversation between a throwing coach and on of their athletes.
Coach: Your training plan says that you have completed 4 throwing sessions a week for the past three months. Your form looks exactly the same today as it did in March. Can you explain this?
Athlete: I’m not sure what happened. They looked good to me.
Coach: How many throws did you take a week?
Athlete: I’ve taken about 150 throws a week!
Coach: How many times did your throws look technically sound?
Athlete: About 20-30.
Coach: How were you practicing?
Athlete: I don’t know. I was just throwing.
This sums up naïve practice. Doing something for the sake of doing it, while expecting one’s performance to increase over an extended period of time due to getting reps in.
I’m not sure if any coaches out there have actually had a conversation like this with one of their athletes, but I don’t think it sounds as far off as it comes off as. Just getting out into a circle or on a javelin runway without having a plan is planning to fail. Completing mindless reps just to get them in because you feel like you have too is probably doing more harm than good.
Having a plan or detailed outline of the purpose of your training session(s) takes some thought and effort. For 99.9% of throwers in the United States the 2020 outdoor season is pretty much over. Unfortunately, over before it even got started. I fall in the 99.9% of the population of throwers, with an understanding that the meets I was going to compete in during the summer are more than likely going to be canceled. Now is the time to build a technically sound foundation of your throws as well as a great opportunity to get stronger in the weight room.
Here is a sample daily throwing plan you can begin putting in place to help develop a facet or many facets of your throwing technique.
Daily Throwing Session
Today’s Date__________ Week_____ Day_____
In this section you can write in detail the specific training goal you have for this throwing session. It may be something like:
The session goals here are going to vary depending on the experience of the thrower. If you are a new hammer/weight thrower, your session will probably look different compared to someone who is a 20m weight thrower or a 75m hammer thrower. The purpose is to write something down that you as the thrower are working on and would like to master. The goal of each session is not to throw as far as you can with every throw. If your coach encourages you to do this with every throw you take, I suggest you to have a conversation with them about that because that is not a technically sound model for peak performance over the course of the indoor/outdoor season. It can lead to burnout, risk of injury, and poor technique.
Implement Weight # of Throws Best Distance Range
Hammer 6k 10 55m x 2 50m-55m
Hammer 16# 10 50m x 3 46m-50m
The table can be used as a guide to track the number of throws you take during a throwing session. You don’t have to use this table, you can create your own that may make more sense to you. In the implement section you would write down what implement you are throwing. In the example above we are throwing the hammer. In the weight section you would include the weight of the implement. In this particular training session we are taking 20 throws total. We are taking 10 throws with the 6k hammer and 10 throws with the 16 (competition ball). In the # of throws section you would write in how many throws you took with each implement. When possible, I like keeping track of the best distance for each session. It gives me as the coach an idea of where we are in our current training block and the relationship the weight room is having with our throws. The range is the range of distances between our shortest throw and longest throw. Range throwing allows athletes to focus on technique while becoming more aware of how throws in a certain range feel. If the pre-determined range for the session is 45m-50m for each throw, we may allot our throwers 2-4 range buster throws outside the pre-determined range for the session. Jud Logan has written about range throwing in the past, and has suggested a range of about 85%-92.5% of one’s best throw with a particular weighted implement. For example, if the thrower’s personal best is 50m with a 16# hammer, their range should be 42.50m to 46.25m. In the example I gave above, the athlete was throwing at the top-end of their 16# range for the duration of the session, with a couple of throws over the range at 50m. I hope this makes sense.
This is my favorite section. I always have encouraged my athletes to list a couple of lessons they learned from each throwing session. Athletes are free to write what they would like, with the intention of writing something positive they learned from the session and maybe something they think they need to focus on more for the following session. I’ve had athletes write things like; I need to sleep more between each session, today really hurt and I wasn’t prepared; I need to eat lunch before throwing because I was hungry; When I focus on coming in flat with my weight entry I feel like I have more balance transitioning into my second turn.
Wins for the Day:
I believe you can find the silver lining in every training session. Even if you thought it was the worst session of your life, you are able to find some bright spots if you look close enough. Similar to the section above, athletes are able to write their wins for the day.
As I previously mentioned before, you don’t have to follow this template as is. It is to act more like a guide as you continue on your throwing journey this year and into the future. I’m a stats person by training, therefore I like keeping track of lots of training information on my athletes. Especially at the Division III level where most of my athletes throw the shot-put, discus, hammer, and javelin at almost every meet. It is important to track and gauge the number of throws you take per implement each week. It gives the coach an idea of what may or may not be working with training, and it gives the athlete an opportunity to track their volume over the course of the indoor or outdoor season.
If you decide to use this training template, please let me know. Tag @forzathletics in your Twitter or Instagram post. I’ll email you a copy of Thrower: Propelling Towards Greatness 2nd edition as a token of gratitude for taking the time to use and implement this training tool.
Best wishes and happy throwing as we try to find some type of sanctuary in throwing for the rest of the 2020 season!
Daily Throwing Session
Today’s Date__________ Week_____ Day_____
Implement Weight # of Throws Best Distance Range
Wins for the Day:
Ericsson, A., & Pool, R. (2016). Peak: Secrets From The New Science of Expertise. Houghton Mifflin, New York.
Last week I was talking to a coaching friend of mine about training and life. In the middle of our conversation about training for the throws, this coach asked me if I thought you could fake confidence. An interesting question that I had never been asked before. I had a take a brief pause in our conversation to think about my response.
To provide some context of our conversation, we were discussing training leading up to an upcoming competition. Coach confided in me that training had not been going well the past month and was concerned about the upcoming competition. This coach has competed at some of the most prominent track & field meets in the country, both as a collegiate thrower and post-collegiate thrower. They are no stranger to competing at the highest level, yet in this particular instance they felt some hesitation and concern about their upcoming meet.
My response to the question was this:
Our thoughts control our emotions. Our emotions then in turn have an effect on our physical response(s) to the situation we are placed in. That physical response, good or bad, will ultimately have an effect on our performance.
Let’s use a throwing example to explain my response.
In our example, a thrower is qualified for the Division III Atlantic Regional Championships. This track meet is this thrower’s last chance to move up the Division III throwing list and earn themselves a spot at DIII Indoor Nationals the following weekend. The week leading up to this meet has been very stressful on the athlete. They continue to think about all the negative outcomes that have occurred throughout the course of the season. They have had lack luster practices leading up to the competition and feel distraught, lost, and afraid that they will perform poorly at this last chance meet.
This thrower’s thoughts are negative and focused on outcomes and situations from the past. Those thoughts, in turn, have caused this thrower to feel anxious, concerned, and self-conscious about how poorly they have been throwing. These emotions cause us to have physical responses. We may hang our head, slouch our shoulders, and have a look of concern and fear written across their face. With all this going on, when this thrower’s name is called for their first throw of the competition, one would expect it (the throw) to go terribly bad. Maybe the thrower will foul. Their mind may be racing with thoughts of hopelessness, fear, anxiety, concern, etc. You get the idea, but I would expect a pretty poor outcome from this series of conscious thought.
Webster’s dictionary defines confidence as a feeling or consciousness of one's powers or of reliance on one's circumstances. In this situation, our thrower probably isn’t feeling very confident in their power to throw well. Can this confidence be faked?
I don’t believe confidence can be faked. If the thrower has consistent negative thoughts going through their minds, it will be difficult to fake the physical appearance of having confidence. Remember, our thoughts control our emotions. Our emotions then have an effect on how one would physically respond. Think about a time when you were concerned or felt anxious about an upcoming performance. Were you able to trick yourself into faking confidence? Think of it like this.
Let’s say we are scheduled to take the SAT. In one scenario, person A buys all the study materials possible, hires a tutor, and preps 3 months for this test. They perform well on the practice tests and feel good about their ability to perform well on this test. Person B on the other hand doesn’t buy any materials, doesn’t study, and walks into the test without having prepared at all. Let’s say both person A and B both have a 95gpa and take a course load of all AP classes in high school. They have a similar background, and for the sake of argument are equally gifted when it comes to academics. I would venture to guess that Person A probably feels more confident in their ability to score well on the test because they prepared. Person B may not feel as confident. They may be thinking to themselves that they should have studied and better prepared for the SAT. Now they are walking into the text with negative thoughts, which in turn may cause them to have a negative physical response. They may second guess themselves throughout the test because they didn’t study or prepare. Person A feels good about themselves. They feel as though they prepared as best they could, performed well on the practice SAT tests, and feel confident they will perform well when it matters most. Who do you think might score better, person A or person B?
These may sound like far-fetched examples, but if you think about it, you may have been in a situation like this at one time or another in your life. You knew you had a big test to take, or had an important presentation to make in front of your boss and colleagues. If you prepared for that moment, you probably felt good about walking into that situation and the potential positive outcome that could be the result of your preparation. However, if you did not prepare and tried to wing it, you may not perform as well if you didn’t prepare for potential questions you may be asked, or if the technology you were using didn’t work, etc. I think you get the idea.
In these three different examples I presented, it seems as though it may be difficult to fake your confidence. I guess it might be like registering for a powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting competition. You register 16 weeks out from the competition. If you don’t train for the meet, you probably won’t feel confident in your ability to perform well. Now if you train 4-7 days a week and prepare the best you are physically able to, you will probably feel more confident walking into that meet knowing that you have trained, taken care of your body, and ensured that you did everything you possibly could have to prepare for the competition. Faking confidence without training and walking into that meet with a sense of confidence can lead to a multitude of more negative outcomes than positive ones.
If you are still reading, I have a question for you—do YOU think someone can fake confidence and still perform at a relatively high level (however you define that level)? Sure, you might be able to hit a squat, bench, and deadlift at the powerlifting meet, but you probably won’t be able to hit personal best lifts without training for 16 weeks. Sure you may feel confident, but what might that fake confidence cost you in the long run?
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.