After our meet on Sunday, I gave our throwers the day off on Monday from throwing. They still completed their weight room training session, and I could tell it took a tool on them. Yesterday’s practice went well, but some of the throwers were hurting.
About a third of the way through practice I pulled one of my throwers aside and asked him what he thought about before he physically stepped foot into the circle.
To provide some context, I pulled him aside because he was not having a particularly efficient day. He seemed off, and his body language was not exuding confidence. His head was down, shoulders down and he basically did not look confident. I think as coaches we know when something is going on with our athletes. It doesn’t necessarily have to come from a conversation, but by a look and their (the athlete’s) physical presense.
When I asked him what he thought about before he stepped foot in the circle, he said that he thought about not caging the discus. In all honesty, that wasn’t what I was expecting to hear, but then again I’m not sure what I was expecting in that moment.
I asked him to step out of the circle, pulled him aside, and we talked about confidence. More specifically we discussed mindset and how our thoughts control our emotions. Those emotions then in turn control our physiological response, which directly impacts our performance. I suggested to him that rather than thinking about the negative outcome or the expectation of the negative that he should think about a time when he felt most confident in the circle.
Word for word I won’t share exactly how I shared what I shared, but the basic premise of the mindset strategy I suggested yesterday was to think about a time when he really felt good about his performance in the circle and what that looked like in his mind’s eye. In essence, I was working on helping him re-establish his confidence by asking him to visualize his past successful performances and what they felt like in that moment. I also wanted him to improve his concentration by redirecting his thoughts to those past peak performances that would help him attain (or re-establish) his state of practice readiness. Rather than focus on the most recent negative experience I really wanted him to bring his thoughts back to those prior successful experiences he had in the circle. Lastly, I wanted him to redirect his emotional response to the situation. That emotional response (I’m going to cage the discus) was affecting his physical response, which was causing his performance to suffer (throwing the discus into the cage). By thinking about it, it was manifesting itself in his performance.
His next 12 throws went between the sector. They weren’t all perfect throws, but by redirecting his thoughts, he was able to have a successful string of throws that didn’t end up in the cage.
Coaches aren’t magicians. Although our athletes may expect magic to happen, it really comes down to how well we as coaches are able to communicate expectations, cues, drills and reinforcement back to our athletes. Effectively communicating with our athletes is more than half the battle. That communication helps establish trust and respect between coach and athlete, which in turn positively affects the coach-athlete relationship.
As you can probably tell, I write a lot about these facets of coaching. I believe that these concepts (communication, respect, trust, coach-athlete relationship) are the determining factors in whether an athlete is going to perform well or not. We really don’t have control over the physical attributes an athlete enters our program with. I can’t control whether our throwers are all over 6’ tall and have 75” wingspans. We don’t have much control over who is physically going to walk through our doors, but once they do walk through our door we have control in supporting the emotional factors and determinants that will allow them to realize their dreams and achieve their goals.
On Sunday our team competed at the Brockport Invitational meet. Yes, the meet was held on a Sunday. The week of practice and preparation leading up to the meet went pretty well. Lots of good throws in practice, the throwers’ technical efficiency improved, and we had some strong performances in the weight room. Then the competition began.
As a whole, the competition went fairly well. We had lots of personal best and season best performances. It was the distance of those performances that I think most of our throwers didn’t like.
In my experiences as a throwing coach, I’ve come to learn, understand and accept the fact that the best week or weeks of practice does not always necessarily translate into a great or even good performance on meet day. Ah, why is that you may be asking. Well, he is a conversation I had with my athletes today about just that.
Coach (me): We won’t have practice today. We’ll get back to it tomorrow.
Thrower 1: Are we still lifting today?
Coach (me): Yes, you are still lifting, but no throwing.
Thrower 2: Thank you coach.
Thrower 3: Does anyone else feel tired, or is it just me?
Coach (me): Although the actual volume of work conducted yesterday was relatively low, the intensity was very high-hence your fatigue today.
Thrower 3: Oh, you’re a lot smarter than me coach.
Coach (me): Well, let’s not get carried away here. I think it’s important to take into consideration that a lot of factors play a role in fatigue. Yesterday definitely plays a huge role. Other factors like CNS, rest, recovery, and nutrition are also critical.
Thrower 3: I just thought I didn’t sleep enough. My brain lacks the wrinkles yours possesses.
Yes, that is the actual text exchange from earlier this afternoon. And yes, that is how I respond to my athletes in our group chat. And even further, those factors listed above do indeed play a role in fatigue and to a greater extent, performance. So what’s the catch???
There isn’t one really. Our performances as athletes, and in this case throwers, is often pre-determined by the factors above. That isn’t 100% always the case, but in my experiences the few days and certainly weeks leading up to a meet determine the likelihood of perceived athlete success or less success (failure).
Now, in my humble opinion, a personal best is a personal best. Even a 1cm improvement is better than the previous performance and outcome. I always take a win or find the silver lining in a meet or performance. We build on win’s. Our growth as individuals is supported by those small wins. Every little bit helps.
In 2015, I attended a throwing conference held at the Spire Institute in Ohio. One of the guest speakers was world record holder in the weight throw and current American record holder in the hammer Lance Deal. In his presentation he spoke about a 10% rule that he has maintained and incorporated when working with the athletes he has coached in the past. I’ll leave you with the talk he gave on the topic and how it’s relevant today with the idea and notion about expectations around performance and what we should expect to throw at any given competition.
Since our meet wrapped up this past Friday, I have been thinking a lot about next steps for my athletes and the path that can be taken moving forward with the remainder of the outdoor season. As of now, we have a track meet every weekend until Mother’s Day. Knowing this allows me as a coach to continue to establish routines and rituals with my throwers. We are able to maintain a fairly structured practice schedule, with some flexibility included. Let me explain.
The next couple of competitions are scheduled for this upcoming Sunday, April 18th and Friday, April 23rd. Flexibility is important here because we are able to gain a practice session this week (Saturday) and lose one next week (Friday). There is a 0 net gain, but how practice structured the next 14 days is important.
After first meet performances, I typically review meet performances and the weeks leading up to the meet objectively. Keeping a detailed journal is important here for a couple of reasons. First, if we (athlete and I) were expecting a different performance, we can go back and see what we did in training leading up to the meet. Second, in the same light, we are able to review expectations and accountability. This is where the conversation about picking and choosing events moving forward might first happen.
I recorded and shared a podcast episode about this yesterday. Main eventing in three events during the outdoor season is quite rare. It isn’t too often that an athlete is going to have a real strong opportunity to win three throwing events at an outdoor conference championship. It happens, but not that frequently. With that said, now is the time to start the conversation moving forward.
What I like to discuss with my athletes is which event would they like to continue moving forward with as event 1, event 2, and event 3. Splitting time equally between all three events isn’t always fruitful and suggested. At least from my perspective, I wouldn’t encourage athletes to share time equally, especially if they are not as vested in one of the events they are asked to compete in.
In my podcast yesterday, I shared a story from my senior year (2004) about a conversation Coach Barr and I had after our indoor SUNYAC championships. I was seeded first in the weight throw going into the competition and ended up placing 4th. I was not pleased with my performance and knew that I needed to change something before the outdoor season started to give myself a chance to win the hammer. I told Coach Barr that I was no longer interested in competing in the shot-put, and that I wanted to put a greater emphasis on the hammer and discus. I knew I didn’t have a good chance to score in the shot-put. In 2003 I finished in the top 3 in the hammer, and just missed the finals of the discus. As a team we were not going to win the meet, and shared as such with Coach Barr as well. After I shared my plan with him, he agreed to de-emphasize the shot-put and focus more time on the discus. Looking back at my training journal from that outdoor season, my throwing time was about 60% hammer, 30% discus, and 10%. When it was decided I wasn’t going to throw the shot-put at the outdoor SUNYAC championships, I added the 10% to the hammer a couple of weeks before the championships.
At that time, I didn’t really know what I was doing or how Coach Barr would respond to this conversation. I knew I wasn’t a great shot-putter. I was all-in on the hammer, and thought that the discus would be a bonus at SUNYACS. Our conference was deep in 2004, and going into the competition I knew it would take at least 40m-42m just to make the finals. Coach Barr and I discussed this and made a plan moving forward two weeks out from SUNYACS.
Now getting back today, the conversation for this week and next will be what to focus on moving forward. I understand athletes have favorite events (maybe the one that they are performing best on, but not always), which I certainly take into consideration. I encourage my athletes to share their thoughts with me about this because it is their season and they are competing for the pure enjoyment of track and field. There are a couple of factors that will play a role here.
First, what are your expectations with competition moving forward with the remainder of the season? If there are goals the athletes still want to achieve and accomplish, this idea should be taken into consideration. If the athlete wants to compete in 3 or 4 events each meet, I’m all for it. I never want to discourage an athlete from competing in an event. If they decide they are no longer interested in competing in an event, we make the decision to no longer compete in that event. If the athlete has an opportunity to score at the conference meet in that event, I would also encourage the athlete to think about it (from a team perspective; this is an idea for another blog post down the road). If your team is in contention to win the conference championship and your athlete has a chance to score, then again I would encourage them to compete.
Really, what this all comes down to is having open and honest communication between coaches and their athletes. I encourage the conversation about events. I want me athletes to get the most out of their seasons, and if that means that maybe they only compete in two or three events, then that is ok.
The other day after practice I was having a conversation with one of my throwers about our first meet. For context, the conversation happened about two weeks ago as we were preparing for our home meet. I’m writing this blog post on Tuesday, April 13th, 2021.
After practice he shared with me that he wanted to win an event and finish high on another. I’m not purposefully speaking broadly, but I’d like to keep the context of the events private for the sake of this post. I’ll get there, don’t worry.
In February, after we had finished up practice at 10pm, the same athlete pulled me aside to discuss our current school records and what it might take to break them. In the same conversation we discussed what it might take to qualify for outdoor nationals. Regardless of our school records, he would need to throw at least 55m (my guess) to qualify for outdoor nationals in the hammer throw. Probably closer to 47m-49m in the discus. Our school record in the hammer is just under 49m. Our school record in the discus is over 50m. So, depending on the event I told him, he would certainly break the record and might not need to in another.
I enjoy having conversations about these topics with my athletes for a multitude of reasons. First, it adds some context to their expectations about school records and qualifying for either indoor or outdoor nationals. Depending on the university or college you attend, you might be able to win a national championship without actually breaking your school record. In other instances, you would probably need to break your school record just to make it to nationals. And that doesn’t take into consideration the prospects of either earning an All-American award or actually winning the event.
You see, depending on the situation or perspective you take, essentially you are chasing your own greatness. You define it as you would like.
My greatness was winning one SUNYAC hammer championship. I didn’t have the perspective or context to be aware of setting a much higher goal for myself, like qualifying for nationals by training through our conference championship to give myself a better chance or opportunity. I wanted to win that one championship so badly that I didn’t take into consideration the larger narrative around me-which at the time was outdoor nationals.
In our conversations with athletes that we coach, I believe as coaches our top priority aside from keeping our athletes both physically and mentally healthy (as best we can) is to provide them an environment that allows them the BEST possible opportunity to achieve their goals. Plain and simple, in a way we work (or coach) for them. We as coaches take on a lot of information, decipher it, analyze it, and put together individualized plans for our athletes to achieve their goal(s). We do our best with the circumstances we are given or the cards we are dealt.
In my experiences, I haven’t had many national championship conversations with athletes. I can count on one hand the times I had serious conversations about nationals and the realistic prospects an athlete had of going. Jen and I discussed this in February 2005. Julia and I had a conversation about it before her sophomore season. Luis and I first discussed this after his sophomore year in 2014. Tyler and I also had a conversation about this at the start of the 2016-17 season. I say a realistic conversation because it wouldn’t be fair to have the conversation with an athlete out of context. And what I mean by out of context is having a conversation about the prospects of winning a national championship with a freshman thrower that has never thrown before. That, I think, would be an unrealistic conversation to have. A realistic conversation would be with a returning senior thrower whose mark is the best returning mark for that specific event group and that was also an All-American the prior season (see Luis). During the 2015-16 season, Luis finished 6th at indoor nationals with a throw of 19.29m. That throw was the top returning throw to the 2015-16 season. We had our first conversation about nationals in August, 2015.
Defining Your Greatness
I’ve written about this topic many times. Goal achievement and realistic expectations, in my opinion, go hand-in-hand. A realistic perspective of what you can or cannot immediately accomplish can be established by; having a clear understanding of your own current skill set, a realization that some sacrifices may need to be made in order to achieve something and a willingness to accept accountability for your decisions. If as an athlete you are able to give yourself a definitive answer to the three questions above, then you will give yourself a better opportunity to define your greatness.
A lack of understanding or an unwilling desire to answer those questions will probably leave you unmotivated, no direction, and disengagement from what you thought you originally wanted to achieve.
You see, only you can clearly define your own greatness. Comparison is the thief of joy.
What you are capable of achieving is different from everyone else. You may have clear and concise answers to the questions posed above. Answering them, believing in them, and holding yourself accountable to them is what will make a difference in what you may or may not accomplish.
As you continue to embark on your journey this spring semester and even beyond, think about these questions. Ponder them. Answering them on paper is a start. Living them is another story altogether. Making those difficult decisions will influence (positively or negatively) your outcomes.
If you need an accountability partner I’m here to help! If you are having difficulty answering those questions, let me know and we can discuss the questions and your answers together. We all experience roadblocks and encounter obstacles and challenges along our life journey (athletic, professional, etc.). How you respond will make the difference between what you think you should achieve and what you actually did achieve.
This past Friday our Alfred State throwers competed in their first meet of the 2020-21 season. It was also the first time in many years that Alfred State had hosted a meet. We had great weather, great competition, and exciting performances.
The meet began at 3:30pm, and all throwers were given 4 attempts per event. We just finished up the men’s discus before dusk.
The men’s competition started off with the hammer. Overall, we had our two best performances in the hammer throw. Freshman Nate Chambers won the competition with a throw of 48.03m. Directly on his heels was sophomore Dylan Perlino. Dylan threw 47.88m. Both of those performances qualify these two athletes for our regional championships in mid-May. These two performances also rank Nate 3rd and Dylan 4th all-time in the hammer throw at Alfred State. Also having strong performances were freshmen Joe Hammer, Devin Gross, and Wilfredo Rodriguez. Joe finished with a personal best of 24.05m, Devin hit 21.51m, and Wilfredo threw 17.90m.
After the hammer, we transitioned to the shot-put event on the other side of the track and field complex. As with the hammer, we had great performances here as well. Dylan led our group with a toss of 11.17m. Joe and Nate were right behind with tosses of 10.45m and 10.26m, respectively. Wilfredo (9.57m), Jamison Pomroy (8.68m), and Devin (8.28m) all had personal marks.
Lastly, we wrapped up with the discus portion of the competition. Beginning right around 6:45pm, we were able to get 44 discus tosses in before dusk. Dylan led our throwers with a mark of 37.97m. Nate and Wilfredo were right behind with throws of 36.70m and 26.52m. Jamison, Joe, and Devin also had solid marks of 25.29m, 24.00m, and 23.99m respectively.
We began this spring semester with many unknowns. We weren’t sure if we would have an indoor season, an outdoor season, or any seasons at all. Beginning in January, we started having practices 2x per week from 8:30pm-10:30pm. We made it through those late evening practice sessions and successfully transitioned to outdoor training outdoors. There are still many unknowns left this season. What we may have taken for granted in the past with Friday or Saturday track meets may go by the wayside. We sit on the edge of our seats waiting for correspondence from other coaches and universities with updates about meet schedules, dates, and times.
For now, it looks as though we will have a track meet every weekend until Mother’s Day. We are not quite sure of all the specific dates and times, but we know we will be competing.
We all took a collective breath Friday night. Some of our throwers hadn’t competed since last March. For another it had been a couple of years. To say I’m proud of this group would be an understatement. We have traversed many challenges thus far within this infant season. We have collectively overcome many obstacles, challenges, and road blocks. I’m grateful for the opportunity to coach this group of throwers. A thank you isn’t quite enough, but for now it will suffice. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to call myself your coach!
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.