"You aren’t a true success unless you are helping others be successful. Success is meant to be shared."
A research area of mine for the past couple of years has been focused on coach-athlete relationships. More specifically, coach-athlete relationships in non-traditional team sports (track & field, swimming, diving, golf, tennis, cross-country, and gymnastics). Although all individual members of the teams listed are indeed members of teams, their performances are not as dependent on their teammates as those of members of football, lacrosse, field hockey, hockey, and basketball teams. For example, once a thrower steps into the circle or on the javelin runway they are essentially competing on their own. A teammate will not be able to assist them if they make a mistake in the circle. Unlike a more traditional team sport where your teammates may pick up some of the slack at times, nobody is there to pick up your slack during a floor routine in gymnastics or while on the platform ready to complete a dive off of the 3m board.
Even though our teammates may not be able to physically assist us when throwing or diving or teeing off, they can certainly assist us psychologically. They can provide their support in a multitude of ways, such as; watching the competition, providing you with positive and constructive feedback, offering encouragement, and holding you accountable before and after the competition. Being the best at your individual sport really isn’t always about winning and beating the competition, but rather it is about striving to be the best you can be. It is also about bringing out the best in others, your teammates. As we continue to strive for greatness, we help inspire our teammates. It is much easier to complete a 6am workout with your teammates rather than it is alone. You can encourage your teammates when they feel down or disengaged during practice or during competition. The person you become while on your journey towards greatness will have a lasting impact on those around you.
By holding yourself accountable to your commitments, you hold your teammates accountable as well. You do not allow your peers to settle for anything less than their best. How do you do that yourself? You show up every day willing to do what it takes to get 1% better than the day before. Showing up every day is infectious. Your teammates will see that. Having a positive mindset when you don’t think you can complete one last rep or circuit or interval will inspire others. Lead by example. Be positive. Be supportive. Hold your teammates accountable. Ensure they are fulfilling their commitments to themselves and to those around them.
Leave a legacy. Your pursuit of excellence will encourage and empower others to strive for excellence as well. The path to greatness is bringing those around you up, not to bring them down. How do you want your teammates to remember you after graduation? What would you want them to say about you at your 80th birthday celebration?
When You Meet Your Internet Friends for the First Time - Recap of the United States Center for Coaching Excellence Conference
I just got back from spending the week in Orlando, Florida attending the United States Center for Coaching Excellence (USCCE) conference, learning from the best and brightest minds in the field of sport psychology, trauma informed care for youth athletes, and best practices in the field of athletic coaching. It was the first sport coaching conference that I have attended. The conference brought together over 200 attendees from 10 countries, all individuals and teams focused on improving the field of athletic coaching.
The conference’s theme was to enhance the field of sport coaching specific to youth sports with a focus on trauma informed care and best practices. Other sub-themes were about sport coaching programs at the collegiate level and overseas. I immediately learned that there are only 19 colleges/universities in the United States that offer graduate degrees in athletic coaching. I was aware of one in Missouri (I’ll speak more about the Positive Coaching program later), but I was not aware of the other programs, such as the programs located at the University of Denver and Indiana State. In Western New York, there are a couple of college programs that offer minor’s in coaching, but not full undergraduate degrees in sport coaching. The University of Buffalo offers a graduate degree to doctorate in Exercise Science and Physiology or Kinesiology. Nothing specific to sport coaching.
All the presenters were very well prepared, well-versed in their fields, and shared ideas and research topics that I never would have thought of. One of the most interesting presentations I attended was about research in the field of writing gratitude letters to people. A professor from Adams State University shared his research focused on gratitude letters that his students write to people in their lives, thus expressing their gratitude for being an integral part of their life. I found this session most interesting because I started writing letters to my athletes at the conclusion of our season, beginning in the summer of 2005. I did, and continue to, write hand-written notes to my returning athletes. They are only a paragraph or so long, expressing my gratitude for them having been a member of our throwing team, a couple of thoughts about the season, and that I’m looking forward to working with them in the fall. Who knew that I could have started collecting that type of data back in 2005. I’d have 13 years of gratitude data now!
The most rewarding experience from the conference was getting to meet a team of very special and talented individuals from the University of Missouri. It was really two years in the making. Back in the summer of 2016, before I defended my dissertation, I reached out to a woman named Amber Lattner, now Amber Selking. I came across a program that she was a part of at the University of Missouri. A coach that I had always looked up to at Missouri, Dr. Rick McGuire, wrote a research and evidence-based program, simply titled Positive Coaching. Dr. McGuire was an integral part of the USATF and USOC. He was one of their lead sport psychologists. He has been a part of Olympic Teams spanning four decades.
After a few email exchanges, Amber and I spoke on the phone. I was, and still am, really interested in learning more about the Positive Coaching program she was a part of while a doctoral student at the University of Missouri. It is so fascinating to me that someone can earn a graduate degree in Positive Coaching. Someday I may go back and enroll in the program. You just never know. Anyway, we spoke about the program and how I wanted to make it a part of the Nazareth College coaching culture. My coaching style mirrors that of the Positive Coaching program. We spoke a couple of times on the phone, but with both of our crazy schedules, I was never able to secure a couple of days for Amber or Rick to come out to Rochester and meet with our Athletic Director about integrating the Positive Coaching framework with all our sports programs. As I was walking towards the conference area, I mustered up the courage to interrupt Amber’s lunch, and introduce myself. Even as I’m writing this a week later, I cannot believe that I was able to spend an hour speaking with her about coaching, life, family, sports, and Notre Dame football.
Later that afternoon, I introduced myself to Rick McGuire. I’m not sure if this happens to others, but I had about two dozen questions prepared. I knew he was going to be in attendance, but I didn’t think I would have more than five minutes to speak to him. Well, five minutes turned into about five hours. I didn’t get a chance to ask all of my questions because our conversation was much deeper than most of the thoughts I wanted to share with him. Out of respect for our conversation, I won’t go into specific detail about the majority of our conversation. We did spend a lot of time discussing USATF sport psychology, best practices for coaches and athletes specific to how coach-athlete relationships affect athlete performance in the US and abroad, and research focused on USATF and how athletes perform at both the World Championships and Olympic Games.
On more than one occasion my wife has accused me of being star struck when attending conferences with high profile individuals, both in the field of education and this conference. Yes, there have been times when I have presented at conferences and met researchers in the field of early childhood education. Most of those researchers were cited in my dissertation and manuscripts. Having those researchers sit in on a presentation was a bit nerve wrecking at first, but it has gotten easier. The same can be said for this conference. Speaking to someone on Twitter for a couple of years or even on the phone does not have the same impression as seeing them in person and getting the chance to speak to them. Especially with someone like Dr. McGuire. I still cannot believe some of the stories he shared when traveling with certain athletes during the Olympics. And there he was. Standing next to me. For well over three hours. Talking about life, sports, family, and coaching.
I cannot thank Kristen Dieffenbach, PhD, and her team enough for putting on such a great conference with so many experts in the field of sports psychology and coaching education all under one roof. I definitely appreciated the location. Most early childhood education conferences I attend are usually in the Northeast. Traveling to Orlando for a conference was fantastic. I’m very much looking forward to the conference next year. I will absolutely be submitting a couple of abstracts of the current research I’m conducting focused on coach-athlete relationships and college athlete perceptions of their relationships with their coaches.
For more information about the United States Center for Coaching Excellence you can click on the following link that will direct you to their homepage https://www.uscoachexcellence.org
For more information about Positive Coaching from the University of Missouri, you can click on the following link https://education.missouri.edu/positivecoaching/. Coach, Brian, Bryan, and Amber, thank you for embracing me and making me feel a-part of your Positive Coaching family! I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to repay your kindness and generosity.
Under pressure, we do not rise to the occasion. We rise or fall to the level of our training. ~ Urban Meyer
Every thrower has one minute from the time their name is called to enter the circle or step on the runway to initiate their throw. Everyone receives at least three throws. The top eight or nine throwers receive three additional throws in the finals. For the throwers fortunate enough to make the finals, those additional throws are the culmination of hard-work, dedication, grit, and determination. Others might call it luck. Lucky if someone made the finals that shouldn’t have. Some might also call it choking if someone was supposed to make the finals but didn’t. For even more we might say someone exceeded expectations (or rather didn’t throw up to their potential). In my opinion, it may be a combination of all those scenarios.
Entering a meet is relatively easy. You locate a meet to compete in and you pay the entry fee. Fairly painless. Traveling to the meet may be a bit more difficult, depending on how much travel is involved. Throwing in the meet is also a pretty easy endeavor. Just show up really. The most difficult part of the meet comes after you enter and before you compete. How do you spend the time in the middle? That is where champions are made!
As a competitor, my favorite part of throwing occurred at the meets. After speaking to Jud Logan at a meet, he famously said to, “Treat meets as a reward for all the work you put in before hand.” I didn’t really enjoy the process of training for a meet all the time. The mundanity of drills did get boring at times. It wasn’t until I began treating meets as rewards that I started making greater progress in my throws and lifts on the powerlifting platform.
Reflecting back to something I wrote a few months ago, I think about the accountability placed on coaches to ensure their athletes perform to a certain level or expectation. A couple of questions come to mind. How do we define the success of the performance and how are we held accountable to them? Similarly, who defines the level of performance.
One of the reasons I'm working on this project is to further engage athletes in the accountability and commitment departments. Specifically, how coaches can make athletes part of the learning and, ultimately, part of the planning process. I believe it is important to work with the athlete and define as a team what the expectations are, who is accountable for what, and how I as a coach can hold the athlete accountable to their commitments.
When athletes are allowed to provide input and are made part of the decision-making process, a sense of ownership is taken on by the athlete. I wish I would have adopted this methodology of coaching when I first started. Back then I was all about the results and what I thought my throwers needed to do in order to be successful. Today, at Nazareth, I look at the dyad as a 50-50 partnership. We write things down. If an athlete says they are going to do something, and they don't, then they can reflect upon what happened that caused them to not do what they said they were going to do (missed weight room sessions, missed sessions with the trainers, etc.). Of course I take ownership in this process as well. I initiate it. However, I hold my athletes accountable to their commitments. They hold me accountable to mine. They are a very integral part of the process.
When I met with Dr. Chambliss in April, he told me that it was ok if my athletes didn't want to be the best. He told me it was ok if they didn't want to throw as far as I wanted them to. Nobody ever put it quite like that. Honest and to the point. I have always found it very difficult to not hold myself to a higher standard. Certainly I want my athletes to throw well. What is different is that their definition of well and mine have not always been the same. With the implementation of our throwing journal this upcoming season, accountability and commitments to one another will be clearer and understood by all.
Talent is common; what you invest to develop that talent is the critical final measure of greatness. ~ Anson Dorrance
Almost four years to the day I was accepted into St. John Fisher College’s Executive Leadership Ed.D. program. I was nervous, a little anxious, and filled with hope that after 28 months I would be adding the letters Ed.D. at the end of my signature. Maybe hope isn’t the right word because I was going to finish this program. The time and financial investments were too great to not finish on-time.
From the first night of class, our professors told us about a dozen or so times every weekend that, “we needed to trust the process.” The process, as they called it, was a two-sided piece of paper. On that paper was our class schedule for the next 28 months. Every other Friday night and Saturday, 20 individuals would spend the better part of 12 hours learning more about ourselves, leadership, communication, excellence, integrity, trust, and teamwork.
Not everyone bought into the process. As we journeyed into that first summer, we had a major assignment due. For some, it was the tipping point. A 30-page literature review on our dissertation topic. If you didn’t trust the process by July, you were never going to trust the process.
In the end, I graduated and walked across stage with nine of my peers. It was an exhilarating experience. One I will never forget, as my two boys watched me walk across stage as our Dean of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. School of Education read my name aloud. For those of us, we trusted the process. We trusted the fact that our professors had our ultimate best interest at heart. They wanted us to succeed. My dissertation committee wanted me to succeed. I wanted to succeed. Not only for my wife, but for my two boys, our third on the way, my parents, my brother, and my in-laws.
Reflecting back on the process, our success was brought upon by mastering the fundamentals. For my example of graduating with a doctorate, the most fundamental task of all was writing. More specifically, how our voice would be heard through our words. We had to write. Write a lot. Especially without a lot of time. All our classes lasted only eight weeks. We met four times over the eight weeks. The writing was tedious at times. And very frustrating.
However, the non-negotiable in this program, or any doctorate program is having the self-discipline to sit down and write. Again, writing is a fairly ordinary task. In this program, we all became masters of this ordinary task.
Putting your blind faith into someone or something is not what I’m recommending. In my example from Fisher, the plan had been developed and revised over the course of many years. To invest all that time and effort, we knew that our professors wouldn’t let us fail (although some did-long story). Much like my professors at Fisher, sport coaches lay out plans for athletes’ successes as well.
I don’t ask my athletes at Nazareth College to blindly follow programs without asking questions. I often question myself and what I wrote and explained if I don’t get any questions. Either I didn’t explain something well enough and they are afraid to ask, or the concept went way over their heads. As our relationships continues to build, and we trust and respect each other more, the process and journey becomes much more collaborate.
In the past I have had a few athletes that wanted to switch things up in the weight room or in the circle every couple of weeks because, as they said, “it’s not working.” Well, to be honest, most weightlifting programs aren’t going to be working after a couple of sessions. Neither are the drills that develop skills in the circle. It takes more than one training session to transition to a four turn hammer thrower. Similarly, it takes more than one training session to transition to the rotational shot-put technique if you have been a glider your entire career.
Technique isn’t going to be learned in a day, week, or month. It takes dedication, grit, and often times resiliency to learn proper throwing technique and mechanics, especially if you are learning a new technique or transitioning to a different style of throwing. The best of the best throwers continue to work on their throwing technique and mechanics. You can scroll through Instagram and you will see dozens and dozens of Olympic caliber throwers working on their technique.
Success is all about the fundamentals. And the fundamentals are little and ordinary and often boring. However, in order to be the very best you must master them. You must become a master of the ordinary. In every act of greatness, whether in throwing or academics, the best of the best accomplish extraordinary feats by doing ordinary things with extraordinary consistency, commitment and focus.
You are not going to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Thursday, June 7th, 2018. However, you can assure yourself that you won’t qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2020 if you haven’t started training for them today.
Much like they say in the sport of triathlon, you aren’t going to win the triathlon during the swim portion of the competition, but you sure can lose it during the swim portion of the competition.
The most dazzling human achievements are, in fact, the aggregate of countless of individual elements, each of which is, in a sense, ordinary. ~ Daniel Chambliss
With the emergence of social media over the past decade, throwers from around the world have been able to instantly post videos to Facebook. Most recently, with the explosion of popularity with Twitter and Instagram, anyone in the world can post just about anything, receive feedback, and apply that feedback to their throws. The "throwing secrets", if there ever really were any, have mostly been let out of the bag. What separates the very best from their competitors doesn't always lie in strength, style, or technique. The difference can be found in the mundane.
Here in the United States, the Division II and Division III Outdoor National Track & Field Championships came to a close last weekend. With the range of distances so close in most of the qualifying events, a meter difference in the hammer is relatively small. Anyone within the top 15, with a meter or two difference between 1 and 15, has a realistic chance and opportunity to win. Similar in the shot-put. A 25cm or 50cm difference can be overcome. That is the focus of this series. After we take out all of the physical traits, all that remain are the mental. What is it about throwers that separates them, especially at major competitions like the Collegiate Nationals or USA Indoor and Outdoor Nationals.
They may have similar training programs, throwing volume, and access to similar coaches. The difference between the best and their competitors can be found in the mundane. It is in the mundane where you see greatness rise. The best do the little things every day. They do a lot of mundane things a little better than the rest. They take the time and energy to focus on the small activities and actions needed to achieve greatness. They don’t just do the ordinary things when they feel like it. They do the ordinary simple things every day, without fail. The key is to deliberately practice and get a little bit better every day. Over time little improvements each week lead to big results next month and next year.
Earlier this season at an indoor track meet a coach approached me and said that he had read one of my blog posts about meeting Dan Chambliss last year. We were speaking about training and throwing, and this coach asked me what throwing activities I thought were mundane or boring.
To be perfectly honest, I believe most throwing and weightlifting activities are mundane, but not necessarily boring. The boring part is what you make of the activities, your attitude, and the environment you are training in. In essence, your training sessions are what you make them out to be. Yes, I will agree that some of our training sessions at Nazareth College border on boring. However, I'm willing to sacrifice the fun and excitement all the time in order for our athletes to reach their throwing goals. Our 2015-16 season was rather boring. We focused a lot of our time on minor technical cues, and worked on them for weeks at a time. Mundane, yes. Boring, most of the time. Our results, life altering.
The mundanity comes from the day after week after month after year completion of those activities. Each individual throwing session can by itself be mundane. If you are simply going through the motions, you may not be getting a quality session in. If you are deliberate in your training session, focus on a specific aspect of your throw, receive feedback, and implement that feedback you will notice that over time, your throwing sessions and distances will begin to improve. Just going through the motions and taking throw after throw without putting much mental effort into it won’t necessarily result in longer throws in the future.
Mundanity comes from completing simple and ordinary tasks to your best of your ability, with focused and deliberate efforts, over the course of weeks, months, and years. That is where you will see throwers separate themselves for their peers. For some throwers, their seasons ended last week at Nationals. They may not begin training again until August or September when they return to campus. For others, the 2018-19 season began after they got home from Nationals. That is where you will see greatness rise.
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.