The other night my wife and I attended the wedding of one of her former collegiate teammates. It was a small, intimate wedding with about 100 guests. I was a little nervous because we have attended weddings of her former teammates in the past, in which I have been left to my own devices (due to not knowing anyone in attendance). The other night however, was much different.
On the way to the wedding, I asked my wife if she thought I would know anyone else at the wedding and reception besides the groom and their former diving coach. She said we would probably be sitting with her former teammates, of which we have attended their previous weddings. I’m all for small talk, but the thought of another wedding left to my own accord bothered me a little bit. That lasted about 30 seconds.
As we walked into the restaurant where the ceremony was going to take place, I heard a familiar voice. One I haven’t heard in over 10 years. It was the voice of one of my former coaches at Fredonia.
I first met Coach Csont on my recruiting trip to SUNY Fredonia in April, 2000. I was in the middle of my senior year at Webster and was coming off of a great couple of meets, and was excited to share the news with him and anyone else that would be interested in listening. He was very patient with me. He answered all my questions and was very honest about his expectations of me and how my performances would measure up on the current collegiate team and within the SUNYAC conference. I was a pretty good thrower, but I thought I was a better sprinter. Our 4x100m relay team had broken a couple of invitational records, and I had recently broke 11 seconds for the first time in the 100m dash. I actually threw the discus over 150’, the shot-put over 50’, and ran under 11 seconds in the 100m dash in the same meet. I thought I was pretty good—he politely told me otherwise.
After I graduated in May, 2004, I stayed on as a graduate assistant for a couple of seasons. At first I thought it was a little weird that I would be coaching with one of my former coaches. I felt a little uncomfortable as well because at the time I didn’t feel as though I would be able to meet his expectations about the type of coach I could be.
After my wife and I moved back to Rochester in 2010, coach and I lost touch. It actually happened before that, after he left coaching at SUNY Fredonia. We lived in neighboring towns for a couple of years and never ran into each other.
Maybe it was fate. Maybe we were both destined to attend this wedding ceremony. But when I heard his voice, we picked up where we left off during the 2007-2008 season. Paul, as he told me to call him (I never called him Paul at Fredonia, even when we were on the same coaching staff), spoke for the better part of the wedding reception. We reminisced about coaching together, how coaching athletes is slightly different and similar in some aspects across the decades, and what we are doing now.
I’m starting this end of the year post with this story of catching up with Paul because we spent the better part of the night ignoring our wives and just talking about what was, what is, and what the future holds for coaching (not only track and field at Fredonia but coaching in general).
It gave me the chance reflect back on all the great times I had at Fredonia, both as an athlete and as a coach. It also gave me the chance to thank Paul for being the coach he was and how I have incorporated some of what he taught us back then with how I coach my athletes today.
Looking back on 2019, it was a pretty good year for our post-collegiate and high-school throwers.
Our high-school throwers topped their prior year’s performances, growing by leaps and bounds.
On the men’s side, senior William Gross won the New York State Championship in the 25lb. weight throw, joining a very elite list of high-school male throwers by throwing the weight over 70’ and the shot-put over 50’ in the same season. William completed this feat at the same meet! William was also a high-school All-American in the weight throw and earned a scholarship to throw at Akron. He is the second male high-school thrower we have coached here at Forza that has gone on to earn a Division I scholarship to throw.
On the women’s side, Monique Hardy made history during the indoor season. She joined the 60’ club in the weight, won the New York State Championship in the weight throw and shot-put, as well as claiming the New Balance Indoor National Championship in the weight throw. Her throw of 64’7” ranks her 6th all-time among high-school female weight throwers, and is also 2nd all-time in New York State. Earlier this season Monique accepted a scholarship to throw at LSU next fall. She is the third thrower from our Forza club to accept a Division I scholarship.
Our post-collegiate throwers continued progressing as well. Weight/hammer thrower Luis Rivera again qualified for the USATF Indoor National Championships in the weight throw, as well as setting another personal best in the hammer throw at just under 66m. Luis has set a personal best in the hammer throw each year he has been a post-collegiate thrower. The goal for the 2020 season is to qualify for the Olympic Trials in the hammer!
I have been very fortunate and blessed over the course of the past few years to have had the opportunity to work with such an amazing group of up and coming throwers. With the correct amount of ingredients, it is amazing the amount of growth and development a young thrower can make over the course of an indoor and outdoor season.
We are a couple of days away from the start of a new decade. Here’s to another magnificent, thrilling, and fruitful decade as we continue along this throwing journey.
This year is the first time in as long as I can remember that I am not coaching at the collegiate level or enrolled in graduate school. For the past 10 years, I have either been enrolled in an administrative program, coaching, or taking doctorate level courses. This is the first time in a long time I have been able to take a breather during the fall semester of a collegiate semester.
It did not stop me from coaching Luis at the Nazareth College Alumni Meet this past Friday, December 6th. It was my first time coaching Luis in a meet since the 2016-2017 season. Not coaching collegiate athletes gave me the opportunity to sit, watch, and take in what was happening around me during the course of the evening.
Something interesting happened while I was at the meet with Luis. Not worrying about running around from event to event gave me the chance to really sit, be in the moment, and pay attention to what was happening around me. And believe me, I heard a lot. Much of what I heard was fairly common around the throwing circle. Other things, however, caught me off guard.
Conversation 1—Overhead Close to the Shot-Put Area
Coach—Nice job. That is a personal best by .5m.
Athlete—Yeah, I guess so. I was expecting to throw farther.
Coach—You threw a personal best by almost 2’.
Athlete—I thought I could have done better.
A couple of interesting things strike me about this conversation. First, it doesn’t seem like the coach or athlete had clear expectations of what to expect with this first meet. A personal best is always a great accomplishment. If the athlete expected more, it tells me that the athlete has had much better training sessions that would lead them to think they would have thrown farther at this meet. Also, it doesn’t seem like a plan was in place for the first meet. I would always tell my athletes that the first meet would serve as a benchmark for the remainder of the season and that they should be able to throw at least 90% of their personal best regardless of the conditions. In this particular situation the athlete accomplished that by hitting a new personal best, but was it at the expense of the remainder of the season? Lastly, this conversation also leads me to think that the athlete doesn’t have clear expectations of themselves for the season. Hitting a personal best is great. Hitting a personal best in the first meet is also great.
Conversation 2—Overheard at the Weight Throw Cage
Coach—Focus and be aggressive this meet.
Coach—Relax and get after this first throw (as athlete walks into the circle for their first throw)
I’m not really sure what to make of this one. Telling an athlete to focus in a meet is something that has boggled my mind for years. I’m 99.9% sure that most of the time athletes are trying to focus on throwing at a track meet. The other percentage I know is distracted by schoolwork, other things going on around them at the meet, etc. I know because on occasion my athletes take out course work and finish homework assignments in the middle of meets. To be honest, I’ve never observed this at Division I meets. What I mean is that I’ve never observed Division I throwers working on homework at track meets. I’ve been to my fair share of Division I meets over the years across the Northeast, and I’ve never noticed a Division I thrower or Division II thrower working on course work.
Anyway, getting back to being relaxed and aggressive at the same time. Yes, as athletes, we should be aware of our arousal levels in competition. We should be excited, but not that excited. We should be ready to compete, but not to the point that it will hinder our performance. In my opinion, this is something that takes practice and that athletes should be aware of how ‘jacked’ they get in practice to try and replicate those feelings in meets. In practice, it is much easier to practice because it is practice. That is the best time to work on new things, rather than trying something new at the meet for the first time.
Conversation 3—Before the Start of the Men’s Weight Throw
Coach—Is the focus still on staying flat through 3?
Athlete—Yes. Make sure the ball is flat until 4.
Coach—Staying flat through your 3rd turn.
This is the conversation that Luis and I had before the men’s weight throw competition. With it being his first meet, the focus was on making sure he kept the weight flat through his 3rd turn. We didn’t discuss distance. All we discussed was this technical cue. It was something that he has been working on back at Ashland for a couple of weeks. Rather than try and grip and rip the weight, Luis focused on technique and stuck to the plan we discussed earlier. We had a game plan and we executed it.
I think far too often coach and athlete don’t have conversations similar to the one Luis and I had. Even when he was a college athlete, we would focus on one or two technical cues each meet that we knew would help move him closer to achieving his ultimate goal(s). Of course, we wanted to throw far every meet, but distance will come with solid technique, understanding your body, and having a plan to execute each meet.
Moving forward with the remainder of the indoor and outdoor seasons, I encourage athletes and coaches to engage in conversations about meet day expectations, seasonal expectations, and how to focus on one or two technical cues per meet. Far too often I hear coaches reciting doctoral dissertations on what went wrong during a throw and then listing off all the ways to make technical cues and corrections. Emphasize the positive from each throw. The provide one or two pieces of information that can be easily implemented during the course of the competition. Most throwers only get three attempts in the weight, shot, discus, hammer, and javelin per meet. Focusing on one or two technical cues per meet will benefit the athlete and coach by creating a less stressful environment in which the athlete is trying to focus on an endless list of things to correct for the next throw. We only have 5-10 minutes in between throws. Being able to process all that information creates a less conducive environment that will lead to higher athlete stress, anxiety, and nervousness. Stick to the positive, support your athletes, and love them regardless of the outcome!
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.