Yesterday I had a great conversation with a former athlete of mine that is now a very successful throwing coach in Division II. We were discussing athlete performances at nationals this year, and we came to a point where we agreed to disagree on how/why some athletes are able to perform at big competitions (nationals) and other athletes do not perform as well. Our impasse came when discussing prior athlete experiences.
From my experiences, athletes that compete well in high anxiety high stress competitions do so thanks in part to competing in those types of prior competitions (past experiences). There is research to support the rationale that having been placed in a high anxiety setting prior allows athletes to tap into those past experiences when in the current moment of competition, thus allowing for the opportunity to perform better in that instance (Chambliss, 1989; McCosker et al., 2019; Infurna, 2022). What has been neglected in the current research is how those early experiences translate to competitive experiences specific to high-school age athletes that transition to competing at the collegiate levels. Chambliss’ (1989) experiences with Olympic swimmers in the early 1980’s focused on not only adult-aged athletes, but junior athletes enrolled in high-school that were performing at the Olympic level (most of which were competing in the Olympics before transitioning to collegiate swimming). McCosker and colleagues (2019) qualitative study focused on track and field coaches that were currently working with Olympic/World Championship participating long-jumpers. Infurna (2022), similar to McCosker et al., (2019), emphasized the experiences of throwing coaches and their perceptions of coach-athlete relationships when working with throwers that had competed at the Olympic Games/World Championships.
Essentially, here we are. I provided a very brief overview of a few studies that focused on Olympic athletes and the role coaches play in mitigating performances at the highest level of competition (Olympic Games/World Championships). Unfortunately, 99% of us as coaches will probably never coach an Olympic Games/World Championship participating athlete, but we do coach and mentor high level high-school and collegiate throwers. A couple of questions for the group:
First, to what extent does the role of the coach play at the collegiate level in affecting/influencing throwing performances? Does the extent differ by division?
Second, to what extent do prior high level high-school competitive experiences play in affecting throwing performances at the collegiate level? Does the extent differ by division?
Chambliss, D. F. (1989). The mundanity of excellence: An ethnographic report on stratification and Olympic swimmers. Sociological theory, 7(1), 70-86.
Infurna, C. J. (2022). Sustained success at the Olympic level: Perspectives on coach-athlete relationships from track and field throwing coaches. Track Coach (winter).
McCosker, C., Renshaw, I., Russell, S., Polman, R., & Davids, K. (2019). The role of elite coaches’ expertise in identifying key constraints on long jump performance: how practice task designs can enhance athlete self-regulation in competition.
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.