I don’t believe this is a topic I’ve discussed much, if at all in the past. I think it’s an interesting topic that isn’t really discussed much on social media, but there is ample research in the coach-athlete relationship space about relationships and when/how they come to an end. I experienced my first post-collegiate break up with an athlete over this past weekend. After reflecting upon it for the past couple of days, I have wrapped my mind around what (from my perspective) went wrong and how the relationship may have been extended due to extenuating outcomes (from the possible perspective of the athlete).
Before I really get started here, I think it’s important to share that I believe that a large majority of throwers at the high-school and collegiate levels throw because they have some type of goal they want to achieve and distance they want to ultimately throw. For the very few throwers at that level, I believe they compete and join track teams because they want to be part of a group of individuals that share similar passions, i.e. throwing. And for that very small group of throwers, their ultimate goal isn’t simply to throw far(ther), but rather be around a group of individuals and have fun. Not sure what the percentage might be, but it would probably be fair to say the split might look like 90/10 or 95/5.
Alright, getting back to our situation at hand. After a few text message exchanges and a Zoom chat we were well on our way to getting started and hopefully throwing farther.
The athlete sent me a few of their throws via text message and I would send back some thoughts about their technique and share some tips via the Coaching Eye app. Their five or six second video clips would turn into a couple minute videos about technique; foot placement, hips, shoulders, eyes, etc. A couple of suggestions and drills to support the new technique. We did this for approximately a couple of months. In that time, this athlete had two competitions.
Unfortunately, as their practice technique got more efficient and they were implementing mindset strategies to help support the new technique, things wouldn’t go as smoothly in competition. In my opinion, their technique improved in the two competitions we worked together, however their distances did not improve. Quite the opposite actually. Their distances from competition 1 to competition 2 in which we worked together got worse. As I’m writing this now, I’m still trying to figure out what would cause the change from practice to competition. I have a pretty good idea, but that can be saved for another post.
This past weekend we discussed how the competition went. Before long, the athlete told me they were going to search for a more local coach and thanked me for my help. I wished them the best in hopes of finding the distances they were searching for with me as their coach.
So, what went wrong…
From my perspective, this is a list of what I think went wrong in this situation. Hopefully this list can help other coaches who might be in similar predicaments with coaching athletes at any level through a club or other affiliation not associated with a school/college/university.
1. Lack of Clear Expectations
If you have got this far, you might be able to see (or read) that the expectations of the athlete were simply to throw farther. Of course I understand that. There are a multitude of factors that play a role in how well someone is going to compete (or throw) on a given day. Some factors within their ultimate control and others not (travel, weather, time of day, etc.).
I failed to share and set clear expectations for what this coach-athlete relationship would look like. In this case, the expectation of throwing farther immediately after beginning to work together (i.e. a couple of months). I should have known better. Changing technique and providing technical and mindset cues takes time and effort. Providing the cues is one thing, implementing them is something altogether.
2. Goal-Setting: It isn’t always about throwing farther, or is it?
The only mention of achieving a goal was for this athlete to qualify for a specific meet in which they need to reach a certain ranking in order to be eligible and to throw farther.
I failed to share specific process goal related outcomes/scenarios that would have removed any anxiety, fear, or apprehension the athlete had about reaching a certain ranking and hitting a certain distance in an event. Completing a certain number of physical repetitions per week, practicing mental rehearsal cues, etc. are all outcomes that can be strived for. A sole focus on throwing farther without implementing strategies discussed (see 1) sets the coach and athlete up for disaster.
3. How to Receive Information
I did not discuss with the athlete how they like to receive feedback regarding their technique and how to share information about cues and drills to incorporate. The athlete would text me their throws, I would upload them to Coaches Eye, include ideas, and send back to the athlete with links of visual cues to review from other athletes, as well as mindset activities to incorporate to better prepare for the heightened anxiety of attempting to perform well when a top ranking is on the line.
Again, if you made it this far-thank you! Essentially, from the perspective of the athlete, I believe that because they didn’t improve their distances in competition they decided I wasn’t the right coach for them and they wanted to make a change. No hard feelings at all. As I mentioned, I wished the athlete nothing but the very best of luck in their future endeavors.
I do believe that the right combination of communication, expectations, and outlining goals/aspirations makes for a healthy coach-athlete relationship. You can add accountability as well. In situations where the athlete is solely relying on their own effort in competition (diving, swimming-not relay races, throwing, golf, singles tennis, wrestling, badminton, racquetball, etc.) it requires athletes and coaches alike to take a deeper look at what is happening, not only when the athlete is successful (how they define success) but not as successful as well and be critical of what needs to better be communicated to ensure the athlete is given the best possible opportunity to reach their goals.
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.