I received a lot of positive feedback about last week’s post about re-evaluating expectations when returning from winter break. I also received some indifferent feedback about meeting your goals and expectations. I appreciate all the feedback I received!
I do want to revisit this topic again because I think it is important to provide coaches out there with some strategies and tools they can implement when encountering situations like this. First off, I’d like to share some feedback I received when I was working on a project a couple of years ago.
The scope of my project was to ask post-collegiate throwers why they continued throwing after graduating from college. I was really fortunate to interview three American Olympians for the project. I cannot share their names or the events they competed in because it would give away their anonymity (and would show poor ethics on my part).
While I was conducting the interviews, I asked everyone the same follow-up question about how much time each individual spent training per week and season. When I interviewed the Olympians, I asked them how much time they spent training for the respective event per Olympic quad.
The first thrower told me that he spent approximately 10 hours training per week. That included both throwing and weight room sessions. He would train for 48 weeks a year, so approximately 480 hours a year. The second thrower told me he would spend between 30-40 hours a week for 48 weeks. Quite a bit more than thrower 1. Finally, the third thrower told me he would complete 10 training sessions per week. When I asked him how much time that took per week, he did not share that information with me. He also did not tell me how many weeks a year he trained. If he trained at least 10 hours a week for 50 weeks, that would equal about the same amount of time spent training as thrower 1. I hope you are still following along…
I’m sharing this information with you for a few reasons. First, I believe in the goal-setting process and accountability. When I would spend time with my athletes putting plans together with them for the indoor or outdoor seasons, we embedded accountability metrics along the way. Throwing far is one thing, but if you don’t prepare both physically and mentally for the task ahead you are not giving yourself the best opportunity to throw as far as you are able to. I was never going to have my athlete’s train 30-40 hours a week at the Division III level. Even if we wanted to, there wasn’t going to be enough time each day when you take in to account how much time an athlete sleeps and the time they spend in class!
Second, I’ve had plenty of athletes tell me they wanted to be great and that they wanted to throw far. However, when I or their teammates tried to hold them accountable to their goals and plans, things would fall apart. I’m all for supporting my athletes, but there does come a time when a serious heart-to-heart conversation needs to take place. Making progress is one thing, but missing steps along the way is not going to help.
Third, every athlete is different and should be treated accordingly. The three Olympic throwers I interviewed all had very different training philosophies and training programs. What works for one athlete might not have worked for the other. The same can be said about our collegiate throwers. What works for one might not work for another. That is the great thing about coaching. Our circle is like a classroom. We need to differentiate our coaching in order to meet the needs of our throwers. In order to get the best out of them we need to adapt our coaching to meet them where they are.
I share all this with you this week because if you are truly working towards accomplishing your throwing goals I congratulate you! However, if you talk a big game but don’t follow-up with your actions you have plenty of time to right the ship if you will. If you truly want to be great, then do great things. Take care of your body, get the proper rest, fuel your body, get your training sessions in, focus during practice. I promise you will give yourself a better opportunity to be great and become the thrower you achieve to become.
Some throwers returned to action this past weekend. Others will be returning to action this upcoming weekend. One piece of advice I would share with my throwers before they left for break was to continue training as they would if they were still here at Nazareth College. I always understood that some high school facilities or gyms do not offer the same type of equipment we had at Nazareth, but if they could continue to train at least three days a week they would be much better off than if they didn’t train at all. Unfortunately, for the better part of my coaching career, athletes would return back to campus after their four-or-five-week vacation in much different shape than they left. This is when things got a little tricky.
You see, as college coaches at the Division III level we really can’t make our athletes do anything over the course of any break. They are left to their own devices with regards to training and throwing. In all honesty, I really didn’t mind if they weren’t able to throw because at least that way they wouldn’t be developing poor habits without the assistance of a coach watching them. The weight training, on the other hand, often set us back quite a bit because you simply cannot make up that lost time under the bar.
When our athletes returned back from break, I would sit down and meet with each thrower to gauge what type of physical and mental shape they were in to start the spring semester. I would always ask about training and how their vacation went. I was fortunate that my athletes for the most part were always really honest with me. In their sharing, they would often reveal that they didn’t spend much time at all in a weight room. And yes, as coaches, we can tell especially after a five-week break. If looks didn’t reveal anything, that first training session back would.
For the athletes that stayed the course and didn’t fall behind with training, we were able to pick up where we left off. They often times had far better results through the indoor season compared to their peers that didn’t train during break because it would take about three or four weeks to get back into some resemblance of shape from when they left for break.
In re-evaluating expectations after break with my athletes, I would; 1) review their goals with them, 2) develop an action plan with them on how to get back on track, 3) input accountability metrics along the way, and 4) share with them that at least for the first couple of meets (usually through the beginning of February) to focus on the process of getting back into throwing shape and not stress or feel anxious about the distances they thought they should be throwing at this point in the season and weren’t.
In my coaching career, I think the process over outcome mentality is a difficult one for athletes to embrace. It seems as though our current society is about immediate positive outcomes and results without necessarily putting in the work to achieve those results. I’m sorry, but if you don’t train for five weeks you shouldn’t expect to walk back into the weight room and hit numbers you were hitting before you left for break. That in-part also has an impact on throwing outcomes as well. Holding yourself accountable to your action plan, making sure you complete your workouts, and taking care of your rest/nutrition will give you a better opportunity to hit your goals as opposed to the opposite (not training, not holding yourself accountable, and not taking care of your body).
As you prepare to compete again this spring semester, think about the training or lack thereof you put in over break. If you don’t achieve the results you expected when you returned, what can you do differently moving forward to give yourself an opportunity to reach your goals? What can you immediately begin to do differently in 2020 to realize your throwing dream(s)?
Over the holiday break I had the chance to get a swim session in at the local YMCA with my dad. It was my first swim training session since September, and my plan was to complete 1000yds in under 20 minutes. I didn’t quite make it under 20 minutes, but I was satisfied with my session (and I wasn’t that sore after the fact either).
After the swim session I spent some time in the sauna. When I walked in, there was an older gentleman sitting on the top row. Not one to shy away from conversation, I asked him how much time he spent in the sauna every day. He told me that he spends about 45 minutes in the sauna each day after he works out in the gym. In total, he told me he and his wife spend about 3 hours at the Y every day.
As we spent time talking, he asked me what I was currently training for. I told him I’m focused on competing in a few Olympic distance triathlon events this summer, increasing the distances from this previous one. He told me that when he was younger (I’m guessing this gentleman was in his late 70’s – early 80’s) he would train five days a week, but that he never competed in power lifting or Olympic lifting meets. I asked him if he was familiar with those two sports, and he said that he followed power lifting through reading the old Powerlifting USA magazine. I told him I used to have a subscription to the magazine when I was in college and shortly after I graduated.
I usually get anxious after sitting in the sauna at around the 30 minute mark, but on this day the time was flying by. Before he left the sauna, he asked me what gave me the inspiration to train as much as I do at my age. Earlier in the conversation I told him I was going to turn 38 in February and that I had three little boys. I said to him, “What inspires me to train as much as I do?” He said, “Yes.” Without hesitation I told him about my friend Adriane (Blewitt) Wilson.
It those last few moments in the sauna, I shared with him of how I came to meet Adriane at a track meet in Akron, OH in May, 2004. I told him how she was one of the greatest throwers in Division II history earning 13 All-American awards and winning a bunch of national championships. Most importantly though, I shared with him how Adriane beat cancer and finished 5th in the 2004 Olympic Trials in the shot-put. He said, “She must be a pretty special person.” I told him, “Without a doubt one of the most inspirational people I have ever met!”
I guess attending that track meet in Akron as a senior in college made a lasting impression on me. First, I was fortunate enough to have my coach at the time, Adarian Barr take my teammate Jen and I to the meet. Second, it may have been by chance or fate that Jud Logan would be competing in the meet along with Derek Woodske, Joe Woodske, and Kibwe Johnson. Third, not shying away from conversation, it gave me the opportunity to approach them and introduce Jen and I.
As I remember it, Adriane was wearing a baseball hat and an Ashland University track & field shirt that listed all of the throwing accolades the throwers had accomplished over the years there. I don’t remember the number of national champions and All-Americans listed on the back of her shirt, but I thought it was a cool idea and something that I thought Fredonia should have put together for our throwers (1 National Champion, 25 All-Americans, and dozens and dozens of conference championships in the shot-put, discus, hammer, javelin, and weight throw). I don’t know the exact number of conference champions Fredonia has had, but from 1975 to 2004 our male throwers won at least one conference championship in a throwing event each year. Anyway, getting back to meeting Adriane.
At the conclusion of the meet, I approached Adriane and asked her and her teammates if they would take a picture with Jen and I. That began what I’d call an almost 16-year friendship with the Ashland crew.
Over the years, I traveled to Ashland quite often for coaching and training/throwing related purposes. My training partner John and I frequented Ashland quite a bit to train with Adriane and AG Kruger (mostly with AG when he hosted throwing camps). I saw my largest growth as a thrower while Adriane and I were working together to boost up my hammer/weight throw technique and strength in the weight room. But that isn’t the reason why she is so inspirational to me. What she continues to do from when I first met her is.
Adriane was diagnosed with cancer early on in 2003, had surgery to remove the cancerous cells, and went through chemo and radiation treatments into 2004. With all that going on in her life, and after having gone through her last treatment, Adriane not only qualified for the Olympic Trials in the shot-put, but finished 5th! After training for a couple of months after treatment, she finished 5th. She also competed in the 2008 Olympic Trials as well. She overcame cancer, almost hit a lifetime best in the most high stakes track & field meet in the United States, and almost qualified for the Olympic Games. How could I not take inspiration from that?
But there is more to the story. While I was still training and living in Fredonia, I asked Adriane if she would be interested in visiting Fredonia and speak to our track & field team. I’m not sure how the athletes at the time felt about it, but I sat there in awe as she shared her story. I knew part of it, but didn’t know about how she made the decision to attend Ashland, her family history, and what it was like to be an athlete at Ashland in the early 2000’s.
I briefly shared my sauna story with Adriane the other day. I didn’t go in as much detail as I did here, but I wanted to let her know how inspired I am by her and everything she has accomplished in her professional and athletic career. Her 2004 story is only the tip of the iceberg. Maybe this can turn into a two or three part series with a cool podcast interview. We’ll see what happens, but I’m definitely looking forward to watching Adriane compete at the Arnold Classic in a couple of months. She will be competing in the Highland Games competition on Friday afternoon. Oh, and by the way, did I mention that Adriane is a multiple time Highland Games World Champion too! How could you not be inspired too...
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!
This is one of my most favorite topics to discuss as a coach. While I was coaching at Nazareth College, I prided myself on having my athletes have personal best performances at our conference championship meets. Since the 2015-16 season, almost every athlete that competed in our conference championships threw a personal best in at least one event (shot/weight indoor and shot, discus, and hammer outdoor). Ironically enough, the one athlete that sticks out the most that didn’t accomplish this feat is Luis. During his season year, he was the one athlete that actually didn’t hit a personal best at our indoor or outdoor championships. He hit his personal best throws at the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor National Championships in the weight throw (1st-20.41m) and hammer throw (3rd-59.29m).
I mention Luis in that light because when I discussed meet preparation with my athletes on an individual basis, everyone had their own plans for optimal performance. Each athlete had their own definition of what optimal performance meant to them. With an athlete like Luis, we knew in December that he was going to throw at Indoor Nationals that year, so we planned our season accordingly to peak in the 2nd week of March. For most of our other throwers, I knew that either the indoor or outdoor Empire 8 Championships was going to be their peak meet. There were a few throwers on the team that extended their season to compete in the State and ECAC Championships. As of a couple years ago, we no longer compete in a State Championship meet. That is nice because it leaves one less meet to have to try to peak for or compete in over the course of the season.
You see, during the 2015-16 season, we had the State, ECAC, and National Championship meets on three consecutive weekends. That was asking a lot of our athletes to try and hit big marks over the course of a three-week period, especially if they were chasing marks to try and qualify for Nationals.
There is a lot of strategy involved when laying out your seasonal meet schedule. Each athlete is different, and they require individual attention and support when discussing their goals and where they want to be by the end of the season. This is what I did with each athlete, beginning with the first group I coached at SUNY Fredonia back in the 2004-05 season.
In a nutshell, that is the outline I implemented with my athletes from the very beginning. Not all of the conversations I had with my athletes were pleasant, but we were honest and communicated with each other. I’ll be honest, I’m willing to bet that some athletes dreaded these conversations. I’m sure of it. I also think that because of these conversations my athletes were able to reach their defined levels of success because they were able to communicate why accomplishing those goals were important to them!
Effective Instructional Coaching Strategies - 8 Concepts That Will Enhance Your Coach-Athlete Experiences
On Monday I attended a full-day workshop in Albany in which 25 colleagues and I completed a curriculum document that we have been working on for the past 3 years. The purpose of the project is to help school district administrators and teacher align their pre-school-3rd curriculum initiatives to further support student cognitive and social-emotional development. I won’t bore you with all the details, but there was something we discussed that translates well into the sports coaching arena—instructional strategies.
The research-based topics for instructional instruction we discussed as a team yesterday are below. You can easily swap out the word ‘Children’ and ‘Student’ with ‘Athlete’ and apply the strategies below in your sports coaching context. Regardless of the group of athletes you coach and mentor, the 8 strategies below can be applied into your athletic classroom (play-based instruction may be difficult, but I’ll make a connection). They are not in a specific order. But if you think they should be put in numbered order, please leave a comment about that because we discussed that for over an hour yesterday! I’d love to hear your thoughts about it.
To scaffold learning in a sports sense means to provide your athletes will small incremental steps or tasks when teaching a new skill. For example, in the throwing world, you wouldn’t expect an athlete to know how to throw the hammer without being taught a few introductory skills earlier in the training session. You might teach the thrower how to hold the hammer, how to wind the hammer, how to turn, how to release, etc.
As coaches, do you reflect on how you scaffold your instruction from day-to-day. Do you practices build upon each other in ways that are easily understood by your athletes? We cannot assume that our athletes know how to do something before we ask them to do it, right? Teaching them new skills each day build upon each other, thus scaffolding towards more difficult skills to master in the future. We wouldn’t ask a youth softball player to go up to the batting tee and just swing the bat without showing them hold to hold it, where to put their feet, and where to look and expect to make contact the first time would we?
Do you have a method or process that helps you teach athletes new skills before you ask them to perform more difficult skills?
How do you monitor athlete progress? Depending on the sport, we may rely on video analyses, weight room numbers, distances, or times. In track for example, a coach can keep track of mileage, distances thrown, or distances jumped in a given week. We can then review that data to monitor how an athlete is competing. If their times are progressively getting faster, we know that whatever we are programming for the athlete is helping them get faster. If their times are faster one week then slower the following then faster again, would you as a coach be able to determine why that may be happening?
How are you monitoring the progress of your athletes? One of the most successful collegiate coaches in American history is Anson Dorrance, the women’s soccer coach at North Carolina Chapel Hill. He and his assistant coaches would give each of his athletes a grade at the end of each practice session based on metrics he and his assistants would monitor and keep track of during skill competitions. Athlete practice grades would be posted for everyone to see. He (Anson) is very meticulous with monitoring student-athlete progress. Do you have a method for how your monitor your athlete’s progress?
Provide New Material in a Way that Support’s Athlete Learning
This can be tied in with the first bullet. When you are teaching new skills, are you providing your athletes new material in a way that supports and fosters their learning? Are you teaching your athletes new skills in a way that they can easily understand what you as the coach are asking them to do? If you are teaching a skill for the first time, are you showing them what you want them to do? Are they able to watch a video, do you demonstrate the skill, do you verbally tell them what you want to do, etc.
This really gets to how well do you know your athletes. If you notice they are struggling with developing a new skill, are you aware of why they aren’t making progress? If your athletes learn by watching a video are you only verballing telling them what you want them to do? If you know how your athletes learn best, as a coach you should be able to provide them with new materials or teach them new skills in a way that they are going to receive that information best and in a way that will enable them to be successful.
Provide Regular, Appropriate Feedback
I believe communication is the most important facet in developing and fostering positive coach-athlete relationships. Both coach and athlete need to feel comfortable communicating with each other both when things are going well and when things may not be going well. Essentially, how often are you providing your athletes with appropriate and regular feedback? If you pull them out of a game, do you walk over to them and discuss why you as the coach made the decision to take them out of the game? Or, do you let your athlete sit there on the bench or stand on the sideline without an explanation?
Model and Role Model
Do as I say not as I do is one type of coaching strategy someone can implement, although I’m not sure how successful it really is in the long run. If as a coach you are trying to create and develop a positive culture built upon a core set of values, are you able to successfully model and exhibit those core values in your own life? Looking back to our bullet about scaffolding and providing material in a way that is developmentally appropriate, are you able to model for your athletes what you want them to do? Now, as we get older as coaches it may not be realistic for us to model proper tackling technique on the football field or model proper snatch or clean and jerk form in the weight room, but is there someone on your staff that can positively model what you are asking your athletes to do? What does that look like to you?
Use Questions to Check for Understanding and Reflection
If you ask my college athletes (current or former) they will tell you that I probably ask them too many questions during practice. That is my way to check and see if they understand a concept we have been working on or one that I just taught them. Fortunately for me, they are very honest and tell me what they think about a given drill, throw, set of throws, or training session. This where I believe training journals are critical to athlete success. I ask all my throwers to keep track of their throwing volume and weightlifting sessions every day. This allows them and me to reflect on what has or has not been working in training. We can adjust training sessions based on how the athletes feel on a given day, but this concept really works when the athletes have evidence (their journal) to suggest why we should take things in a different direction.
Provide Athlete Choice and Ownership of Learning
This concept takes effective communication skills in order to master. It takes a sense of comfort from the coach in order to ask his/her athlete’s how things are going and if changes should be made. Athlete autonomy, in my opinion, is why I believe I have experienced success as a track & field coach. I allow my athletes to tell me where they want to go and why it's important to them. We then sit down and design a path that will assist them in getting there (wherever there is). Essentially, I illuminate a path to help them reach their destination. It took me a long time to hand over the keys to this process, but I see the value it brings in giving my athletes choice in constructing their journey. When I first started coaching I thought everyone wanted to throw far and be a national champion. Each athlete has their own path, and it is our job as coaches to illuminate a path that gives them the best opportunity to be successful!
Integrate Opportunities for Play-Based Instruction
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “How am I going to incorporate this idea in insert sport here?” Well, regardless of the sport you coach, are you able to incorporate games to teach concepts?
For example, a discus drill that I’ve incorporated to teach the concept of hand placement and wrist control is to play discus bowling. If an athlete is able to roll the discus straight towards the ‘pins’ without taking a sharp turn right or left means the athlete is able to able to demonstrate the concept of holding the discus in the correct manner as well as being able to demonstrate proper wrist control because the discus more or less went straight much like a bowling ball would travel.
This is one example relegated to foundational discus development, but there are other ways to incorporate play-based instruction in other sports. Leap frog was a game we would play during the football season. Our basketball coach would set up cones and ask us to dribble between and around cones so that we could demonstrate our dribbling skills. I remember playing this game during modified and freshman basketball tryouts. On the surface this concept may sound silly and childish, but are you able to incorporate some fun activities that demonstrate to you as a coach that your athletes have mastered a certain drill or skill? If not to master, are you able to incorporate an activity that is fun and play-based that provides your athlete immediate feedback on whether they were able to successfully complete the game/skill or not?
Use your imagination, I’m sure there are plenty of ways play-based instruction can be implemented with your sport regardless of the age group and development abilities of your athletes.
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.