Yesterday I received one of the best compliments I have ever received as a coach. This compliment was very special. It was extra special because it wasn’t about me. It was about my throwers. On two separate occasions during a very soggy and damp meet at St. John Fisher College, coaches from different colleges complimented me about my athletes.
One came after the women’s hammer. Yesterday, Kaela (our freshman thrower) improved her hammer personal best by 5m. It was her fourth time this season throwing the hammer, she is still learning, so an improvement of 17’ isn’t uncommon. However, the compliment wasn’t about her performance. It was about her heart.
The coach told me that during the lead up to the hammer, and during the competition, he didn’t hear her complain or say any negative comments about the weather. It was raining, not very hard, but hard enough to cause other people to have off days. He did compliment her (us) on her performance, but that wasn’t the primer of the conversation.
He told me that she throws with heart! I told him “thank you”. I also said that I wish it was something that could be coached. He gave me a puzzled look. I’ll get back to this later.
A few hours later, during the women’s shot-put, I was talking to another coach about how well his season was going. I complimented him on how well his athletes’ have been performing during the season. I asked him how he arranged his practices, trying to figure out how many practices he held during the day to ensure everyone got enough throwing reps. He told me he only has one, very long practice a day. Lasting about three to four hours, his athletes cycle into practice after they are done with class. That is a different strategy than some of the other coaches I’ve discussed practice times with. As we were discussing his athletes and what they were doing after graduation, he said he didn’t know.
Similar to my previous conversation from a few hours ago, he told me that his kids don’t have the same heart that my kid’s do. I looked at him puzzled. “What do you mean”, I responded. He told me that they don’t have the same heart that Luis and Tyler have. Again, I said thank you. We continued on with our conversation until Kaela finished throwing the shot-put.
I’m not really sure what to say. I’ve written about it before. Now, maybe it is something that I haven’t figured out yet as a coach, but I maintain that one of the traits a coach cannot coach is an athlete’s heart. It is difficult for me to define. I can tell you what I don’t think it is.
Having heart is something different than being motivated, having a desire to succeed, or an excellent work-ethic. It is unlike being truly dedicated to your craft, or being deliberate about practice, and not the same as having a do what it takes attitude. Having heart is something different. It is a willingness to overcome all obstacles put in your path. I say willingness because not all athletes are willing to attempt to overcome adversity and barriers. Some athletes let those obstacles overpower them. They are not willing to put forth the time to “climb the mountain” if you will.
Tyler and Kaela do indeed have heart. They have overcome more adversity in their very young lives than most people. I’m willing to guess more than people their age. They inspire me. They inspire me to be a better coach. A better father. A better husband. A better person.
Thank you for a rewarding and inspiring 2017-18 season. My word for the year was resiliency. To be more resilient in difficult times. It is only fitting that you, Tyler and Kaela, epitomized what it means to be resilient.
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.