In a little under two weeks, the official start to the 2018-19 track & field season begins. Before the start of each season, I meet with each thrower individually. In those conversations, we discuss goals for the season, academics, and expectations.
I feel the most important part of this conversation is the discussion over academics. Regardless of what year the thrower is, we always discuss how classes are going and what their anticipated schedule looks like for the spring semester. This helps me in two ways. First, I am able to gain good insight into how well each thrower is doing academically. By this time in late October, most professors have given mid-term exams. I’m able to quickly gauge how well each person thinks they are doing compared to how well they actually are doing. Second, it helps me start planning out our spring semester schedule. We always encourage our athletes to leave 3pm-6pm open in their academic calendars. From time to time students take labs that take up the allotted practice time. Talking about it ahead of time helps us all better get a sense of how our schedule will look like after everyone comes back in January.
We also review expectations of being a member of the Nazareth College XC/Track & Field program. This is discussed in great detail during our initial team meeting. I’ll spare you the details of what I discuss with our throwers, but the conversation mirrors those from our initial all athlete team meeting.
Finally, we discuss individual goals and commitments. I’ve referenced a letter that I wrote to each thrower over the summer in a previous blog post. In that letter, I ask everyone to consider the following questions (thank you Lou Holtz for the inspiration), beginning with:
What is your vision for the upcoming 2018-19 season? What do you see yourself accomplishing this year?
I find the first question most important for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t believe many athletes in high school are ever asked this question. That may sound crazy, but I believe it to be true. I was never asked this question in high school. Were you?
Second, as a coach you are able to pick up on some cues from your athletes. I initially sent them this question back in July. We discussed it again with the whole team in September. If you as a coach receive a not well thought out response, you know your athlete probably hasn’t thought about it or they don’t know how to answer the question. You are asking them to think about something far out into the future, which in this case is a combined indoor and outdoor track & field season. Some may not be able to think as far out as a month, week, or day. I understand. I was in a similar state of mind back when I was an undergraduate student. And some days I have no idea what is going to happen in the next five minutes (from a dad of a 5-year old, 3-year old, and 1-year old).
If your athlete has never been given the opportunity to share their long-term thoughts, this is a great time to start and engage the conversation. Depending on the academic program they are enrolled in, they have a pretty good idea of what they have to do and when in order to earn enough credits to graduate on-time (that is my ultimate number 1 goal-ensure my athletes graduate from college on-time).
I think they should also have an idea of what they need to do in order to achieve their goal(s). Most incoming freshmen throwers are not going to win a national championship right out of the gate. But let’s say for example that is the goal for four years down the road. Now, coach and athlete can have an honest conversation about the reality of that vision being realized. This is also the time in which trust, respect, and lines of communication are becoming stronger. Having this conversation with a freshman thrower may be easier to be had then with a junior or season. Let me explain.
For the sake of this example, let’s say we have a female freshman thrower. Her personal best in the shot-put is 40’ and 130’ in the discus. With all of the latest technology available to us, we are quickly able to look up previous national champion winners at all the collegiate levels. For this example, we’ll stick with DIII. A rough estimate is that if a female thrower hits 50’ in the shot-put and about 160’ in the discus, they give themselves a really good chance of winning a national championship. Coach and athlete are now able to break down this monumental vision into smaller goals/steps. The goals may look like this:
Year 1: 42.5’ shot-put and 140’ in the discus
Year 2: 45’ shot-put and 145’ in the discus
Year 3: 47.5’ shot-put and 150’ in the discus
Year 4: 50’ shot-put and 155’ in the discus
Those may not seem like very manageable distances to achieve. This is where the follow-up questions come into play. What the thrower is willing to do and sacrifice to achieve those distances will either lead the thrower to realizing their vision or not. But wait, we can only control how we perform at meets. We cannot control what other throwers may throw at nationals. Now we have a starting point in regards to manageable marks over the course of a 4-year collegiate career. The trajectory will be different for everyone. Below you will see Luis Rivera’s trajectory into winning the 2016 DIII Indoor National Championship in the 35# Weight Throw.
Year 1: 42’
Year 2: 54’
Year 3: 63’
Year 4: 67’
Luis made up a lot of distance ground from year one to year two. He made huge technical advances between year 3 and year 4. The path to a national championship is different for everyone. His example is one of many.
Getting started on the path towards realizing your vision is critical. Involving your athletes in the process is crucial. I believe it is.
I’m not suggesting you as a coach turn over the reins to your throwing program and let your athletes drive you towards your destination. What I am suggesting is that your athletes are able to provide some input. As coaches, it is our job to create a path for our athletes that gives them the best opportunity to be successful. We are only able to do that if we have some of their input.
I’ve written about it before, and I’ll state it again. Over the past couple of years, I have tried to get away from goal-setting, but rather focus upon commitments. Everyone has goals. At the beginning of the season, I’m guessing most throwers write down something about throwing farther, bettering their personal best from the season before, and possibly winning a conference championship.
Those goals are all well and good, however what is the athlete committing to in order to achieve those goals? Are they going to train harder—how do you measure that?
When you commit to something, it makes that something more personal to you. When you commit to something and tell others, well now you have an accountability group. Letting your athletes commit to tasks, just as; getting 8 hours of sleep a night, eating 5 fruits/vegetables a day, or getting five weight training sessions a week requires a cognizant commitment towards achievement. You might not have to think a lot about the five training sessions during the week, but you might have to think about your nutrition. You may also need to think about getting 8 hours of sleep per night.
Some things to consider during this process. First, you have to get to know your athletes. I wouldn’t encourage a coach to immediately initiate this conversation without having some type of an idea of where the conversation might go. I usually wait until a couple of weeks before the season starts to have this conversation. Second, I send my throwers a prep before we meet. Similar to what I send them over the summer, but more specific to them as individuals.
I’ve rambled on long enough for this post. I’ll follow up next week with what we specifically discuss, as well as some prompts.
As always, thanks for reading ~ Charles
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.