One of the best nuggets of coaching advice I can give is to set up your training program so that you are constantly seeing concrete signs of improvement, even if it is not always a major improvement.
When I was a middle/high school teacher, I would spend countless hours preparing lessons and activities for my students. A majority of those hours were spent preparing individualized instructional opportunities for my students, providing them with the best opportunity to meet their educational goals. As was then, is also now.
Even though I’m no longer a classroom teacher, my new classroom is the throwing circle. My students are my athletes. The athletes that come to train every day, hoping to make progress from the previous training session. My job as their coach is to provide them with a road map that helps get them where they want to be; at the end of the current season; before they graduate.
It isn’t always easy. I made many mistakes along the way. One that I wish I could take back was not taking the time to prepare individual goal-planning sessions with my throwers when I first began my coaching career 16-years ago. It was my assumption that everyone wanted to throw far and be a conference or national champion. As a 22-year old coach, it was difficult for me to comprehend why someone would come to practice every day without hoping to become the best thrower they could be. Some simply just wanted to be around a group of individuals with similar interests as them, be part of a group, and not necessarily focus on throwing farther. It took me a long time to figure that out.
When I did figure it out however, I ran into another road block. When I started coaching at Nazareth College, I asked each thrower to spend some time with me discussing their goals at the beginning of each semester, along with another more informal session at the end of the spring semester to prepare for the summer that lay ahead. It wasn’t until this time that athletes would pull me aside and tell me that I was, “playing favorites” or “spending more time with others than with them”. It took me some time to construct a response that wouldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. It took a couple of years actually.
During the 2015-16 season, we had a thrower that wanted to become the next weight throw national champion. I also had 6 freshmen throwers, 4 of which had never thrown before. Rather than have everyone practice together, I broke up practice into two sessions lasting about an hour and a half each. As a throwing team, I sat with everyone at the same time and explained why I was making this decision. It was to focus on everyone’s unique goals, keep them safe, and to ensure we would be making daily progress towards achieving their goals.
Once I shared my thoughts with everyone, I think they began to understand the rationale behind this decision. It didn’t make sense to have more experienced throwers sit idle while I taught 6 new throwers how to turn with a hammer. Similarly, it wouldn’t be fair to have 6 throwers be essentially thrown in the circle to just throw without learning proper technique first.
As the season progressed, for the most part everyone made small progress on a weekly basis. Not everyone threw a personal best each week, but series averages increased and our new throwers became more comfortable in the circle. They were making small concrete improvements every day. This would not have been possible if I had 11 throwers all in one session every day. As I prepared everyone’s daily and weekly throwing action plans, it became evident to me that teaching kids how to throw is much like teaching kids in a classroom when I was a teacher. Everyone has a plan. Everyone has something to focus on that is unique and important to them. And it was my job as their coach to ensure they were making progress along the way.
This brings me back to our opening quote. It takes time to develop individualized training programs for athletes, and especially so for throwers. It also takes time for each thrower to understand that the instruction may be different for everyone, but that is because everyone has different needs at different times. I always encouraged my throwers to focus on what their daily instructional cues were. Sure, there were 5 or 6 of us at practice every day, but it was important to really have them think about what they needed to execute upon that day to move forward towards accomplishing their goals.
Our season ended on a very high note. All of our 6 freshmen throwers improved from the first meet of the indoor season to their last indoor meet. In total we had 10 throwers compete at our indoor Empire 8 conference championships. Similarly, 8 of those 10 throwers also competed at our outdoor conference championships. We our first female thrower make the discus finals at those same conference championships. I’m also very happy to say that those same 8 throwers have all graduated and are either currently in graduate school or in their professional field of study. That is my proudest accomplishment as their coach!
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.