Conference championship season is upon us! All the training, sets, reps, and throws since August have prepared us for this moment in time. The moment to throw well when it matters most, during the championship season.
I venture to guess that not all championships are won and lost at the meet. I venture to say that these championships are won and lost well before the championship meet arrives. I guess that these championships are won and lost when the fall semester begins, maybe sooner.
I say this because I’ve attended my fair share of conference, regional, and national championship meets to understand that anything can happen when the top throwers are vying for the coveted championship win. Some might say these meets are stressful and difficult to manage for some athletes. For others, many throwers achieve seasonal best marks and even personal best marks when it matters most. For those individuals, I say that they take advantage of the opportunities bestowed upon them in those situations.
I fell victim to those high stress situations on two different occasions in my own collegiate throwing career. In 2002 and 2004, I was the top seeded thrower at our indoor conference championships for the weight throw. I felt as though I was prepared for the situation at hand, but unfortunately I was not. In 2002 I finished second with a personal best throw in round 5. The eventual champion hit a personal best in round 6. I could not respond. In 2004, my senior year, I was also seeded first. I threw 15cm below my personal best. I finished 4th. The top 3 individuals all hit personal best throws in that competition. If I would have hit a personal best, I would have moved up to 2nd. I may have won depending on how the other throwers would have reacted to me setting a personal best in the finals.
Yet at our 2003 indoor conference championships I was seeded 3rd coming into the meet. I hit a personal best throw in round 3. I was the top thrower entering the finals. I hit another personal best in round 4. I could not catch up to the thrower that eventually won the competition. He hit a personal best in round 5. I could not respond in round 6. However, reflecting back on those experiences has led me to realize that my 2003 2nd place finish is more valuable to me than any other indoor conference championships I competed in during my collegiate career. I was not expected to throw far, took advantage of an opportunity in which the top 2 seeded individuals did not perform well, and believed I was going to sneak away with a victory. The 5th seeded individual had other plans, too.
These opportunities are presented to us in the throwing world at every competition. Every meet. Every throw is an opportunity for ourselves to meet a goal, realize a dream, and aspire to be great. As cliche as it sounds.
As a coach, I’ve sat on both sides of the conversation with my athletes. Those that took advantage of an opportunity and those that failed to do so. A couple of specific instances stand out, one situation at SUNY Fredonia and one at Nazareth College.
In the spring of 2006 I was coaching a group of throwers that had far exceeded the expectations I had of them at the beginning of the season. Led by two upperclassman transfer throwers, the men’s squad single handedly removed me from the top 10 list of the weight and hammer throw. What sticks out most is the way a freshman female thrower handled the outdoor conference championships that season. In what turned out to be a coming out party for arguably one of the most successful athletic careers at SUNY Fredonia, Julia Hopson won the hammer throw that day. She beat a senior thrower that had watched the hammer championship slip her grasp the prior two years. Julia took advantage of an opportunity presented to her, set a personal best when others were faltering, and came within a meter of breaking our then school record of 52m in the hammer. She set a personal best by over 3m on a day that the throwing Gods had decided was not going to be suited for outstanding performances. Julia surprised everyone and came away with the victory. Her first of 4 consecutive SUNYAC hammer championships.
About 7 years later I experienced it again. This time I was a first year coach at Nazareth College with two freshmen male throwers competing at our conference championships at St. Lawrence University. Both throwers competed well the weekend before at our outdoor E8 Championships. At this meet they were both seeded outside the top 10, competing in the first flight of 2 flights. One day 1 of the competition, freshman thrower Luis Rivera set a personal best in flight 1 of the men’s hammer competition, throwing just over 41m. He finished 2nd in his flight of 10. We knew that he needed to beat at least 9 of the throwers in flight 2 to make the finals. It didn’t seem realistic because everyone in flight 2 was seeded over 44m. Well, if you guessed that he would end up making the finals, you are right. He entered the finals seeded 9th of 9th throwers. He ended up hitting another small personal best in round 5, moved up to 8th place, and scored 1 point. A couple of throwers fouled out. Others didn’t throw as well as their seed mark. Things happened to fall into place for us.
When these opportunities for greatness approach you, do you find yourself prepared to propel yourself towards greatness?
2005-2006 SUNY Fredonia Throwers
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.