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!
Anders Ericsson, the world’s leading expert on expert performance, defines purposeful practice as having well-defined and specific goals (Ericsson & Pool, 2016). Simply stated, it means to have a well thought out idea or action plan for your upcoming practice or training session. On the flip side, Ericsson and Pool (2016) define naïve practice as essentially just doing something repeatedly, and expecting that the repetition alone will improve one’s own performance.
I begin today’s post with these two definitions because with the onset of the COVID-19 virus putting a halt to professional, collegiate, and high school athletics, many people are taking to practice on their own without a coach (and likely without a plan as well). It is definitely a strange and difficult time right now for everyone around the world. I’ve had some conversations with many of my collegiate track & field coaching friends about the effect this will have athlete preparation in the near future, and they have had interesting perspectives on the idea of letting their athletes go train on their own until the 2020-21 indoor season begins. Making positive gains and improvements without the watchful eye of a coach may seem daunting or difficult, but positive progress can be made over the course of the next few months.
Let’s take a look at an imaginary conversation between a throwing coach and on of their athletes.
Coach: Your training plan says that you have completed 4 throwing sessions a week for the past three months. Your form looks exactly the same today as it did in March. Can you explain this?
Athlete: I’m not sure what happened. They looked good to me.
Coach: How many throws did you take a week?
Athlete: I’ve taken about 150 throws a week!
Coach: How many times did your throws look technically sound?
Athlete: About 20-30.
Coach: How were you practicing?
Athlete: I don’t know. I was just throwing.
This sums up naïve practice. Doing something for the sake of doing it, while expecting one’s performance to increase over an extended period of time due to getting reps in.
I’m not sure if any coaches out there have actually had a conversation like this with one of their athletes, but I don’t think it sounds as far off as it comes off as. Just getting out into a circle or on a javelin runway without having a plan is planning to fail. Completing mindless reps just to get them in because you feel like you have too is probably doing more harm than good.
Having a plan or detailed outline of the purpose of your training session(s) takes some thought and effort. For 99.9% of throwers in the United States the 2020 outdoor season is pretty much over. Unfortunately, over before it even got started. I fall in the 99.9% of the population of throwers, with an understanding that the meets I was going to compete in during the summer are more than likely going to be canceled. Now is the time to build a technically sound foundation of your throws as well as a great opportunity to get stronger in the weight room.
Here is a sample daily throwing plan you can begin putting in place to help develop a facet or many facets of your throwing technique.
Daily Throwing Session
Today’s Date__________ Week_____ Day_____
In this section you can write in detail the specific training goal you have for this throwing session. It may be something like:
The session goals here are going to vary depending on the experience of the thrower. If you are a new hammer/weight thrower, your session will probably look different compared to someone who is a 20m weight thrower or a 75m hammer thrower. The purpose is to write something down that you as the thrower are working on and would like to master. The goal of each session is not to throw as far as you can with every throw. If your coach encourages you to do this with every throw you take, I suggest you to have a conversation with them about that because that is not a technically sound model for peak performance over the course of the indoor/outdoor season. It can lead to burnout, risk of injury, and poor technique.
Implement Weight # of Throws Best Distance Range
Hammer 6k 10 55m x 2 50m-55m
Hammer 16# 10 50m x 3 46m-50m
The table can be used as a guide to track the number of throws you take during a throwing session. You don’t have to use this table, you can create your own that may make more sense to you. In the implement section you would write down what implement you are throwing. In the example above we are throwing the hammer. In the weight section you would include the weight of the implement. In this particular training session we are taking 20 throws total. We are taking 10 throws with the 6k hammer and 10 throws with the 16 (competition ball). In the # of throws section you would write in how many throws you took with each implement. When possible, I like keeping track of the best distance for each session. It gives me as the coach an idea of where we are in our current training block and the relationship the weight room is having with our throws. The range is the range of distances between our shortest throw and longest throw. Range throwing allows athletes to focus on technique while becoming more aware of how throws in a certain range feel. If the pre-determined range for the session is 45m-50m for each throw, we may allot our throwers 2-4 range buster throws outside the pre-determined range for the session. Jud Logan has written about range throwing in the past, and has suggested a range of about 85%-92.5% of one’s best throw with a particular weighted implement. For example, if the thrower’s personal best is 50m with a 16# hammer, their range should be 42.50m to 46.25m. In the example I gave above, the athlete was throwing at the top-end of their 16# range for the duration of the session, with a couple of throws over the range at 50m. I hope this makes sense.
This is my favorite section. I always have encouraged my athletes to list a couple of lessons they learned from each throwing session. Athletes are free to write what they would like, with the intention of writing something positive they learned from the session and maybe something they think they need to focus on more for the following session. I’ve had athletes write things like; I need to sleep more between each session, today really hurt and I wasn’t prepared; I need to eat lunch before throwing because I was hungry; When I focus on coming in flat with my weight entry I feel like I have more balance transitioning into my second turn.
Wins for the Day:
I believe you can find the silver lining in every training session. Even if you thought it was the worst session of your life, you are able to find some bright spots if you look close enough. Similar to the section above, athletes are able to write their wins for the day.
As I previously mentioned before, you don’t have to follow this template as is. It is to act more like a guide as you continue on your throwing journey this year and into the future. I’m a stats person by training, therefore I like keeping track of lots of training information on my athletes. Especially at the Division III level where most of my athletes throw the shot-put, discus, hammer, and javelin at almost every meet. It is important to track and gauge the number of throws you take per implement each week. It gives the coach an idea of what may or may not be working with training, and it gives the athlete an opportunity to track their volume over the course of the indoor or outdoor season.
If you decide to use this training template, please let me know. Tag @forzathletics in your Twitter or Instagram post. I’ll email you a copy of Thrower: Propelling Towards Greatness 2nd edition as a token of gratitude for taking the time to use and implement this training tool.
Best wishes and happy throwing as we try to find some type of sanctuary in throwing for the rest of the 2020 season!
Daily Throwing Session
Today’s Date__________ Week_____ Day_____
Implement Weight # of Throws Best Distance Range
Wins for the Day:
Ericsson, A., & Pool, R. (2016). Peak: Secrets From The New Science of Expertise. Houghton Mifflin, New York.
Last week I was talking to a coaching friend of mine about training and life. In the middle of our conversation about training for the throws, this coach asked me if I thought you could fake confidence. An interesting question that I had never been asked before. I had a take a brief pause in our conversation to think about my response.
To provide some context of our conversation, we were discussing training leading up to an upcoming competition. Coach confided in me that training had not been going well the past month and was concerned about the upcoming competition. This coach has competed at some of the most prominent track & field meets in the country, both as a collegiate thrower and post-collegiate thrower. They are no stranger to competing at the highest level, yet in this particular instance they felt some hesitation and concern about their upcoming meet.
My response to the question was this:
Our thoughts control our emotions. Our emotions then in turn have an effect on our physical response(s) to the situation we are placed in. That physical response, good or bad, will ultimately have an effect on our performance.
Let’s use a throwing example to explain my response.
In our example, a thrower is qualified for the Division III Atlantic Regional Championships. This track meet is this thrower’s last chance to move up the Division III throwing list and earn themselves a spot at DIII Indoor Nationals the following weekend. The week leading up to this meet has been very stressful on the athlete. They continue to think about all the negative outcomes that have occurred throughout the course of the season. They have had lack luster practices leading up to the competition and feel distraught, lost, and afraid that they will perform poorly at this last chance meet.
This thrower’s thoughts are negative and focused on outcomes and situations from the past. Those thoughts, in turn, have caused this thrower to feel anxious, concerned, and self-conscious about how poorly they have been throwing. These emotions cause us to have physical responses. We may hang our head, slouch our shoulders, and have a look of concern and fear written across their face. With all this going on, when this thrower’s name is called for their first throw of the competition, one would expect it (the throw) to go terribly bad. Maybe the thrower will foul. Their mind may be racing with thoughts of hopelessness, fear, anxiety, concern, etc. You get the idea, but I would expect a pretty poor outcome from this series of conscious thought.
Webster’s dictionary defines confidence as a feeling or consciousness of one's powers or of reliance on one's circumstances. In this situation, our thrower probably isn’t feeling very confident in their power to throw well. Can this confidence be faked?
I don’t believe confidence can be faked. If the thrower has consistent negative thoughts going through their minds, it will be difficult to fake the physical appearance of having confidence. Remember, our thoughts control our emotions. Our emotions then have an effect on how one would physically respond. Think about a time when you were concerned or felt anxious about an upcoming performance. Were you able to trick yourself into faking confidence? Think of it like this.
Let’s say we are scheduled to take the SAT. In one scenario, person A buys all the study materials possible, hires a tutor, and preps 3 months for this test. They perform well on the practice tests and feel good about their ability to perform well on this test. Person B on the other hand doesn’t buy any materials, doesn’t study, and walks into the test without having prepared at all. Let’s say both person A and B both have a 95gpa and take a course load of all AP classes in high school. They have a similar background, and for the sake of argument are equally gifted when it comes to academics. I would venture to guess that Person A probably feels more confident in their ability to score well on the test because they prepared. Person B may not feel as confident. They may be thinking to themselves that they should have studied and better prepared for the SAT. Now they are walking into the text with negative thoughts, which in turn may cause them to have a negative physical response. They may second guess themselves throughout the test because they didn’t study or prepare. Person A feels good about themselves. They feel as though they prepared as best they could, performed well on the practice SAT tests, and feel confident they will perform well when it matters most. Who do you think might score better, person A or person B?
These may sound like far-fetched examples, but if you think about it, you may have been in a situation like this at one time or another in your life. You knew you had a big test to take, or had an important presentation to make in front of your boss and colleagues. If you prepared for that moment, you probably felt good about walking into that situation and the potential positive outcome that could be the result of your preparation. However, if you did not prepare and tried to wing it, you may not perform as well if you didn’t prepare for potential questions you may be asked, or if the technology you were using didn’t work, etc. I think you get the idea.
In these three different examples I presented, it seems as though it may be difficult to fake your confidence. I guess it might be like registering for a powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting competition. You register 16 weeks out from the competition. If you don’t train for the meet, you probably won’t feel confident in your ability to perform well. Now if you train 4-7 days a week and prepare the best you are physically able to, you will probably feel more confident walking into that meet knowing that you have trained, taken care of your body, and ensured that you did everything you possibly could have to prepare for the competition. Faking confidence without training and walking into that meet with a sense of confidence can lead to a multitude of more negative outcomes than positive ones.
If you are still reading, I have a question for you—do YOU think someone can fake confidence and still perform at a relatively high level (however you define that level)? Sure, you might be able to hit a squat, bench, and deadlift at the powerlifting meet, but you probably won’t be able to hit personal best lifts without training for 16 weeks. Sure you may feel confident, but what might that fake confidence cost you in the long run?
Do coaches know when they are coaching?
Yesterday I got the chance to have lunch with my good friend and mentor (even though he might not realize it) Dan Chambliss. We met at the Dark Horse Tavern in Syracuse, a short drive away from Rochester.
I enjoy getting together with Dan to chat for many reasons. First, I always arrive with questions for him about coaching, research, etc., but then end up leaving with more questions than I originally arrived with. Second, he takes the time to listen to my ideas and thoughts. Third, he asks questions back. Yesterday was no different than any of the other opportunities we’ve had to get together over the course of the past five years.
Dan asked me about the projects I’m working on, and as you probably already know, I got really excited when I started discussing my current coaching project. I just received IRB approval to conduct the study which is focused on American track & field throwing coaches. I won’t bore you with the coaching interview guide and all that it entails, but one of the essential questions of the study is…
How do you (coaches) know what to say to a thrower when they do make the decision to engage them (the thrower) in conversation during, a) practice, and b) during a meet?
I may have even stumped Dan when I shared this question with him. I believe it is an important one. When I reflect back on conversations I’ve had with athletes during meets and at practice, I really need to think about a few things. First, why did I engage the thrower? Was it to make a technical correction, ask them how their day went, how much work do they have, etc.? Second, how did I know what to say to them when I engaged them in the first place?
It may sound complicated, but here is an example.
The other day I watched back some video from when Luis threw at the 2016 DIII Indoor National Championships. In some of the clips I taped of his throws, I can hear the dialogue we had after the particular throw. In the heat of the moment maybe coaches don’t think about what they are going to say or not say, but just act on gut feeling or instinct. But then again, how did we learn this behavior? Did we learn this from a mentor, years of coaching experience, because we saw someone else say something to their thrower after a throw (good throw or not so good throw)?
I do remember telling Luis after his second throw that he was in very good shape (he had just moved into 1st place) and that if he felt ready, that he should put the hammer (no pun intended) down in round 3. I said that to him for a couple of reasons. First, I knew that he probably felt comfortable with the throw he just completed. Second, he was ready to take his next throw up a notch. Third, I wanted to say something to him that I thought would keep him focused on what he was going to do next.
In my mind, I was thinking that my job for that competition was to keep Luis as calm and relaxed as possible in order to keep his mindset in the right place during his first three attempts in the prelims. I also understood that attempting to make major technical corrections at the most important meet of the year was not a good idea. Similarly, making even some minor corrections would probably have been distracting. Honestly, nobody taught me to act that way. By this point in the season Luis and I had built up a relationship of trust and respect and I knew that he would listen to what I said to him at the meet without saying too much to him (if that makes sense).
Now that everyone is probably confused (or not), I’m really excited to move forward with this upcoming research project. As coaches I think we know deep down why we say things to our athletes during meets. But perhaps we don’t know why we say what we do until we have a moment to reflect back on a competition and think about it.
Of all the coaches I’ve been around, I think I’m the most laid back of the bunch at meets. I try not to say too much because we are at a meet and I don’t want to flood my throwers’ heads with what they need to do. I try to keep them relaxed, calm, and focused on the great things they are doing. Sure, depending on the situation (learned behavior) I may re-direct a behavior that they (the thrower) is exhibiting, but that is probably for another blog post.
So, getting back to my initial question, if you are a coach that is reading this,
Do coaches know when they are coaching?
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!
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.