Thursday, August 5th, 2021
“Relentless effort (not talent) is the key to achieving great things in your life.” Urban Meyer
The relentless pursuit. The pursuit can mean many different things to people based on where they are in their athletic endeavors. The phrase above may not have as much meaning for an elementary aged student as it would for a graduating senior ready to transition to collegiate athletics.
Relentlessness or grit has been at the forefront of research for the past few decades. A continuous drive of unwavering effort and fortitude on a specific task tends to bear more fruit than an endeavor only pursued for a short amount of time.
Anything we find worthwhile in accomplishing does take dedicated effort, thought, and depending on the endeavor a skill set required to satisfy the task.
As our collegiate athletes begin to forge a new path for themselves this season, I often ask if they are ready to dedicate themselves to accomplishing this goal they have set for themselves. You see, the goal won’t be accomplished by merely speaking it into existance. It takes a special amount of effort and fortitude to see one’s goal through.
As you embark on your upcoming season, are you ready to relentlessly pursue your goals?
If you said yes, how will you know you are ready to take your first step on this journey?
If you are still unsure of what you truly want to achieve, that is ok. Goals are ever changing for us-a critical component in understanding the relentlessness is the realization of the importance of accomplishing said goal.
Wednesday, August 4th, 2021
The Daily Grind
“If you want to win in the future, you must win the grind today.” Urban Meyer
If you read my post yesterday you might remember that we are a mere 3 weeks away from the start of the cross country season. Our indoor season won’t begin until October. With athletes returning to campus in a few weeks, I can’t help but think how fast these past 3 months have gone.
One of my goals for the summer was to maintain consistent contact with our group of throwers. Usually to check and see how they were doing, how their summer jobs were treating them, what their training was looking like, etc. Summer programming isn’t mandatory in the sense that each athlete is required to train everyday. We understand that everyone doesn’t have access to the same equipment or facilities. What I’ve stressed to our throwers is that with whatever you are doing or have been doing is to win the daily grind.
I started this post with one of my favorite Urban Meyer quotes. I find it fitting at this time because of the many parallels with the Olympic Games happening as well. Athletes competing have spent what seems like their entire lives training for a moment in time. Those moments, however, started by consistently winning the daily grind as they moved one step closer to accomplishing their dreams. In this case, their dream of representing their country at the Olympic Games.
Tuesday, August 3rd, 2021
We are three weeks away from the start of the cross country season. Our athletes will be returning to campus ready to compete in our first race shortly into September. For most of our athletes it will be their return to cross country. And yet for others it will be their first time competing at the collegiate level.
What seemed like so long ago has rapidly crept up on us as coaches and athletes alike. It only seems like yesterday we were preparing to compete at our regional meet. Now almost 3 months later our athletes are ready to come back to campus and begin their journey within this 2021-22 season.
Our athletes might stumble along their way. Each path they are on will be filled with the proverbial twists and turns. However, success is essentially cumulative and progressive. So is failure. It is the result of what you do everyday. In May, 3 months seemed so far away. Now the season is staring directly into our faces.
So here’s to the “unofficial” start of the 2021-22 season.
I often found that the couple of weeks after a season came to a close was a time to reflect on all that went well, what didn’t go as planned, and how much of what didn’t go as planned was in my direct control. I didn’t think much about these types of questions until the summer between my junior and senior year of college. I was coming off of a pretty good year athletically, but lots of changes were looming before the start of my senior year.
This particular summer of 2003 was spent in Fredonia. I was taking a couple of Math courses because I was more focused on throwing the weight far during the indoor season as opposed to going to my Math for Elementary Educators classes. In-between classes I worked a couple of part-time jobs that supported me enough to live in my apartment off campus. I would go to class in the morning, work, and then train. It wasn’t a bad lifestyle. I got more accomplished that summer in the classroom than I probably did the whole 2002-03 academic year.
In late July 2003 I met my next track and field head coach, Adarian Barr. I didn’t know much about him besides what was included in his bio. I knew he came from Wisconsin, competed in the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Trials as a jumper, and had some experience as a throwing coach. I’ve written about our first meeting in the past, but it’s worth mentioning here again that Coach Barr and I didn’t really hit it off well. I was informed that our throwing coach would not be returning, and that he would be coaching me and the other throwers on the team. At this point in time the only other thrower on the team would be a freshman that I hadn’t met yet. I wasn’t that enthusiastic that my throwing coach would not be returning, but it wasn’t my place because I was an athlete and it wasn’t my decision.
I left Coach Barr’s office feeling a bit dejected and put off that he would basically be coaching everyone on our team except for the jumpers. My one takeaway from this first meeting was that he told me to, “Think about what you want to do this year.”
What I wanted to do this year? Well, of course I wanted to win a SUNYAC championship and qualify for DIII outdoor nationals.
Up until this point in my throwing career, I had been a somewhat competitive SUNYAC conference thrower. I didn’t score any points my freshman year. In fact, my worst seasonal performances of the 2000-01 season occurred at both our indoor and outdoor conference championships. In my sophomore year, I finished 2nd in the 35lb. weight throw and 5th in the shot-put at indoor SUNYACS. I also finished 5th in the weight throw at indoor states. I scored in the hammer at outdoor SUNYACS my sophomore year. In my junior year I finished 2nd yet again in the 35lb. weight throw. I also scored in the hammer again as a junior. Until now, I had yet to really make a real impact as a competitor on our men’s team. Those two second place finishes really haunted me that summer of 2003. I hated that feeling and knew that I didn’t want to finish in that runner up spot again. The person who won the weight and hammer in 2003 just graduated. The person who won the weight in 2002 was going into his senior season, much like I was. He finished 2nd in the hammer in 2003. I knew I had a chance to win both the weight and hammer. I also knew that I couldn’t control what other competitors would be doing or how they would compete, so I needed to put myself in the best position possible.
Starting that summer of 2003 I started training with a group of powerlifters in a small gym in Fredonia called Darwin’s. I really learned what training was supposed to feel and look like that summer. I went to class in the morning, worked, threw, and trained pretty much everyday from the end of the 2003 season through the start of the fall semester in 2003. I got much stronger, my conditioning went up, as well as my confidence. In my fall physical I weighed in at 235lbs. That is up about 15lbs. from the end of my junior year. I was in the best shape of my life.
I wrote Coach Barr’s question to me in my training journal. I still couldn’t come up with a reasonable answer. I wanted to win a conference championship and set myself up for a chance of going to outdoor nationals. As I previously mentioned, I knew I had a chance to win both the weight and hammer championships. Realistically I knew that going to indoor nationals would be a stretch, so the focus was on indoor SUNYACS.
Before everyone returned back to campus in the fall 2003, I met with Coach Barr in his office. It’s funny how some images and conversations feel like they happened yesterday, and for me this conversation with Coach Barr is one of them. The office was a bit of a mess as Coach Barr was still moving in. I shared with him my thoughts about the upcoming season, what my goals were, and how I thought we could get there. I explained that I would be student-teaching for the second half of the fall and spring semesters, along with having a part-time job on campus.
My goals for the 2003-2004 season were:
This was the first time in my career that I didn’t include a distance because after speaking with Coach Barr earlier in the summer the distance might not be good enough to win. Nobody ever explained that to me before. I guess I could have suggested I wanted to throw the hammer 55m, but that still might not have resulted in winning the conference championship.
I left off some very critical and important pieces to my goals for the 2003-04 season. First, I left off a willingness to try new things. Second, I didn’t take into consideration how much more recovery time I would need. Third, I realized too late into the season that I wasn’t taking care of my nutrition. And lastly, I should have considered trying to get more than 6 hours of sleep a night.
Our first official practice of the season wasn’t until the last week of October. It was also the same week I began my first student-teaching placement at Pine Valley Elementary School, 4th grade. When I walked out of Coach Barr’s office that late August afternoon it would be the last time I spoke to Coach Barr until our first practice.
I knew where I wanted to go. I didn’t know how to get there. It took me a long time to become accepting of Coach Barr’s training ideology and coaching philosophy. It took a couple of missed opportunities for me to fully buy-in to what Coach Barr really had in store for me.
If you are reading this post, thank you! I hope you also took the time to read the previous post about reflecting on the previous season. As I suggested in that prior post, I believe it is important to reflect upon the past to be able to focus on the present. You want to look back on what went well, what didn’t go well, what could have been done differently and did you live up to the standard you set for yourself at the beginning of the previous season.
As you prepare for the upcoming 2021-22 season we are beginning with a clean slate. Hopefully you take some time for yourself to unwind and both physically and mentally recover from the prior season. It isn’t imperative that you begin training for the 2021-22 season immediately after this season just came to a close. It’s ok to give yourself a mental and physical break from training.
I shared some of this information in a recent podcast about summer training, but I think it’s worth mentioning again. The time between the end of the spring semester and the start of the fall semester is extremely critical in setting up the upcoming season. As a coach, it was easy to tell between the athletes that trained over the summer and those that took a few months off. Like I previously mentioned, it is ok to take a week or two off to recharge your batteries and reflect upon the previous season. Your body won’t become de-trained if you take 14 days off. One thing I am certain of is this-you won’t achieve all your goals based on perfect summer programming, but you will make it 100% more difficult for yourself to achieve them during the academic year. You see, by giving up your summer training you are essentially giving up almost 3 months of training that you won’t be able to make up during the academic year. It could lead to an increased chance of injury, burnout, or both.
Here are some tips on how you can better prepare yourself for summer training before returning back to campus in August:
Some collegiate track and field athletes will be competing in their conference and or last chance qualifier meets before nationals. For a majority of athletes, their seasons have come to a close. Now is the time to reflect upon your season. Reflecting gives us an opportunity to pause and look back upon the previous season. A lot of athletes competed for the first time in over a year this past season. Others may have run into a slew of COVID-19 restrictions at their college/university. Now is a good time to sit back and reflect for a few reasons.
First , when reflecting back on your season, it’s important to consider if you met and achieved the goals you set out to accomplish this season. Nobody could have predicted the number of restrictions we would have faced and encountered this season. With all the trials and obstacles in your way, how well do you think your season went? Did you accomplish your goal(s) (yes, no, both)?
Second, when reflecting back on your goals and if you accomplished them or not, another idea to consider is did you live up to your standards? Did you hold yourself accountable to your goals, and did you spend purposeful time during the season on completing the mundane tasks that may have been required to achieve your goal(s)? When you look back and think about the intermediate goals (microscope goals) you set for yourself, did you do what it would take to accomplish them? A microscope goal may have been to get at least 8 hours of sleep per night, go to the trainers room when I needed to, did I ensure I completed 3 or 4 weight room sessions a week, did I watch film of my throws, etc.
Finally, I ask you to consider two final thoughts. First, how did you expect your season to go? What were you expecting was going to happen? In September or October what would your ideal season look like? How did you expect it would end? Why did you expect it to go that way? Second, how do you feel your season went? Did your early season expectations manifest themselves? Did you envision yourself standing on the first place podium at the end of the season? Did you expect your bench press or squat numbers to increase by 10% or 15%?
Over the course of the past couple of weeks, I have written a lot about your window of excellence. In essence, we only have a short amount of time to achieve greatness. In this sense, the greatness I’m talking about is on the track, runway, and circle.
When you take the time to answer the questions above, I want you to be honest with yourself. Did you achieve what you set out to do? If you did, that is amazing and I applaud you for it. When you think about all that you accomplished this year, what made that possible? Now, on the flip side, if you didn’t achieve your goals, why do you think you didn’t? What stood in your way from achieving your goals? If you can answer these questions honestly and truthfully, you will better prepare yourself for the 2021-22 season.
Window of Excellence
For much of the collegiate track and field world, this past weekend marked the start of the championship season. Our Alfred State team took part in the festivities as well, competing in our outdoor track and field championships in Keystone, PA. All of our athletes competed extremely well. I’m very proud of how both our male and female throwers competed, earning their fair share of top 6 places along the way.
One of the messages I shared with our throwers the past couple of weeks has been about windows of opportunity. I mentioned this in my last post, and I believe it is worth mentioning again. One of my favorite quotes comes from Jud Logan, 4x USA hammer Olympian and legendary coach of Ashland University.
“Never take for granted your window of excellence”.
I’ve had this quote saved in my phone notes for quite some time. I’ve been waiting for the right time to share it with my athletes even though Jud shared it on social media quite a bit ago. His message doesn’t only resonate with sports, but with life in general. We have a limited amount of time to excel in a particular avenue of our life before the window is closed. It may be in business, the medical field, education, or sports, but we have a limited time to achieve greatness in our chosen endeavors.
Much like life, track and field and throwing in particular has a window of excellence. For the small majority of athletes that competed in high school and made the transition to collegiate competition, they may be their opportunity. The ability to compete at the collegiate level. From there, an even smaller number of athletes may make it their goal to win a conference championship, earn an All-American award, or win the national championship in an event. Wherever you may fall in that prism of competition, our window for excellence doesn’t stay open for long. But while the window is open, we might as well take advantage of the opportunities afforded to us as we continue to excel in our chosen endeavors of competition.
Always Try Your Best
Before my maternal grandfather’s life succumbed to cancer, we were talking one afternoon after lunch. I was so distraught at the situation he was in that I couldn’t keep myself from coming to tears everytime I saw him. I knew his time was limited, but I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that one day he would not be with us any longer.
The last time I spoke to him was on the phone. I called from a hotel in Bowling Green, OH. My training partner and I were going to compete in a meet the following day. I called that Saturday night. Surrounded by my parents and grandmother, he told me to always try my best in whatever I wanted to pursue in life. He spoke this phrase to me in Italian, an old proverb from Sicily. The last thing I said to him was, “I love you”.
The next day I competed. Not my best, but certainly not my worst. Jud Logan broke the 50-54 age group world records in the 25# weight throw and 6k hammer throw. It was the second time I watched Jud compete. The first time was as a senior at a competition in Akron, OH, May, 2004. This time it was October, 2009.
When I got home from the meet, I called my mom and asked her how Nonno was doing. She told me he passed away earlier that day. While I was competing in a track and field meet 300 miles away my grandfather lost his battle with cancer. He was 84 year olds. I was 27 years old. The last thing I said to him was, “I love you”. I’m getting emotional as I’m typing this out now.
I share this information with everyone because I believe much of our success as individuals is dependent upon our mindset and how we approach situations presented to us. My grandfather always told my brother and I to try our best in whatever we were doing. It was always to try our best. I’ve shared these sentiments with the athletes I’ve coached in the past and with the athletes I’m currently coaching.
Why Mindset Matters
Much of this idea is wrapped around the notion of having a positive mindset and outlook on what we are about to do. I believe that oftentimes the outcome of a track and field competition has been decided before the competition has even begun. The driving mechanism behind this phenomenon is the idea about having a positive mindset and having a belief in yourself and your abilities that you can and will overcome whatever obstacles may stand in your way.
A former athlete that I worked with while the athlete was in highschool recently shared via social media that he won his conference’s hammer championship. He also shared some other snippets of background information that other individuals probably weren’t privy to. He shared notes that he started writing himself a couple of months ago declaring that he would indeed win the conference hammer championship. He believed in himself, and believed in his ability to ensure that outcome would come to fruition. He approached the competition and the days, weeks, and months with a positive mindset fixated on the notion that he would indeed win.
After our meet on Sunday, I gave our throwers the day off on Monday from throwing. They still completed their weight room training session, and I could tell it took a tool on them. Yesterday’s practice went well, but some of the throwers were hurting.
About a third of the way through practice I pulled one of my throwers aside and asked him what he thought about before he physically stepped foot into the circle.
To provide some context, I pulled him aside because he was not having a particularly efficient day. He seemed off, and his body language was not exuding confidence. His head was down, shoulders down and he basically did not look confident. I think as coaches we know when something is going on with our athletes. It doesn’t necessarily have to come from a conversation, but by a look and their (the athlete’s) physical presense.
When I asked him what he thought about before he stepped foot in the circle, he said that he thought about not caging the discus. In all honesty, that wasn’t what I was expecting to hear, but then again I’m not sure what I was expecting in that moment.
I asked him to step out of the circle, pulled him aside, and we talked about confidence. More specifically we discussed mindset and how our thoughts control our emotions. Those emotions then in turn control our physiological response, which directly impacts our performance. I suggested to him that rather than thinking about the negative outcome or the expectation of the negative that he should think about a time when he felt most confident in the circle.
Word for word I won’t share exactly how I shared what I shared, but the basic premise of the mindset strategy I suggested yesterday was to think about a time when he really felt good about his performance in the circle and what that looked like in his mind’s eye. In essence, I was working on helping him re-establish his confidence by asking him to visualize his past successful performances and what they felt like in that moment. I also wanted him to improve his concentration by redirecting his thoughts to those past peak performances that would help him attain (or re-establish) his state of practice readiness. Rather than focus on the most recent negative experience I really wanted him to bring his thoughts back to those prior successful experiences he had in the circle. Lastly, I wanted him to redirect his emotional response to the situation. That emotional response (I’m going to cage the discus) was affecting his physical response, which was causing his performance to suffer (throwing the discus into the cage). By thinking about it, it was manifesting itself in his performance.
His next 12 throws went between the sector. They weren’t all perfect throws, but by redirecting his thoughts, he was able to have a successful string of throws that didn’t end up in the cage.
Coaches aren’t magicians. Although our athletes may expect magic to happen, it really comes down to how well we as coaches are able to communicate expectations, cues, drills and reinforcement back to our athletes. Effectively communicating with our athletes is more than half the battle. That communication helps establish trust and respect between coach and athlete, which in turn positively affects the coach-athlete relationship.
As you can probably tell, I write a lot about these facets of coaching. I believe that these concepts (communication, respect, trust, coach-athlete relationship) are the determining factors in whether an athlete is going to perform well or not. We really don’t have control over the physical attributes an athlete enters our program with. I can’t control whether our throwers are all over 6’ tall and have 75” wingspans. We don’t have much control over who is physically going to walk through our doors, but once they do walk through our door we have control in supporting the emotional factors and determinants that will allow them to realize their dreams and achieve their goals.
On Sunday our team competed at the Brockport Invitational meet. Yes, the meet was held on a Sunday. The week of practice and preparation leading up to the meet went pretty well. Lots of good throws in practice, the throwers’ technical efficiency improved, and we had some strong performances in the weight room. Then the competition began.
As a whole, the competition went fairly well. We had lots of personal best and season best performances. It was the distance of those performances that I think most of our throwers didn’t like.
In my experiences as a throwing coach, I’ve come to learn, understand and accept the fact that the best week or weeks of practice does not always necessarily translate into a great or even good performance on meet day. Ah, why is that you may be asking. Well, he is a conversation I had with my athletes today about just that.
Coach (me): We won’t have practice today. We’ll get back to it tomorrow.
Thrower 1: Are we still lifting today?
Coach (me): Yes, you are still lifting, but no throwing.
Thrower 2: Thank you coach.
Thrower 3: Does anyone else feel tired, or is it just me?
Coach (me): Although the actual volume of work conducted yesterday was relatively low, the intensity was very high-hence your fatigue today.
Thrower 3: Oh, you’re a lot smarter than me coach.
Coach (me): Well, let’s not get carried away here. I think it’s important to take into consideration that a lot of factors play a role in fatigue. Yesterday definitely plays a huge role. Other factors like CNS, rest, recovery, and nutrition are also critical.
Thrower 3: I just thought I didn’t sleep enough. My brain lacks the wrinkles yours possesses.
Yes, that is the actual text exchange from earlier this afternoon. And yes, that is how I respond to my athletes in our group chat. And even further, those factors listed above do indeed play a role in fatigue and to a greater extent, performance. So what’s the catch???
There isn’t one really. Our performances as athletes, and in this case throwers, is often pre-determined by the factors above. That isn’t 100% always the case, but in my experiences the few days and certainly weeks leading up to a meet determine the likelihood of perceived athlete success or less success (failure).
Now, in my humble opinion, a personal best is a personal best. Even a 1cm improvement is better than the previous performance and outcome. I always take a win or find the silver lining in a meet or performance. We build on win’s. Our growth as individuals is supported by those small wins. Every little bit helps.
In 2015, I attended a throwing conference held at the Spire Institute in Ohio. One of the guest speakers was world record holder in the weight throw and current American record holder in the hammer Lance Deal. In his presentation he spoke about a 10% rule that he has maintained and incorporated when working with the athletes he has coached in the past. I’ll leave you with the talk he gave on the topic and how it’s relevant today with the idea and notion about expectations around performance and what we should expect to throw at any given competition.
Since our meet wrapped up this past Friday, I have been thinking a lot about next steps for my athletes and the path that can be taken moving forward with the remainder of the outdoor season. As of now, we have a track meet every weekend until Mother’s Day. Knowing this allows me as a coach to continue to establish routines and rituals with my throwers. We are able to maintain a fairly structured practice schedule, with some flexibility included. Let me explain.
The next couple of competitions are scheduled for this upcoming Sunday, April 18th and Friday, April 23rd. Flexibility is important here because we are able to gain a practice session this week (Saturday) and lose one next week (Friday). There is a 0 net gain, but how practice structured the next 14 days is important.
After first meet performances, I typically review meet performances and the weeks leading up to the meet objectively. Keeping a detailed journal is important here for a couple of reasons. First, if we (athlete and I) were expecting a different performance, we can go back and see what we did in training leading up to the meet. Second, in the same light, we are able to review expectations and accountability. This is where the conversation about picking and choosing events moving forward might first happen.
I recorded and shared a podcast episode about this yesterday. Main eventing in three events during the outdoor season is quite rare. It isn’t too often that an athlete is going to have a real strong opportunity to win three throwing events at an outdoor conference championship. It happens, but not that frequently. With that said, now is the time to start the conversation moving forward.
What I like to discuss with my athletes is which event would they like to continue moving forward with as event 1, event 2, and event 3. Splitting time equally between all three events isn’t always fruitful and suggested. At least from my perspective, I wouldn’t encourage athletes to share time equally, especially if they are not as vested in one of the events they are asked to compete in.
In my podcast yesterday, I shared a story from my senior year (2004) about a conversation Coach Barr and I had after our indoor SUNYAC championships. I was seeded first in the weight throw going into the competition and ended up placing 4th. I was not pleased with my performance and knew that I needed to change something before the outdoor season started to give myself a chance to win the hammer. I told Coach Barr that I was no longer interested in competing in the shot-put, and that I wanted to put a greater emphasis on the hammer and discus. I knew I didn’t have a good chance to score in the shot-put. In 2003 I finished in the top 3 in the hammer, and just missed the finals of the discus. As a team we were not going to win the meet, and shared as such with Coach Barr as well. After I shared my plan with him, he agreed to de-emphasize the shot-put and focus more time on the discus. Looking back at my training journal from that outdoor season, my throwing time was about 60% hammer, 30% discus, and 10%. When it was decided I wasn’t going to throw the shot-put at the outdoor SUNYAC championships, I added the 10% to the hammer a couple of weeks before the championships.
At that time, I didn’t really know what I was doing or how Coach Barr would respond to this conversation. I knew I wasn’t a great shot-putter. I was all-in on the hammer, and thought that the discus would be a bonus at SUNYACS. Our conference was deep in 2004, and going into the competition I knew it would take at least 40m-42m just to make the finals. Coach Barr and I discussed this and made a plan moving forward two weeks out from SUNYACS.
Now getting back today, the conversation for this week and next will be what to focus on moving forward. I understand athletes have favorite events (maybe the one that they are performing best on, but not always), which I certainly take into consideration. I encourage my athletes to share their thoughts with me about this because it is their season and they are competing for the pure enjoyment of track and field. There are a couple of factors that will play a role here.
First, what are your expectations with competition moving forward with the remainder of the season? If there are goals the athletes still want to achieve and accomplish, this idea should be taken into consideration. If the athlete wants to compete in 3 or 4 events each meet, I’m all for it. I never want to discourage an athlete from competing in an event. If they decide they are no longer interested in competing in an event, we make the decision to no longer compete in that event. If the athlete has an opportunity to score at the conference meet in that event, I would also encourage the athlete to think about it (from a team perspective; this is an idea for another blog post down the road). If your team is in contention to win the conference championship and your athlete has a chance to score, then again I would encourage them to compete.
Really, what this all comes down to is having open and honest communication between coaches and their athletes. I encourage the conversation about events. I want me athletes to get the most out of their seasons, and if that means that maybe they only compete in two or three events, then that is ok.
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.