You never really know how a group of individuals are going to gel when brought together for the very first time. This season, unlike any other of my career, brought five individuals together in October, and were declared teammates. The first time in my coaching career that my whole group of student-athletes were freshmen.
Now, just because they come together because they are teammates does not necessarily mean they are going to become a true team just for the sake of doing so. It takes a concentrated effort by the coach to create a culture that will indeed bring everyone together. Unlike more traditional team sports, track & field is a little different. Yes, we are a team striving to win a team championship. However, each individual has their own goals they want to accomplish as well. It takes a balance between managing each athlete’s goals with the larger expectations of the group.
I didn’t need to bring this group of individuals together. They brought themselves together. Now we met often before the start of the season, but two of the five were playing other sports at the start of the season. Another athlete missed the first week for other reasons. We started with two. Grew to three. Then really gelled with five. I realized they were a tight group that had bought in when they told me if it was ok to tell me if they didn't like a potential recruit if they thought they wouldn't fit in with our team. As I coach, I knew they had definitely come together after that moment in December after one of our practices.
For their first semester experience involved with collegiate track & field, I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised with how they each managed their own expectations of what collegiate track was like as well as the academic rigors they experienced in their specific majors. A couple of interesting things about this group of athletes. First, they are a very focused group of individuals. They understand the importance of their academic successes, but are able to put those thoughts aside for the hour or two that they are at practice. Second, we did not have any issues with cell phones during practice. Unfortunately, I have had that issue before. We spoke about at the beginning of the season, and that was it. Ultimately, they are able to eliminate distractions for a couple of hours and focus on what they need to do. Third, they are goal-oriented. At the beginning of the season I asked everyone what they wanted to accomplish by the end of the fall semester. To my pleasant surprise, not one of them wrote down a distance they wanted to throw before the semester was over. Rather than write down outcome goals, each individual wrote down process goals. Again, in the past a typical goal that may have been written was more about throwing a specific distance in the shot-put or weight throw. Not with this group.
They concluded the fall semester having broken the women’s indoor shot-put and 20lb. weight throw records. I wasn’t surprised the records were broken. The fashion they were broken did catch me a bit off guard. First throw by Gabbie broke the shot-put record. Similarly, first throw by Ally broke the 20lb. weight throw record. Gabbie increased her record in round 6. Three throwers threw farther than the previous weight throw record. Three girls over 40’ in the weight (a coaching best for me), as well as three over 10m in the shot-put (a coaching best for me).
I cannot say enough positive things about our six pieces of five (if you know, you know). I’m very proud of how dedicated they were to learning how to throw the weight, increase their understanding of shot-put mechanics, and the patience to take each practice one at a time. When I was an athlete, I couldn’t wait to throw in our first meet. Now, as a coach, I wish I could slow time down in order to have more deliberate practices completed. Most importantly, I’m most proud of their academic accomplishments. They all performed well this fall, and all earned a GPA greater than my first semester GPA. It isn’t difficult to achieve that feat, but I have shared some of my collegiate academic stories with them.
Another piece to the collegiate puzzle, and what I feel is most important, is the opportunity to develop a positive, supportive, and nurturing coach-athlete relationship with each individual. I’ll put my research hat on for a moment, but past and present empirical literature suggests that the coach-athlete relationship is the number one most important factor from the perspective of the athlete that led them to achieving their successes in athletics. I can provide a detailed reference list if you would like, but 20 years of literature in team, individual, professional, youth, and Olympic coach-athlete dyads suggests that the more powerful and real the relationship is between the athlete and coach, the greater success the athlete feels they have achieved.
We will continue to build our culture at Nazareth College. We will remain steadfast on accomplishing our academic and athletic goals. Our telescope vision is in place. Our microscope goals have been carefully planned and discussed. We know what we need to do this semester to take another step closer to realizing our visions. We are ready.
Ally, Bailey, Gabbie, Grace, & Katie, I look forward to another great semester of growth, development, learning, and long throws!
Your Coach ~ Coach Infurna
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.