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.
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.