One of the best decisions I ever made was to get into coaching. In all honesty, it really happened by chance. Mid-way through my senior year at SUNY Fredonia, our head men’s track & field coach notified the athletic director that he would not returning the following year. Our men’s head coach was also my throwing coach. That fall semester, our interim head coach asked me if I would be interested in coaching the throwers. I had coached recreation soccer teams before, so how hard could it be to coach the throwers I was previously teammates with? I learned early on that it wasn’t going to be as easy as I perceived it to be.
1. You don’t know what you don’t know
I really had no idea what I was doing for the first couple months I was working with our throwers. I had a basic idea of what I wanted them to do in the weight room. Up until that point in time, our previous throwing coach never really gave us a weightlifting program. He encouraged us to squat, bench, and deadlift. I thought I knew what I was doing, but I was wrong (insert picture of first training program here).
Throwing wise, I thought I knew how to teach throwers how to throw. I understood basic weight throw and shot-put concepts. I implemented what I had learned from my previous three throwing coaches. We used a lot of chairs and tape while completing turning drills to perfect our weight throwing technique. We also ran a lot of stairs.
My advice to new throwing coaches—seek out a mentor. Someone you respect and would like to learn from. Coaching throwers is difficult, even if you have previous throwing experience. I wish I would have sought out the assistance of other coaches sooner than I had.
2. You are Coaching Your Athletes, Not Your Friends
Coaching my previous teammates was not all it was cracked up to be. I thought it was going to be pretty easy. I was mistaken. One thing I did not take into consideration when I accepted the throwing coach position was the previous history I had with the athletes that were now in my care. It’s probably something most people don’t think about when they accept a position as an assistant coach at the school they had just graduated from. You may go from partying together, to training together, and to complaining about the coaching staff together to now trying to lead and coach these individuals. I found it to be a difficult transition because I thought I was going to be treated like their coach. I don’t believe I was at first. I think we were more friends than coach and athletes. This was my fault.
My advice to new throwing coaches—establish expectations with your athletes. Whether you are coaching athletes you were previously teammates with or not, establish clear coach-athlete expectations. They need to be enforced. When things get blurry, it isn’t only bad for the coach, but just as bad for the athletes as well.
3. Respect is Earned, Not Given
It was my assumption that the throwers I had previously been teammates with were going to treat me differently now that I was their coach. Well, you know what they say assuming things…We had a couple of freshman throwers that joined my first season, 2004-2005. We also had some first time throwers join our team during the spring semester. The transition for the new throwers and myself was fairly seamless. They knew that I had spent the previous four years as an athlete at SUNY Fredonia. They didn’t see me as their teammate, so things went fairly well.
Establishing the coach-athlete relationship with my returning throwers was a bit difficult. We had some issues maintaining accountability with getting to the weightroom and communication if someone was going to be late or miss practice. You see, twelve years ago most people did not have cell phones. It was much more difficult to communicate, especially if it was expected that you were going to be someplace, but then not show up. Now, if my athletes meet with a professor or their work groups after class, I get a text message letting me know that they will be a couple of minutes. That wasn’t the case back in 2004. I had to meet with some individuals on a couple of occasions to remind them that they were the team leaders and needed to set a positive example for their less experienced teammates. After our initial meetings, the season went on much more smoothly than it probably could have been.
My advice to new throwing coaches—do not assume your athletes will respect you from the first day of practice just because you are their coach. Establish consistency and routines that will set the tone for your season. Athletes can easily tell if you are playing favorites or not being honest with them. Maintain open lines of communication, and make sure to discuss issues immediately when they arise. Do not let things fester because the situation may get worse.
Above Left: Jen and I at Outdoor SUNYACS where we both won the hammer (April, 2004)
Above Right: Jen, Tim, and I at an Outdoor meet at the University of Buffalo (April, 2005)
4. You Can’t Judge a Book by it’s Cover
This is most certainly the lesson I carry with me into every new season. One of the best throwers I have ever coached came out for the team in January, 2005. We’ll call this thrower Claude. At the time, Claude stood about 6’3” and weighed maybe 200lbs. He approached me at one of our practices and told me he wanted to be a thrower. I said that it would not be a problem. Claude told me that he had never thrown before, but was a member of his high school Cross Country team (great).
After a couple days of learn-to-turn, I told Claude to take 100 hammer turns a day before he started throwing. I gave him a hammer, showed him with line to turn on, and just left him there. I didn’t watch his turns, form, technique, or anything. That progressed for most of that first season. Claude threw at the Indoor State Championships, throwing just over 40’ in the 35lb. Weight Throw.
That following season, Claude was like a man on a mission. He followed the training program over the summer, and came back ready to compete in 2005. And compete he did. Claude scored at the Indoor SUNYAC and Indoor State conference championships in the 35lb. Weight Throw. He finished that season ranked 9th all-time at SUNY Fredonia with a throw of 51’. He also scored at the Outdoor SUNYAC and Outdoor State conference championships in the Hammer. He finished the season throwing over 50m (167’), and was ranked 8th all-time at SUNY Fredonia in the Hammer Throw.
My advice to new throwing coaches—you never know what kind of talent you have on your roster. I really didn’t pay much attention to Claude when he started throwing for us at SUNY Fredonia. He turned out to be one of the best throwers I have ever coached. His work ethic and determination could not be surpassed. It was as though he willed himself to success. Now, I welcome anyone that is interested in throwing. As a coach, you just never know how someone may take to the Hammer, Weight, Discus, or Shot-Put. I pay much more attention to new throwers than I did my first year at SUNY Fredonia. Over the course of four years new throwers may develop into competitors that may score or even win conference championships. You just never know.
5. Think About a Philosophy—What Type of Coach Do You Want To Be
I think it is clear to those of you still reading that I really didn’t have much of an idea as to what I was doing. I admit that I was not that great when it came to organizing practice, tailoring programs to individuals, and thinking big picture. I was mostly focused on being just a couple of days ahead of my kids. Before I have any inkling that I would be coaching, I accepted a full-time teaching job and was enrolled in graduate school at SUNY Fredonia. Many of my graduate course professors were open to me completing assignments about coaching leadership, and not always about school leadership.
One of my curriculum and instruction courses was focused on developing a curriculum plan and map for any subject of our choosing. Rather than write about teaching, I wrote about throwing programs and the type of coach I wanted to be (insert picture of that binder here, if I can find it). I’ve always had the philosophy to give my throwers autonomy in a lot of things that directly have an effect on them during the season-practice time and lifting time. One of my throwers at SUNY Fredonia my first year was a senior, and was student-teaching. She could not make our 3pm start time because she was still in school. I tried being as flexible with her as I could in order to ensure she was given equal practice time. That worked because of the expectations we had set with all the throwers (see #2 and #3). The same went with lifting. A majority of the athletes I coached were education majors. Their schedules were all the same, so they lifted together. For some of the other throwers I coached, their schedules were much different. Some had all evening classes, some had internships, and some had jobs. I spent more time at SUNY Fredonia my first year than I probably did honing my teaching skills. That was my philosophy. I wanted to provide all my throwers with equal time that met their needs. I also wanted to work with my throwers to make them part of the process. They took ownership over our practice times and rarely missed anything because I allowed them to be part of the process.
My advice to new throwing coaches—begin to develop a coaching philosophy sooner than you think you need to. Whether you are coaching high school, college, or post-collegiate athletes, make sure you stand for something that you are passionate about. Are you going to allow your athletes some autonomy with schedules, is it always your way or the highway, or are you going to be someplace in the middle? Figuring that out will ensure to make your start to coaching smoother and more efficient than if you don’t have a plan for yourself and how you want to lead the athletes in your care.
Tim, Jen, Meredith, Claude, and I at Outdoor States (May, 2005)
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.