My one word to focus on for this 2018-19 season is ‘culture’. I have not dedicated much time the previous couple of years on building a positive culture for our collegiate throwers. I’m not afraid to admit that. I’m actually quite embarrassed about it. Not focusing on it caused problems to fester, and our lack of communication only added fuel to the fire.
Immediately after last season came to a screeching halt, I began to put together a plan that would help grow and nurture a positive atmosphere in which my athletes would feel engaged, empowered, and given autonomy in how to lay out their yearly plans. I reached out to a few of my coaching friends, solicited their advice, and began preparing.
I knew we would have at least four new throwers, with one thrower joining us in the spring. Mid-way through the summer we added a fifth freshman thrower. It is my first season as a coach in which I have only freshmen throwers. It’s a re-start for me, and a perfect time to try something new.
As the semester began, I was wrapping up a book/workbook for coaches and athletes to incorporate during the course of their season. The purpose of the book is to give coaches and athletes an opportunity to share their thoughts, goals, and vision(s) for the upcoming season. I have implemented the activities and action plans with my athletes in the past, but never in a formal format like I have developed.
I shared my enthusiasm for sharing my knowledge with my incoming throwers, sending them a letter indicating as much in July. Once everyone was on campus, I began meeting with each thrower individually (getting to know them, how their classes are going, their transition to college, etc.). I had done this in the past, however I had specific questions I wanted to ask to really figure out what my new throwers wanted to get out of throwing at the collegiate level. I asked them to think about their vision for the season, what they wanted to be able to do at the end of the year, and how I could help them.
Our conversations were nothing short of amazing! I knew the conversations seemed a bit awkward at times, but that was ok. I didn’t want my new throwers to just go through the motions once our season began. I wanted them to really think about what they wanted to get out of the season. I’ve had these conversations with athletes in the past, but this year I asked my throwers to write down their thoughts because I was going to ask them to reflect back on them during the season.
We just finished our third week together. I think our culture is moving forward in a positive direction. We are staying positive thanks to the great bracelets from positive brands.
I have encouraged my throwers to stay positive through the course of the season. We have a long season. Everyday isn’t going to be a great day. We are going to have some bad days. That is ok. I expect a thrower or two to have a bad day every once in a while. It is all part of the journey we are on. It is my job to create a path that gives my athletes the best opportunity to be successful. We are moving along on that path right now. At least through three weeks, we are moving in the right direction.
We have shared our visions for the season. We shared why they are important to us. And we have shared what we want to accomplish together. Here’s to an amazing and fulfilling 2018-19 season!
As always, thanks for reading ~ Charles
Our season has got off to a fast start! As of this writing, we have had two throwing sessions and two weight room sessions. Two of our fab five are still in the middle of their volleyball and soccer seasons respectfully. Another thrower had a family emergency this week. That leaves us with two throwers that have practice with me.
As with life, we have to roll with the punches. It is difficult to prepare for situations that come up out of nowhere. One really cannot predict that something is going to take us away from sport for any length of time. However, a few days lost at the beginning of the season are hardly enough to cause panic or frustration in an athlete. She may tell you otherwise, but a couple of days to be with loved ones in a different state will not be cause the demise of a season.
That is why my expectations for each season are very similar to one another. Our team expectations are:
The only person that truly knows if they have given their best effort is the athlete. If they are able to leave practice, look themselves in the mirror, and be happy with their effort for the day, I consider that a win. As an aside, I attended SUNY Fredonia’s Alumni Weekend this past weekend. The current SUNY Fredonia Head Coach and I were teammates for two years (2001-2002). We were talking about effort and accountability a lot with many of the alums that were in attendance. From the sounds of the conversation we had, how one defines effort and expectations has definitely changed from the late 1970’s.
The 1976-77 track & field team was honorarily inducted into our sports hall of fame as being recognized as the first track team to win a SUNYAC championship. It was the start of a string of 20 consecutive outdoor SUNYAC track championships. In discussion, she shared some stories of how their coaches coached, and what they expected of everyone. Now, to give you some perspective, each track team through the late 70’s into the late 90’s had at least 2 All-Americans each season. In some cases, they would outscore each other team combined at the SUNYAC indoor and outdoor championships. Think about that for a second. One team would outscore the remaining seven or eight teams combined. The 1988 team scored a phenomenal 300 points at the indoor SUNYAC meet, scoring places 1-6. They swept the shot-put and weight throw, scoring over 60 points for the team in just those two events. That is a ridiculous number!
Maybe we are blurring the lines a bit between culture and expectations, but one thrower told me that it was expected that everyone would score at a championship meet. Tough to do when you sweep places 1-6 and have seven or eight throwers. In 2018, SUNY Brockport men’s shot-putters placed 2-8. That is even more ridiculous to think about today. They placed 7 of 8 men. Talk about giving your best effort when it counts!
I have only had a couple of experiences in which teammates were not as supportive of each other as I would have liked. I told them as such after they almost got into a fight at a meet. Their competitive nature got the best of them, and they had to be separated during one of the outdoor meets. I’m all for competition. However, I pulled them both aside during the meet and as nicely as possible expressed my disdain and concern for their actions. Even though they were in the middle of a fierce discus competition, I told them that in under no certain conditions that they should communicate and act towards each other the way they did that day, especially in front of other coaches and athletes. It was embarrassing.
Encouragement is key. I have made it a point to have individual conversations with each thrower I’ve coached over the years at some point before the start of a competition. No long lectures or anything of the sort, but I make it a point to stress their strengths, great things they accomplished during the week, and to enjoy themselves during the meet. I have some new activities I’m going to try out this season. With such a larger group of throwers than we have had in the past, I’m going to involve each athlete more than I have in the past.
I listened to a podcast the other day in which Jon Gordon interviewed Tim Ferris. In the interview, Jon asked Tim what advice he had for writers that were just getting started with their craft. Tim said that he encouraged people to write their first books for themselves and maybe a friend or two. Just start writing, even if you are writing for yourself. I wish I would have listened to that episode when it first came out. I probably would have finished my book sooner than I did.
What I have found in coaching and teaching alike is that your attitude and the effort you put into a task are directly correlated to that task being finished or being successful. You cannot fake those two traits. Either you are moving forward with a task and have a positive attitude or you don’t. You either put forth great effort or you don’t. There really isn’t anything in between. A great talk Lou Holtz gave a couple of years ago goes into much more detail than what I described. I’m a firm believer in his message. Either you are growing or dying. Accountability, attitude and effort may be the most important ingredients in throwing successes. Either you hold yourself accountable or you don’t. You have a positive attitude or you don’t. You put forth effort or you don’t.
The last one is pretty simple to understand on the surface. Do what is right and avoid things that may get you in trouble. Another great message from Lou Holtz that I first began to incorporate at SUNY Fredonia back in 2004. Many of the athletes I’ve coached have gone on to become classroom teachers and administrators in some capacity in a school district. One of the big ideas I always preached was to not do something that would cost you the opportunity to continue pursuing your career goals. Our campus newspaper would post a section similar to a police blotter in some of the larger newspapers. I stressed the importance of not doing anything that would cause you to have your name printed in that section. That goes for all majors and career paths. I am more familiar with education, and sat in on interviews that things like that cost people a job offer in a school district. Just don’t put yourself in a situation you think may lead you there.
Those are the four big tenants I discuss with my throwers at the beginning, middle, and end of the season. As a team, we have 9 tenants that we go over as a whole team. They are all important. I choose to focus on these four because they are directly correlated (in my opinion, I have not conducted the research) to building a positive and nurturing culture where athletes are able to thrive and grow as individuals. If they throw far along the way, awesome. In the long run, throwing far comes a distant second. My main goal is to make sure my athletes are safe and leave Nazareth College better prepared to tackle the obstacles they will encounter after they graduate. Doing what is right, giving a great effort, being accountable, supporting people, and having a positive attitude will do that.
As always, thanks for reading ~ Charles
I posted a picture the other day on Instagram about giving athletes the autonomy to be involved with some decisions that ultimately are going to affect them during the course of the season. We openly discuss practice times and days and weight room training sessions. As we transition to the outdoor season, I ask my athletes, at the least the ones that throw three or four events, what their thoughts are about the upcoming meet and practice load.
I have only had one athlete in my coaching career throw the shot-put, discus, hammer, and javelin all in the same meet. That was during the 2005-06 season at SUNY Fredonia. The opportunity really hasn’t presented itself since, but for my three event throwers, I ask them if there is something they want to focus on that week. If the answer is yes, we may either drop one of the events from the next meet or de-emphasize another one for a couple of days. I have never had a bad experience with this type of coaching tactic.
One of my former athletes, that was a member of that 2005-06 team, suggested that giving athletes too much is bad and can backfire. I couldn’t agree more. As coaches, we need to be able to figure out how much is too much. I spoke about this in a recent podcast I recorded. You can listen to that episode by clicking HERE.
Giving athletes some autonomy actually makes them feel more engaged and committed to the task at hand. They feel more ownership in the decision(s) being made because they are part of it. Researchers at the University of Rochester developed Self-Determination Theory (SDT) in the 1970’s. Their research has proven time and again that when individuals are given autonomy to complete tasks, their engagement and ownership goes up compared to those individuals that are not given autonomy or asked to be part of the process. You can learn more about their research by clicking HERE.
There is a fine line between too much and not enough. I have five freshman throwers this season. I haven’t given them the keys to the kingdom. I have allowed them to be part of the decision-making process. They are engagement and enthusiastic about the season, their goals, and their teammates. Check back in a month to see if we are still as enthusiastic as we are today.
As always, thanks for reading ~ Charles
In a little under two weeks, the official start to the 2018-19 track & field season begins. Before the start of each season, I meet with each thrower individually. In those conversations, we discuss goals for the season, academics, and expectations.
I feel the most important part of this conversation is the discussion over academics. Regardless of what year the thrower is, we always discuss how classes are going and what their anticipated schedule looks like for the spring semester. This helps me in two ways. First, I am able to gain good insight into how well each thrower is doing academically. By this time in late October, most professors have given mid-term exams. I’m able to quickly gauge how well each person thinks they are doing compared to how well they actually are doing. Second, it helps me start planning out our spring semester schedule. We always encourage our athletes to leave 3pm-6pm open in their academic calendars. From time to time students take labs that take up the allotted practice time. Talking about it ahead of time helps us all better get a sense of how our schedule will look like after everyone comes back in January.
We also review expectations of being a member of the Nazareth College XC/Track & Field program. This is discussed in great detail during our initial team meeting. I’ll spare you the details of what I discuss with our throwers, but the conversation mirrors those from our initial all athlete team meeting.
Finally, we discuss individual goals and commitments. I’ve referenced a letter that I wrote to each thrower over the summer in a previous blog post. In that letter, I ask everyone to consider the following questions (thank you Lou Holtz for the inspiration), beginning with:
What is your vision for the upcoming 2018-19 season? What do you see yourself accomplishing this year?
I find the first question most important for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t believe many athletes in high school are ever asked this question. That may sound crazy, but I believe it to be true. I was never asked this question in high school. Were you?
Second, as a coach you are able to pick up on some cues from your athletes. I initially sent them this question back in July. We discussed it again with the whole team in September. If you as a coach receive a not well thought out response, you know your athlete probably hasn’t thought about it or they don’t know how to answer the question. You are asking them to think about something far out into the future, which in this case is a combined indoor and outdoor track & field season. Some may not be able to think as far out as a month, week, or day. I understand. I was in a similar state of mind back when I was an undergraduate student. And some days I have no idea what is going to happen in the next five minutes (from a dad of a 5-year old, 3-year old, and 1-year old).
If your athlete has never been given the opportunity to share their long-term thoughts, this is a great time to start and engage the conversation. Depending on the academic program they are enrolled in, they have a pretty good idea of what they have to do and when in order to earn enough credits to graduate on-time (that is my ultimate number 1 goal-ensure my athletes graduate from college on-time).
I think they should also have an idea of what they need to do in order to achieve their goal(s). Most incoming freshmen throwers are not going to win a national championship right out of the gate. But let’s say for example that is the goal for four years down the road. Now, coach and athlete can have an honest conversation about the reality of that vision being realized. This is also the time in which trust, respect, and lines of communication are becoming stronger. Having this conversation with a freshman thrower may be easier to be had then with a junior or season. Let me explain.
For the sake of this example, let’s say we have a female freshman thrower. Her personal best in the shot-put is 40’ and 130’ in the discus. With all of the latest technology available to us, we are quickly able to look up previous national champion winners at all the collegiate levels. For this example, we’ll stick with DIII. A rough estimate is that if a female thrower hits 50’ in the shot-put and about 160’ in the discus, they give themselves a really good chance of winning a national championship. Coach and athlete are now able to break down this monumental vision into smaller goals/steps. The goals may look like this:
Year 1: 42.5’ shot-put and 140’ in the discus
Year 2: 45’ shot-put and 145’ in the discus
Year 3: 47.5’ shot-put and 150’ in the discus
Year 4: 50’ shot-put and 155’ in the discus
Those may not seem like very manageable distances to achieve. This is where the follow-up questions come into play. What the thrower is willing to do and sacrifice to achieve those distances will either lead the thrower to realizing their vision or not. But wait, we can only control how we perform at meets. We cannot control what other throwers may throw at nationals. Now we have a starting point in regards to manageable marks over the course of a 4-year collegiate career. The trajectory will be different for everyone. Below you will see Luis Rivera’s trajectory into winning the 2016 DIII Indoor National Championship in the 35# Weight Throw.
Year 1: 42’
Year 2: 54’
Year 3: 63’
Year 4: 67’
Luis made up a lot of distance ground from year one to year two. He made huge technical advances between year 3 and year 4. The path to a national championship is different for everyone. His example is one of many.
Getting started on the path towards realizing your vision is critical. Involving your athletes in the process is crucial. I believe it is.
I’m not suggesting you as a coach turn over the reins to your throwing program and let your athletes drive you towards your destination. What I am suggesting is that your athletes are able to provide some input. As coaches, it is our job to create a path for our athletes that gives them the best opportunity to be successful. We are only able to do that if we have some of their input.
I’ve written about it before, and I’ll state it again. Over the past couple of years, I have tried to get away from goal-setting, but rather focus upon commitments. Everyone has goals. At the beginning of the season, I’m guessing most throwers write down something about throwing farther, bettering their personal best from the season before, and possibly winning a conference championship.
Those goals are all well and good, however what is the athlete committing to in order to achieve those goals? Are they going to train harder—how do you measure that?
When you commit to something, it makes that something more personal to you. When you commit to something and tell others, well now you have an accountability group. Letting your athletes commit to tasks, just as; getting 8 hours of sleep a night, eating 5 fruits/vegetables a day, or getting five weight training sessions a week requires a cognizant commitment towards achievement. You might not have to think a lot about the five training sessions during the week, but you might have to think about your nutrition. You may also need to think about getting 8 hours of sleep per night.
Some things to consider during this process. First, you have to get to know your athletes. I wouldn’t encourage a coach to immediately initiate this conversation without having some type of an idea of where the conversation might go. I usually wait until a couple of weeks before the season starts to have this conversation. Second, I send my throwers a prep before we meet. Similar to what I send them over the summer, but more specific to them as individuals.
I’ve rambled on long enough for this post. I’ll follow up next week with what we specifically discuss, as well as some prompts.
As always, thanks for reading ~ Charles
The 2018-19 track & field season officially begins on Monday, October 22nd. By that point, our student-athletes will have been on campus for about 7 weeks. What happens from when they step foot on campus to the 22ndcan greatly impact how their season will go. For others, the start of the season begins the day after the previous one ends. That would mean that for incoming freshmen, the season might begin at the beginning of June. The same can be said for collegiate athletes.
What happens from the end to beginning, as I previously mentioned, can make all the difference in the world from having a successful and not so successful season. I’m not just speaking about the physical aspects of throwing. I’m also speaking to the mental aspects as well. Depending on who you talk to, the literature you read, and who you follow on social media, one might put more stock in the physical rather than the mental or vise-versa.
I began speaking to my incoming freshmen throwers after they graduated from high school. In July, I sent them an email with an attached letter sharing my excitement about the upcoming season as well as my thoughts about what they can expect from our program. I asked them to think about themselves and what they want to get out of their first season throwing at Nazareth College.
Everyone responded back to me at some point during the summer. I felt it was important to plant the seeds of what they want to get out of the upcoming season. I have thoughts about each individual thrower, their goals, and how their individual goals will impact our throwing squad as a whole. Team chemistry and culture are extremely important. That’s not to say that everyone will become best friends throughout the course of the season. How they interact with each other could be predictive of their overall success. Let me go into more detail with that thought.
We probably have all heard the expression that one bad apple can spoil the bunch. The same can be said with athletes on any sport team. Over the course of the past few years here at Nazareth we have had to tell some of our best athletes that this wasn’t the team for them, and that their negativity was a detriment to the overall health of the team.
With no returning throwers until April, we have a group of very exceptional and talented athletes joining us this year. Numbers wise, the most freshmen we have had on the throwing squad at the same time. My focus for this season is to build an environment in which our throwers are able to thrive, maximize their efforts, and achieve their academic and athletic goals. To make my own goals clearer and brought to the forefront, my one word for the season is culture. One of my favorite authors, Jon Gordon, speaks about picking one word a year to focus on. Last year I picked the word resiliency. This year I have selected the word culture. I have let that part of my coaching slip the past couple of seasons. Coming off of our successful 2015-16 campaign, I did not emphasize culture enough the past couple of seasons. With a new group of throwers this year, my primary focus is to help develop and foster a culture that each individual will be able to thrive in while also supporting and encouraging their teammates’ voyages as well.
This is the first time in my coaching career that I have only freshmen. I’m excited and motivated by their enthusiasm to start the season. Our culture is beginning to take shape. Let’s get the 2018-19 season off to an extraordinary start.
It seems the collegiate recruiting process is a popular topic to write about these days. I have received a lot of positive feedback from families and throwers about my latest blog post about the subject, as well as podcast. I appreciate those of you that have taken the time to read, listen, and respond to my thoughts on the subject.
You can read my past articles about recruiting here and here. You can also listen to my recent podcast about the recruiting process by clicking this link. Or, you can listen to my first podcast about the recruiting process.
Since my last post, I have engaged in some interesting conversations about my initial thoughts on the subject. Those follow-up conversations have led to additional thoughts I’m going to share with you below. At Nazareth College, we are in the middle of setting up our recruiting databases, contacting potential student-athletes, and scheduling campus visits and tours for the classes of 2019 and 2020. I do not believe there are many differences in recruiting between Division I, II, and III. In all fairness, at the DIII we are not able to provide athletic scholarships, but besides that I think the divisions are more similar than often initially thought.
Ultimately, in my opinion, I believe athletes make the decision on which college they want to attend based on their intended major/academic program and how comfortable they feel on campus (even if they decided one day that they didn’t want to compete in that particular sport). Included with their comfort level is how comfortable they feel with their event coach(s), head coach, and current athletes on the team.
Practice for the summer with one of my club athletes wrapped up yesterday afternoon. The thrower’s dad and I were talking about upcoming recruiting visits his son had, where, and the types of programs offered. To give you some additional background on this thrower, he threw at the New York State Indoor Track & Field Championships this year. He also threw at Indoor and Outdoor New Balance Nationals. He is a 60’ 25# weight thrower, has a personal best of 180’ in the hammer, and throws the discus 150’. Each DI program he has talked to has told him and his family that he is able to walk-on, and that a scholarship would not be offered to him with the current distances he is throwing. The topics dad I discussed follow below and are not in any particular order of importance. I have encouraged the family to ask these types of questions when they meet with coaches and/or recruiting coordinators in the future.
I’m not sure if these are the politically correct questions to ask a coaching staff, however I will be asking similar questions if my wife and I are fortunate enough to have one of our boys have the athletic prowess to be recruited at the DI level. On a few occasions our coaching staff was asked if an athlete would receive more financial aid and academic money if they achieved All-American status. Does this occur at the DI or DII level?
I've been asked some interesting questions over the course of the past 10 years. One of my favorites is, "Coach, will you be able to give me more money if I play two sports here?" My response was, "We are not able to give you athletic or academic scholarships for playing multiple sports." Her response back was, "<Insert school in the same conference> said they are going to give me $5000 more if I play a fall sport and compete in indoor and outdoor track." I didn't know what to say.
What is the most interesting question you have received from a recruit? How did you handle it?
As always, thanks for reading ~ Charles
The start of the 2018-19 season is upon us. In a couple of weeks our collegiate athletes will be returning to campus for the start of a new academic and athletic school year. I am fortunate to have five freshmen throwers that will be continuing on with their throwing careers at Nazareth College. With a returning sophomore, we will have a total of six throwers.
A couple of weeks ago I sent them an email with an attached letter. As they are probably aware of by now, I tend to get long winded in my emails. My goal throughout the summer was to send them at least one email a week. Rather than send them another email, I wrote them a letter. In my letter, I introduced myself and the program that they are becoming a part of. I am beginning my sixth season at Nazareth. This is the most excited I’ve been since I started! Now, you are probably thinking that I have said that about every team. Each team is different. Different personalities. Different experiences. Different expectations.
I expressed my sincerest thoughts about them making the decision to join our team and how happy I am that they will throwing in a Nazareth jersey this season. In my letter, I also asked them to think about a couple of things. I asked them to think about the future. I asked them where they wanted to be at the conclusion of the throwing careers at Nazareth. We will be working backwards from their far-out visions for themselves and where they see themselves in the future. I asked them the following questions, adapted from one of my favorite coaches, Lou Holtz:
After I sent them the email, I heard back from all six throwers in less than an hour. Early on I learned a couple of things about my throwers. First, they promptly read their email. Second, they each individually sent me a text message telling me they received my email. Lastly, they asked questions about the letter. One of them sent me this text message.
I believe it is important that coaches stay in frequent communication with their athletes over the summer. Especially with incoming freshmen, I make it a point to reach out to them after their high school season is over to see if they have any specific questions about our program. I am usually able to answer questions during their recruiting visits, however somethings do tend to come up during the summer. I typically send them a text message a week just to check in and see how things are going. I find it is easier to answer any questions they may have about programming and throwing at the collegiate level while taking classes during the summer when they don’t have to worry about taking finals and graduating.
How often to do you stay in contact with your athletes over the summer? Do you engage them in conversation not related to throwing? Do your athletes respond to your methods of communication? What do you discuss?
As always, thanks for reading ~ Charles
On Monday I had the chance to work with a senior high school thrower that is looking to take his talents to the Division I level beginning in the fall of 2019. It was my first day working with him for a practice session. He drove down to our throwing compound for a private training session before starting his senior season of high school.
During our session, I asked him how the collegiate recruiting process was going. He told me that he intends to major in Engineering, in which he told me that it has narrowed down his search quite a bit. He said that it has made it difficult because he only has a few choices of colleges that he is really interested in. He takes it as a negative situation. I interpreted it as a positive situation. Let me explain.
First, he already has his mind set on what he wants to major it—Engineering. For some, you may look at it as a negative because there may only be a handful of Division I programs with Engineering majors and tracks. I see this as a positive because it can help bring focus to the process. Rather than being inundated with 50-100 opportunities for college, you may now have it already narrowed down to 25. It makes it much easier to navigate the process because there will be less information to process compared to wanting to become a teacher, in which most Division I college programs have an Education major and track. Narrowing down your search from 200, as compared to 50.
Second, you will be able to learn more about a few colleges, rather than trying to learn a little bit about a lot of colleges. Depending on your situation, you may only want to attend a college in which you will never see snow. That eliminates many more colleges for you. Now we may have gone from 25 to 15 (using our hypothetical example).
Third, now that we have 15 colleges, your next thoughts may be focused on financial aid and scholarship opportunities. In state vs. out of state tuition can be drastically different, especially if you are looking at the difference between a private and state school. For this example, let’s say that financial aid isn’t going to be a problem for you, but you want to attend a private school. You have now narrowed your search down to 8 schools. Now you can really dig in and focus on these schools over the course of your senior season.
Fourth, you will be able to make official visits to most of the remaining 8 schools. This will be a great time to get to know; your future teammates, event coach, head coach, athletic training staff, professors, other athletes, and general body students. Do not be afraid to ask a lot of questions. This is your opportunity to interview everyone else involved in the process. Specific to the Engineering program you are interested in, a few questions to ask would be about internship opportunities, job placement within 3 or 6 or 9 months of graduation, graduate programs, how alumni have fared in the job market, and length of program (4-year undergrad to 1 year of grad school or 6-year program to graduate with a Master’s degree). I’m not familiar with all the ins and outs of Engineering programs, and this might not be much of an issue for you, in regards to how long it may take you graduate with your undergrad and/or graduate degree. However, if you receive financial aid for only the time you are an athlete, aid might not be there when you decide to enroll in a graduate program right away. You may have to pay full tuition if you do not receive other types of aid.
Lastly, when you have narrowed your search down to 2 or 3 schools, a question to ask yourself would be, “If I decide not to throw anymore, will I still be happy at XYZ University located on the East or West Coast XXX miles away from my family?” This may be the farthest thing from your mind at this point in the process, but it is an important one. Perhaps the decision is yours to stay or not, but what if something happens in which you lose your aid, get cut from the team, or suffer an injury? It may be obvious to ask questions about this to some, but not all. I’m sure I missed a couple of other things to take into consideration when navigating the college search process, especially in the case of someone that wants to earn a degree in Engineering.
My hope for high school athletes and their families is to navigate the college recruiting process as best as possible with as much information provided to them by the college they are interested in attending, as well as the information provided to them by their high school guidance counselor office and/or coaching staff. Unfortunately, it may just come down to a number’s game. If you throw the discus 160’ and the shot 60’ and the weight 60’ and the hammer 60m we’ll find a place for you. I’ve heard some pretty crazy recruiting stories from athletes I’ve coached in the past. I’m not an expert in navigating the whole process, however I did see how my parents worked with colleges that were interested in my brother. I also know that you never say yes to the first offer. As I mentioned previously, it is ok to get two or three colleges to compete for your services. It is not ok, however, to lie to any of the colleges either. I’ll get more into that with a follow-up post to the craziest things I’ve heard and been involved with in the recruiting process.
What did I miss in the recruiting process?
My best - Charles
Did you know that our emotions and feelings can positively or negatively dictate our athletic performances? Have you ever really thought that much about it? In her TEDx, Dr. Amber Selking shares the research behind our emotions and how they control our physical state in which dictates the positive or negative direction our athletic performance(s) will go. You can watch her video by clicking the link below.
I knew the second I got ready to start my short three mile run today that it wasn’t going to go well. I got home early from work. After I spoke to my wife and kids for a second while they played in the pool, I casually said that I had to get my running workout in for the day.
Let’s stop right there. Does anyone see a problem with that last statement? Look closely. What are your thoughts?
Jon Gordon speaks a lot about having a positive mindset. He talks about how your self-talk can often dictate your mindset, which ultimately will have an effect on your attitude on how you approach a specific task. Since I started training for my sprint triathlon, my motivation for training has been just as high if not higher on most days than when I competed in track & field or powerlifting. Getting up at 5:30am to complete a swim session or bike ride feels awesome! I feel as though I have accomplished something that will have a lasting positive outcome on my overall health and well-being.
However, this afternoon, for reasons I’ll discuss later, rather than telling my wife that I get to go on my run today, I told her that I have to go on my run. There is a big difference in those two statements. I have to compared to I get to. The I have to statement brings a negative connotation. It signals to our body that we really don’t want to do it, but we have to.
When we tell ourselves we get to do something, it has the opposite effect. We are signaling to our body that we are fired up to get to complete this task or activity. I didn’t really think about how the phrasing effected my day-to-day work tasks until I started sharing that I get to do things at work, rather than I have to do things at work. Amber’s TEDx goes into a more technical and biological/chemical overview than I am doing here. But think about it. The next time you are faced with a challenge or obstacle, how you embrace the situation will influence the direction of the outcome (positively or negatively). You can either tell yourself that you get to do this because you want to or you can tell yourself that you have to do this because well, you just have to. The way we approach the situation or challenge will have an effect on the outcome based on our attitude going into the obstacle or challenge.
For my run this afternoon, I am embarrassed to say that it was the first time since I started training in March that I had to stop mid-run. I just felt as though I couldn’t keep going. It was my mile 19. I felt frustrated and disappointed in myself. I knew that it may have gone this way because I had to get my run it, rather than saying I get the chance to run before dinner. After about 1.3 miles into my 3-mile run, I stopped, and put my hands on my knees. I hunched over a little bit, trying to get as much air into my lungs as I could. After about 10 seconds, I just stood there on the side of the road. Expecting to be home in about 30 minutes, I realized that I didn’t bring my phone to let my wife know about this minor meltdown, and that I would be late.
I walked for about five minutes, tried to get going again, but I couldn’t get back on my pace. Mentally, I knew this workout was pretty much done. Rather than keep going, I called it. Instead of completing the block, I made a quick right turn and headed home. To date, my worst running session of the season. I’m glad I got it out of the way today, and not on August 25th when I get to race (see what I did there). I’ll live to run another day. I think I knew enough today that it wasn’t going to go well if I kept going. There will be other training sessions. Shorting myself 1.5-miles isn’t the end of the world. I can accept that now. I probably couldn’t have accepted that in my mid-20’s though.
The attitude and mindset we bring into a competition, a presentation at work, or the start of a paper/homework assignment will dictate how that task will go. Most of us probably don’t say, “Hey, tonight is going to be awesome. I get the chance to complete my 15-page paper that is due next week. I’m thankful for the opportunity to get this project done.” It does sound nicer telling ourselves that we are getting the chance to do it, as opposed to telling ourselves that we have to do it.
Have you ever encountered a situation like this? What were you doing? How did you handle it? I'd love to hear from you. As always, thanks for reading ~ Charles
I recently spent three days in Albany, NY attending a P-3 Instructional Learning Summit. The purpose of the conference was to bring school districts from New York State together and discuss upcoming curricular changes that will be rolled out during the 2020-21 school year. Even though this conference wasn’t focused on sports or coaching, I did find one big takeaway that is directly related to coaching and how athletes build their sport specific skills.
The keynote speaker spent a great deal of time discussing how kids learn through play. One of my big AHA moments came when she began talking about 21st century skills and how kids learn.
Cultivating 21st Century Skills: Successful Learning
The four traits of successful learning she began discussing directly relate to how athletes learn sport specific skills. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to spend some time applying these four skills to how athletes learn how to throw, develop their throwing skills, and how participating in track & field develops life skills that can be applied and implemented to their life.
1. Mentally Active
What does it mean to be mentally active in sport, and specifically mentally active in throwing? My interpretation of mentally active learning in throwing is what an athlete is doing when they are not in the circle, but outside of it. Think about this for a moment. Do you ever notice or pay attention to your athletes after they have taken a throw and stepped out of the circle? What do some of your athletes do? Do they engage with their cell phone, engage with their peers, get a drink, or do you see then not say anything but mentally play back what just happened? This skill may be difficult to observe however it may be something that you know as a coach when you see it. Being deliberate and focused may be another way to explain what being mentally active is about—thinking about and visualizing what you are going to do in the circle before you step in the circle. Rather than going through the physical motions of throwing for the sake of getting reps in, athletes are thinking about what they want to do before stepping in the circle and making an effort to focus on a specific skill that they may be working on for the session.
Of the four 21st century skills, being engaged may be the easiest skill to observe during a throwing practice. Are your athletes engaged in practice? Is there a lot of conversation going on between you as the coach and your throwers? In my experiences, I feel as though my throwers are more engaged in practice, meets, and the season as a whole when they are given the autonomy to be part of the planning process. I have been told on more than one occasion by other coaches that I give my throwers a lot of say in how we practice, what events we practice on given days, and the events they will be competing in at meets. Yes, I am guilty of all three. When I ask my athletes how they are feeling, what they think they want to focus on during that session, or what events they think they will compete in the best at a meet, and I am making them think about those questions among other things. Giving athletes autonomy leads to heightened levels of engagement, which I think is what we want from our throwers. Now, don’t get me wrong. I typically have a flexible training session plan in my head before practice, but I more often than not ask my athletes what they think they should be focusing on for the upcoming session. This gives them an opportunity to think about what they are going to do during that session, but most importantly it makes them think and have to verbalize why they think they should focus on that particular skill or set of skills during that session. I do this with high school throwers as well. It makes them feel part of the process and invested in how practice is going to be structured because they are providing input about it.
3. Socially Interactive
I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. Are your athletes socially engaged and interactive during practice? You may be thinking that this skill is contradictory of the first skill I introduced, mentally engaged. I think you can be socially interacting with your peers and coach while also mentally engaged in the throwing skills you are focusing on during practice. I have only coached a couple of collegiate athletes that were not socially engaged and interactive with their peers. Unfortunately, they did not last long as members of our team. I don’t believe all throwers on the same team have to be best friends, but I do believe they should be able to get along with each other and be respectful.
4. Building Meaningful Connections to Their Lives
This is the skill that has the longest lasting effect on athletes. Through throwing, how are we as coaches able to build in opportunities to connect throwing to the real world? At times I probably spend more time than I should trying to build in “life” conversations in practice, traveling to meets, and at meets. For the most part, I don’t believe my younger athletes know the conversation is happening. My juniors and seniors probably sense when the conversation is beginning to happen, but they humor me and engage. These conversations have the longest lasting impact, yet they may not manifest themselves for two, four, or six years down the road. Some of the skills I’m referring to are; 1) communication skills, 2) how to overcome adversity, 3) positively channeling our emotions, and 4) engaging peers and those in authority.
What are other 21st century skills you see that are valuable in coaching? How are you able to adapt and implement those skills?
As always, thanks for reading ~ Charles
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.