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
There may come a time in your life when you may need to make a decision that will alter the course of your life’s path. For some it may come when deciding to attend college or go into the workforce. For others it may be making the decision to attend college A rather than college B, C, D, or E. Further down the road, the decision may be about getting married, moving away from home, accepting a new job across the country, etc.
Sometimes, the decision involves a combination of the decisions listed above, with an added twist. Chasing a dream with little chance of achieving or reaching it. A dream that requires equal parts physical and psychological effort. A dream that can be realized once every four years. The Olympic dream.
In the past I’ve written about being a dream chaser. Chasing a goal that stretches us emotionally. Physically. It tests our strength. It tests our resolve. It tests our grit and resiliency. What are you willing to sacrifice in order to achieve your goal? I know what one person is willing to sacrifice. I also know someone that was afraid to chase.
After Luis graduated in 2016, I encouraged him to continue throwing as a graduate student. I encouraged him to apply for graduate assistantship positions; coach, train, and go to class all while continuing to chase his goals. Luis did just that. He was our graduate assistant at Nazareth College for two years. He just graduated with his Master’s Degree in Human Resource Management, the Puerto Rican National Record in the 35# Weight Throw, and the opportunity of a lifetime.
I’ve always encouraged my athletes to ask questions if they weren’t sure about something or simply wanted to learn more. I reach out to coaches all the time. I ask questions. I also answer questions when asked of me. I see it as a way of paying it forward. I have always similarly maintained that you never know what opportunities may be presented to you if you keep your options open, are willing to learn and listen, and are able to escape your comfort zone. Keeping with the theme of this post, I encouraged Luis that if he really wanted to continue throwing and chasing his throwing dream, this was the time to do it. Graduate degree in hand, Luis applied to a multitude of jobs across the country in the hopes of securing a position that would provide him time to train.
Sometimes the relationships we develop and nurture manifest themselves over time. You never know how you interact with someone in 2015 will influence a decision in 2018. Case in point-you only have one opportunity to make a first impression. Make it worthwhile. While attending a conference in December, 2015, Luis and I had the chance to speak with Jud Logan and some of his athletes while attending a conference at the Spire Institute. Those conversations, along with constant communication after the fact, paved the way for Luis to be granted a great opportunity. An opportunity that I think most throwers in the United States covet but may not be willing to take up.
Luis made the decision to chase his dream. He made arrangements to move to Ohio and drive a few times a month to Ashland University to train with Jud. While making these arrangements, he applied for a position as an Admissions Counselor at Ashland University. Interviewed for the position and was offered the job. At this point, I believe there was still a little bit of doubt and some trepidation in regards to moving away from what he knew to really realize his dream and take advantage of the opportunity presented to him.
On July 2nd, Luis started his new position in Admissions at Ashland University. He also got his first training session in under the rebuild phase, two years out from the 2020 Olympic Trials. Now, there are no guarantees that he will ultimately throw 75m and make the Olympic Team. However, he has put himself in a much better situation than he was before-comfortable in what he knew and what he was accustomed to.
This story may not be like many others that I have heard about, read about, or learned about from the people that experienced a similar situation. In 2002, AG Kruger, fresh off of a stellar Division II throwing career, packed up his life and drove to Ashland University to give himself a chance at making the 2004 Olympic Team. He brought with him a personal best throw of just about 65m in the hammer, and in two years threw far enough to make the Team. Alvin and Calvin Harrison (400m runners) slept in their car in Santa Monica, CA just to train with the Santa Monica Track Club. They had successful careers in the 400m and as members of the 4x400m relay team. That is a short list of occurrences, but these three individuals made ultimate sacrifices in order to chase their dreams.
For those of you that are still reading, how far are you willing to go in order to achieve your goals? What sacrifices are you willing to make in order to realize your dreams? One of my favorite YouTube video’s is of former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz speaking at the University of Texas on April 8, 2015. In his presentation to the Texas football team, Coach Holtz lays out five questions for the team to ask themselves about what they are willing to do in order to win and become champions. You can watch the video by clicking the following link https://youtu.be/_eWqyIBtn8I.
I believe most people have dreams and goals. Things they want to accomplish in their lives. Some aren’t willing to make sacrifices in order to achieve them. That’s ok. Like my conversation with Dan Chambliss a few months ago. He pointed out that it was ok if my athletes didn’t want to be the best throwers they could be. It is still difficult for me to accept that. Dabo Sweeney, Clemson’s head football coach, may have said it best on Jon Gordon’s podcast, “Would you rather live with the pain of discipline or the pain of regret?”
"You aren’t a true success unless you are helping others be successful. Success is meant to be shared."
A research area of mine for the past couple of years has been focused on coach-athlete relationships. More specifically, coach-athlete relationships in non-traditional team sports (track & field, swimming, diving, golf, tennis, cross-country, and gymnastics). Although all individual members of the teams listed are indeed members of teams, their performances are not as dependent on their teammates as those of members of football, lacrosse, field hockey, hockey, and basketball teams. For example, once a thrower steps into the circle or on the javelin runway they are essentially competing on their own. A teammate will not be able to assist them if they make a mistake in the circle. Unlike a more traditional team sport where your teammates may pick up some of the slack at times, nobody is there to pick up your slack during a floor routine in gymnastics or while on the platform ready to complete a dive off of the 3m board.
Even though our teammates may not be able to physically assist us when throwing or diving or teeing off, they can certainly assist us psychologically. They can provide their support in a multitude of ways, such as; watching the competition, providing you with positive and constructive feedback, offering encouragement, and holding you accountable before and after the competition. Being the best at your individual sport really isn’t always about winning and beating the competition, but rather it is about striving to be the best you can be. It is also about bringing out the best in others, your teammates. As we continue to strive for greatness, we help inspire our teammates. It is much easier to complete a 6am workout with your teammates rather than it is alone. You can encourage your teammates when they feel down or disengaged during practice or during competition. The person you become while on your journey towards greatness will have a lasting impact on those around you.
By holding yourself accountable to your commitments, you hold your teammates accountable as well. You do not allow your peers to settle for anything less than their best. How do you do that yourself? You show up every day willing to do what it takes to get 1% better than the day before. Showing up every day is infectious. Your teammates will see that. Having a positive mindset when you don’t think you can complete one last rep or circuit or interval will inspire others. Lead by example. Be positive. Be supportive. Hold your teammates accountable. Ensure they are fulfilling their commitments to themselves and to those around them.
Leave a legacy. Your pursuit of excellence will encourage and empower others to strive for excellence as well. The path to greatness is bringing those around you up, not to bring them down. How do you want your teammates to remember you after graduation? What would you want them to say about you at your 80th birthday celebration?
When You Meet Your Internet Friends for the First Time - Recap of the United States Center for Coaching Excellence Conference
I just got back from spending the week in Orlando, Florida attending the United States Center for Coaching Excellence (USCCE) conference, learning from the best and brightest minds in the field of sport psychology, trauma informed care for youth athletes, and best practices in the field of athletic coaching. It was the first sport coaching conference that I have attended. The conference brought together over 200 attendees from 10 countries, all individuals and teams focused on improving the field of athletic coaching.
The conference’s theme was to enhance the field of sport coaching specific to youth sports with a focus on trauma informed care and best practices. Other sub-themes were about sport coaching programs at the collegiate level and overseas. I immediately learned that there are only 19 colleges/universities in the United States that offer graduate degrees in athletic coaching. I was aware of one in Missouri (I’ll speak more about the Positive Coaching program later), but I was not aware of the other programs, such as the programs located at the University of Denver and Indiana State. In Western New York, there are a couple of college programs that offer minor’s in coaching, but not full undergraduate degrees in sport coaching. The University of Buffalo offers a graduate degree to doctorate in Exercise Science and Physiology or Kinesiology. Nothing specific to sport coaching.
All the presenters were very well prepared, well-versed in their fields, and shared ideas and research topics that I never would have thought of. One of the most interesting presentations I attended was about research in the field of writing gratitude letters to people. A professor from Adams State University shared his research focused on gratitude letters that his students write to people in their lives, thus expressing their gratitude for being an integral part of their life. I found this session most interesting because I started writing letters to my athletes at the conclusion of our season, beginning in the summer of 2005. I did, and continue to, write hand-written notes to my returning athletes. They are only a paragraph or so long, expressing my gratitude for them having been a member of our throwing team, a couple of thoughts about the season, and that I’m looking forward to working with them in the fall. Who knew that I could have started collecting that type of data back in 2005. I’d have 13 years of gratitude data now!
The most rewarding experience from the conference was getting to meet a team of very special and talented individuals from the University of Missouri. It was really two years in the making. Back in the summer of 2016, before I defended my dissertation, I reached out to a woman named Amber Lattner, now Amber Selking. I came across a program that she was a part of at the University of Missouri. A coach that I had always looked up to at Missouri, Dr. Rick McGuire, wrote a research and evidence-based program, simply titled Positive Coaching. Dr. McGuire was an integral part of the USATF and USOC. He was one of their lead sport psychologists. He has been a part of Olympic Teams spanning four decades.
After a few email exchanges, Amber and I spoke on the phone. I was, and still am, really interested in learning more about the Positive Coaching program she was a part of while a doctoral student at the University of Missouri. It is so fascinating to me that someone can earn a graduate degree in Positive Coaching. Someday I may go back and enroll in the program. You just never know. Anyway, we spoke about the program and how I wanted to make it a part of the Nazareth College coaching culture. My coaching style mirrors that of the Positive Coaching program. We spoke a couple of times on the phone, but with both of our crazy schedules, I was never able to secure a couple of days for Amber or Rick to come out to Rochester and meet with our Athletic Director about integrating the Positive Coaching framework with all our sports programs. As I was walking towards the conference area, I mustered up the courage to interrupt Amber’s lunch, and introduce myself. Even as I’m writing this a week later, I cannot believe that I was able to spend an hour speaking with her about coaching, life, family, sports, and Notre Dame football.
Later that afternoon, I introduced myself to Rick McGuire. I’m not sure if this happens to others, but I had about two dozen questions prepared. I knew he was going to be in attendance, but I didn’t think I would have more than five minutes to speak to him. Well, five minutes turned into about five hours. I didn’t get a chance to ask all of my questions because our conversation was much deeper than most of the thoughts I wanted to share with him. Out of respect for our conversation, I won’t go into specific detail about the majority of our conversation. We did spend a lot of time discussing USATF sport psychology, best practices for coaches and athletes specific to how coach-athlete relationships affect athlete performance in the US and abroad, and research focused on USATF and how athletes perform at both the World Championships and Olympic Games.
On more than one occasion my wife has accused me of being star struck when attending conferences with high profile individuals, both in the field of education and this conference. Yes, there have been times when I have presented at conferences and met researchers in the field of early childhood education. Most of those researchers were cited in my dissertation and manuscripts. Having those researchers sit in on a presentation was a bit nerve wrecking at first, but it has gotten easier. The same can be said for this conference. Speaking to someone on Twitter for a couple of years or even on the phone does not have the same impression as seeing them in person and getting the chance to speak to them. Especially with someone like Dr. McGuire. I still cannot believe some of the stories he shared when traveling with certain athletes during the Olympics. And there he was. Standing next to me. For well over three hours. Talking about life, sports, family, and coaching.
I cannot thank Kristen Dieffenbach, PhD, and her team enough for putting on such a great conference with so many experts in the field of sports psychology and coaching education all under one roof. I definitely appreciated the location. Most early childhood education conferences I attend are usually in the Northeast. Traveling to Orlando for a conference was fantastic. I’m very much looking forward to the conference next year. I will absolutely be submitting a couple of abstracts of the current research I’m conducting focused on coach-athlete relationships and college athlete perceptions of their relationships with their coaches.
For more information about the United States Center for Coaching Excellence you can click on the following link that will direct you to their homepage https://www.uscoachexcellence.org
For more information about Positive Coaching from the University of Missouri, you can click on the following link https://education.missouri.edu/positivecoaching/. Coach, Brian, Bryan, and Amber, thank you for embracing me and making me feel a-part of your Positive Coaching family! I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to repay your kindness and generosity.
Under pressure, we do not rise to the occasion. We rise or fall to the level of our training. ~ Urban Meyer
Every thrower has one minute from the time their name is called to enter the circle or step on the runway to initiate their throw. Everyone receives at least three throws. The top eight or nine throwers receive three additional throws in the finals. For the throwers fortunate enough to make the finals, those additional throws are the culmination of hard-work, dedication, grit, and determination. Others might call it luck. Lucky if someone made the finals that shouldn’t have. Some might also call it choking if someone was supposed to make the finals but didn’t. For even more we might say someone exceeded expectations (or rather didn’t throw up to their potential). In my opinion, it may be a combination of all those scenarios.
Entering a meet is relatively easy. You locate a meet to compete in and you pay the entry fee. Fairly painless. Traveling to the meet may be a bit more difficult, depending on how much travel is involved. Throwing in the meet is also a pretty easy endeavor. Just show up really. The most difficult part of the meet comes after you enter and before you compete. How do you spend the time in the middle? That is where champions are made!
As a competitor, my favorite part of throwing occurred at the meets. After speaking to Jud Logan at a meet, he famously said to, “Treat meets as a reward for all the work you put in before hand.” I didn’t really enjoy the process of training for a meet all the time. The mundanity of drills did get boring at times. It wasn’t until I began treating meets as rewards that I started making greater progress in my throws and lifts on the powerlifting platform.
Reflecting back to something I wrote a few months ago, I think about the accountability placed on coaches to ensure their athletes perform to a certain level or expectation. A couple of questions come to mind. How do we define the success of the performance and how are we held accountable to them? Similarly, who defines the level of performance.
One of the reasons I'm working on this project is to further engage athletes in the accountability and commitment departments. Specifically, how coaches can make athletes part of the learning and, ultimately, part of the planning process. I believe it is important to work with the athlete and define as a team what the expectations are, who is accountable for what, and how I as a coach can hold the athlete accountable to their commitments.
When athletes are allowed to provide input and are made part of the decision-making process, a sense of ownership is taken on by the athlete. I wish I would have adopted this methodology of coaching when I first started. Back then I was all about the results and what I thought my throwers needed to do in order to be successful. Today, at Nazareth, I look at the dyad as a 50-50 partnership. We write things down. If an athlete says they are going to do something, and they don't, then they can reflect upon what happened that caused them to not do what they said they were going to do (missed weight room sessions, missed sessions with the trainers, etc.). Of course I take ownership in this process as well. I initiate it. However, I hold my athletes accountable to their commitments. They hold me accountable to mine. They are a very integral part of the process.
When I met with Dr. Chambliss in April, he told me that it was ok if my athletes didn't want to be the best. He told me it was ok if they didn't want to throw as far as I wanted them to. Nobody ever put it quite like that. Honest and to the point. I have always found it very difficult to not hold myself to a higher standard. Certainly I want my athletes to throw well. What is different is that their definition of well and mine have not always been the same. With the implementation of our throwing journal this upcoming season, accountability and commitments to one another will be clearer and understood by all.
Talent is common; what you invest to develop that talent is the critical final measure of greatness. ~ Anson Dorrance
Almost four years to the day I was accepted into St. John Fisher College’s Executive Leadership Ed.D. program. I was nervous, a little anxious, and filled with hope that after 28 months I would be adding the letters Ed.D. at the end of my signature. Maybe hope isn’t the right word because I was going to finish this program. The time and financial investments were too great to not finish on-time.
From the first night of class, our professors told us about a dozen or so times every weekend that, “we needed to trust the process.” The process, as they called it, was a two-sided piece of paper. On that paper was our class schedule for the next 28 months. Every other Friday night and Saturday, 20 individuals would spend the better part of 12 hours learning more about ourselves, leadership, communication, excellence, integrity, trust, and teamwork.
Not everyone bought into the process. As we journeyed into that first summer, we had a major assignment due. For some, it was the tipping point. A 30-page literature review on our dissertation topic. If you didn’t trust the process by July, you were never going to trust the process.
In the end, I graduated and walked across stage with nine of my peers. It was an exhilarating experience. One I will never forget, as my two boys watched me walk across stage as our Dean of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. School of Education read my name aloud. For those of us, we trusted the process. We trusted the fact that our professors had our ultimate best interest at heart. They wanted us to succeed. My dissertation committee wanted me to succeed. I wanted to succeed. Not only for my wife, but for my two boys, our third on the way, my parents, my brother, and my in-laws.
Reflecting back on the process, our success was brought upon by mastering the fundamentals. For my example of graduating with a doctorate, the most fundamental task of all was writing. More specifically, how our voice would be heard through our words. We had to write. Write a lot. Especially without a lot of time. All our classes lasted only eight weeks. We met four times over the eight weeks. The writing was tedious at times. And very frustrating.
However, the non-negotiable in this program, or any doctorate program is having the self-discipline to sit down and write. Again, writing is a fairly ordinary task. In this program, we all became masters of this ordinary task.
Putting your blind faith into someone or something is not what I’m recommending. In my example from Fisher, the plan had been developed and revised over the course of many years. To invest all that time and effort, we knew that our professors wouldn’t let us fail (although some did-long story). Much like my professors at Fisher, sport coaches lay out plans for athletes’ successes as well.
I don’t ask my athletes at Nazareth College to blindly follow programs without asking questions. I often question myself and what I wrote and explained if I don’t get any questions. Either I didn’t explain something well enough and they are afraid to ask, or the concept went way over their heads. As our relationships continues to build, and we trust and respect each other more, the process and journey becomes much more collaborate.
In the past I have had a few athletes that wanted to switch things up in the weight room or in the circle every couple of weeks because, as they said, “it’s not working.” Well, to be honest, most weightlifting programs aren’t going to be working after a couple of sessions. Neither are the drills that develop skills in the circle. It takes more than one training session to transition to a four turn hammer thrower. Similarly, it takes more than one training session to transition to the rotational shot-put technique if you have been a glider your entire career.
Technique isn’t going to be learned in a day, week, or month. It takes dedication, grit, and often times resiliency to learn proper throwing technique and mechanics, especially if you are learning a new technique or transitioning to a different style of throwing. The best of the best throwers continue to work on their throwing technique and mechanics. You can scroll through Instagram and you will see dozens and dozens of Olympic caliber throwers working on their technique.
Success is all about the fundamentals. And the fundamentals are little and ordinary and often boring. However, in order to be the very best you must master them. You must become a master of the ordinary. In every act of greatness, whether in throwing or academics, the best of the best accomplish extraordinary feats by doing ordinary things with extraordinary consistency, commitment and focus.
You are not going to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Thursday, June 7th, 2018. However, you can assure yourself that you won’t qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2020 if you haven’t started training for them today.
Much like they say in the sport of triathlon, you aren’t going to win the triathlon during the swim portion of the competition, but you sure can lose it during the swim portion of the competition.
The most dazzling human achievements are, in fact, the aggregate of countless of individual elements, each of which is, in a sense, ordinary. ~ Daniel Chambliss
With the emergence of social media over the past decade, throwers from around the world have been able to instantly post videos to Facebook. Most recently, with the explosion of popularity with Twitter and Instagram, anyone in the world can post just about anything, receive feedback, and apply that feedback to their throws. The "throwing secrets", if there ever really were any, have mostly been let out of the bag. What separates the very best from their competitors doesn't always lie in strength, style, or technique. The difference can be found in the mundane.
Here in the United States, the Division II and Division III Outdoor National Track & Field Championships came to a close last weekend. With the range of distances so close in most of the qualifying events, a meter difference in the hammer is relatively small. Anyone within the top 15, with a meter or two difference between 1 and 15, has a realistic chance and opportunity to win. Similar in the shot-put. A 25cm or 50cm difference can be overcome. That is the focus of this series. After we take out all of the physical traits, all that remain are the mental. What is it about throwers that separates them, especially at major competitions like the Collegiate Nationals or USA Indoor and Outdoor Nationals.
They may have similar training programs, throwing volume, and access to similar coaches. The difference between the best and their competitors can be found in the mundane. It is in the mundane where you see greatness rise. The best do the little things every day. They do a lot of mundane things a little better than the rest. They take the time and energy to focus on the small activities and actions needed to achieve greatness. They don’t just do the ordinary things when they feel like it. They do the ordinary simple things every day, without fail. The key is to deliberately practice and get a little bit better every day. Over time little improvements each week lead to big results next month and next year.
Earlier this season at an indoor track meet a coach approached me and said that he had read one of my blog posts about meeting Dan Chambliss last year. We were speaking about training and throwing, and this coach asked me what throwing activities I thought were mundane or boring.
To be perfectly honest, I believe most throwing and weightlifting activities are mundane, but not necessarily boring. The boring part is what you make of the activities, your attitude, and the environment you are training in. In essence, your training sessions are what you make them out to be. Yes, I will agree that some of our training sessions at Nazareth College border on boring. However, I'm willing to sacrifice the fun and excitement all the time in order for our athletes to reach their throwing goals. Our 2015-16 season was rather boring. We focused a lot of our time on minor technical cues, and worked on them for weeks at a time. Mundane, yes. Boring, most of the time. Our results, life altering.
The mundanity comes from the day after week after month after year completion of those activities. Each individual throwing session can by itself be mundane. If you are simply going through the motions, you may not be getting a quality session in. If you are deliberate in your training session, focus on a specific aspect of your throw, receive feedback, and implement that feedback you will notice that over time, your throwing sessions and distances will begin to improve. Just going through the motions and taking throw after throw without putting much mental effort into it won’t necessarily result in longer throws in the future.
Mundanity comes from completing simple and ordinary tasks to your best of your ability, with focused and deliberate efforts, over the course of weeks, months, and years. That is where you will see throwers separate themselves for their peers. For some throwers, their seasons ended last week at Nationals. They may not begin training again until August or September when they return to campus. For others, the 2018-19 season began after they got home from Nationals. That is where you will see greatness rise.
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.