You never really know how a group of individuals are going to gel when brought together for the very first time. This season, unlike any other of my career, brought five individuals together in October, and were declared teammates. The first time in my coaching career that my whole group of student-athletes were freshmen.
Now, just because they come together because they are teammates does not necessarily mean they are going to become a true team just for the sake of doing so. It takes a concentrated effort by the coach to create a culture that will indeed bring everyone together. Unlike more traditional team sports, track & field is a little different. Yes, we are a team striving to win a team championship. However, each individual has their own goals they want to accomplish as well. It takes a balance between managing each athlete’s goals with the larger expectations of the group.
I didn’t need to bring this group of individuals together. They brought themselves together. Now we met often before the start of the season, but two of the five were playing other sports at the start of the season. Another athlete missed the first week for other reasons. We started with two. Grew to three. Then really gelled with five. I realized they were a tight group that had bought in when they told me if it was ok to tell me if they didn't like a potential recruit if they thought they wouldn't fit in with our team. As I coach, I knew they had definitely come together after that moment in December after one of our practices.
For their first semester experience involved with collegiate track & field, I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised with how they each managed their own expectations of what collegiate track was like as well as the academic rigors they experienced in their specific majors. A couple of interesting things about this group of athletes. First, they are a very focused group of individuals. They understand the importance of their academic successes, but are able to put those thoughts aside for the hour or two that they are at practice. Second, we did not have any issues with cell phones during practice. Unfortunately, I have had that issue before. We spoke about at the beginning of the season, and that was it. Ultimately, they are able to eliminate distractions for a couple of hours and focus on what they need to do. Third, they are goal-oriented. At the beginning of the season I asked everyone what they wanted to accomplish by the end of the fall semester. To my pleasant surprise, not one of them wrote down a distance they wanted to throw before the semester was over. Rather than write down outcome goals, each individual wrote down process goals. Again, in the past a typical goal that may have been written was more about throwing a specific distance in the shot-put or weight throw. Not with this group.
They concluded the fall semester having broken the women’s indoor shot-put and 20lb. weight throw records. I wasn’t surprised the records were broken. The fashion they were broken did catch me a bit off guard. First throw by Gabbie broke the shot-put record. Similarly, first throw by Ally broke the 20lb. weight throw record. Gabbie increased her record in round 6. Three throwers threw farther than the previous weight throw record. Three girls over 40’ in the weight (a coaching best for me), as well as three over 10m in the shot-put (a coaching best for me).
I cannot say enough positive things about our six pieces of five (if you know, you know). I’m very proud of how dedicated they were to learning how to throw the weight, increase their understanding of shot-put mechanics, and the patience to take each practice one at a time. When I was an athlete, I couldn’t wait to throw in our first meet. Now, as a coach, I wish I could slow time down in order to have more deliberate practices completed. Most importantly, I’m most proud of their academic accomplishments. They all performed well this fall, and all earned a GPA greater than my first semester GPA. It isn’t difficult to achieve that feat, but I have shared some of my collegiate academic stories with them.
Another piece to the collegiate puzzle, and what I feel is most important, is the opportunity to develop a positive, supportive, and nurturing coach-athlete relationship with each individual. I’ll put my research hat on for a moment, but past and present empirical literature suggests that the coach-athlete relationship is the number one most important factor from the perspective of the athlete that led them to achieving their successes in athletics. I can provide a detailed reference list if you would like, but 20 years of literature in team, individual, professional, youth, and Olympic coach-athlete dyads suggests that the more powerful and real the relationship is between the athlete and coach, the greater success the athlete feels they have achieved.
We will continue to build our culture at Nazareth College. We will remain steadfast on accomplishing our academic and athletic goals. Our telescope vision is in place. Our microscope goals have been carefully planned and discussed. We know what we need to do this semester to take another step closer to realizing our visions. We are ready.
Ally, Bailey, Gabbie, Grace, & Katie, I look forward to another great semester of growth, development, learning, and long throws!
Your Coach ~ Coach Infurna
I’m sitting just outside my five-year old’s wrestling practice, and I just got a little emotional. Well, actually a lot of emotions are running through me as I try to capture these thoughts. My wife and I have encouraged him (our oldest son, 5 year’s old) to try out a variety of different sports. We have played t-ball, a little run of gymnastics, indoor soccer, swimming, and now wrestling.
Parents are not allowed to sit inside the gym and watch practice. Tonight he asked me to stay. I told him I would love to watch him practice wrestling. There are a couple of families here with me, sitting outside in the hallway. We can hear the young wrestlers (K-6th grade) talk, engage in some laughter, and transition from drill to drill as they warm-up for tonight’s activities.
I’m not sure what the flood of emotions is right now. Maybe it is because I’m watching him through a small window in the door. He caught me watching once, stopped mid run, and blew me a kiss. I’m getting teary eyed just writing this down.
He hasn’t been afraid to try anything new. We ask him if he is interested, and more often than not he says yes. He wasn’t interested in trying Lacrosse. He isn’t interested in Football. Basketball, well not quite.
This past weekend my wife and I took our two oldest boys ice skating. It was my first time being on skates. And to be perfectly honest, I was terrified. The assistance apparatus they have is built for young kids, not adults. My kids took to it well. My wife knows how to skate. I, on the other hand, held onto the side glass for dear life. I made it around the rink a couple of times. I got the biggest right tricep pump of my life. I could not have held onto that little lip around the glass any harder than I did. I also got the biggest cramp in my left hamstring (probably from trying to brace myself and stabilize). Like I said, I was scared to death.
My kids fell a couple of times. They got right back up and continued on their way. I couldn’t keep up with either of them. Even the three-year old was moving faster than I was. I’m 6’1”. It’s a long way down if I fall. Not as much of a distance for my little guys. I was so scared, in fact, that I registered for ice skating lessons with my two boys. They said they wanted to learn and try it. My wife is already a pretty proficient at skating. So, at 36 years old, I’m signed up for ice skating lessons. Similar to my kids, I’m registered in the most novice section they had. I’ll be skating with a group of three to six-year old children. Not just because I’ll be learning with my children along the way, but because, much like them, I have absolutely zero experience ice-skating.
They say that age is merely but a number. My number isn’t that big. I’m going to turn 37 in February. This is the first time I’ve signed up for something new at this stage of my life. I’m excited to learn something new. I’m especially excited to learn something new with my two oldest boys.
As always, thanks for reading ~ Charles
I’ve attended my fair share of high school track and field meets over the past five years. While in attendance, something that has always struck me as odd is overhearing conversations between high school coach and athlete that sound something like this:
High School Coach—“Focus on what you are doing. You can (insert technical tip here) better.”
High School Athlete—(Looks at coach with a puzzled look)
High School Coach—“Do you understand what I need you to do?”
High School Athlete—(Still looks puzzled) Ok.
Now, I’m embellishing a little bit, but if you are someone that has attended a sporting event, you’ve probably heard an adult (coach, parent, grandparent, etc.) say something to an athlete about the need for them to focus on what they are doing. To be honest, I’ve never had a coach tell me to focus on something. That can be for a couple of reasons. First, I wasn’t that important to what was going on in the game situation at the time that it was necessary to be told to focus. Second, I may have looked like I was focusing in on what I was doing. Third, my coaches just didn’t ever tell someone to focus. Maybe they just assumed that we were focusing on what we were supposed to be doing.
In my track and field throwing career, I never had a coach tell me I needed to be more focused on what I was doing. Whether at practice, in the weight room, or in the middle of a competition, they never came over and had that conversation with me. Again, maybe I wasn’t that important to what was going on or they just didn’t tell their athletes to focus. I’m not quite sure. I’m also not quite sure if that was a good thing or bad thing.
I’m writing about this topic today because a few months ago I listened to the best podcast episode of 2018, which emphasized focus, and how coaches can teach their athletes to focus on what they need to do. I’ve written about her in the past, but Dr. Amber Selking has one of the best podcasts available to anyone. She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to her episodes about mental strength and mental conditioning. A few months ago she interviewed her mentor Dr. Rick McGuire, the godfather of mental strength and conditioning. In this interview, Dr. McGuire speaks about focus, breaks it down into five teachable tips, and goes into very specific detail about each tip and how coaches can teach their athletes to focus. You can clink the link below to listen to the complete interview between Dr. Selking and Dr. McGuire.
The reason why I’m sharing this with everyone is because it is something I’m going to emphasize for myself in 2019. I’m going to spend diligent time practicing the skill of focus, and how I can better focus on what I need to accomplish during a particular day, week, month, and year. I’m also going to begin teaching the skill to the athletes I coach at the collegiate and high school level.
I did begin working on the skill with one of my high school athletes the other day. I wrote the five parts of focus up on one of our whiteboards in our practice facility. I asked the athlete that I was coaching that day if anyone had ever spoke to him about it. He answered no. We spent about fifteen minutes discussing the five tips, what they mean, and how he can practice the skills at home, at practice, and in the weight room. I took a picture of the whiteboard, and sent it to him. I also sent him a text that included the link to Dr. Selking’s podcast link.
Since I started training for my upcoming powerlifting meet in March, I’ve spent a lot of time training in the garage with my two oldest boys. The commotion in the garage while attempting to squat, bench, and deadlift has been a bit overwhelming at times. However, I have begun implementing the training tips that Dr. McGuire and Dr. Selking discussed in their recent podcast.
Just today I asked my five-year old to hold the camera while I attempted my squat top end set of 455lbs. (78% of my max) for 6 reps. It took a lot of patience and concentration to be in the moment while completing this set. I’ve been really emphasizing step one of being in the present moment when working out with my kids in the garage. Even though they are running around and playing, I’ve made it a point to remain in the moment, and work really hard to not think about what we just talked about five or ten seconds before I un-rack the weight until after I re-rack it.
It has been a challenge working on the five steps of focus as an adult. I do wonder though how an elementary, middle school, or high school athlete feel/think when an adult tells them to focus on what they are doing, when in all likelihood the adult in the situation probably hadn't taught the athlete the skill to begin with.
Here’s to a fun-filled, engaging, rewarding, and focused 2019!
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.