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.
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.