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.
In my previous post, I left you with an action plan towards accomplishing your goal. Whatever your desired goals may be, simply stating that you want to accomplish them will not get you very far. Sharing them in public with people close to you may elicit some pressure from your peers, friends, or family. However, even though there may be an added burden from others, ultimately you will be left responsible for your successes or failures.
As we strive for greatness, there will be bumps in the road. The journey will not be easy. We may experience setbacks, disappointment, and heartache along the way. How will you handle these setbacks? What will you be willing to sacrifice in order to achieve your goal?
For example, let’s say that your ultimate goal is to throw the discus 150’ in college. A respectable goal at any level. For starters, we’ll imagine that your current personal best discus throw is 120’. It isn’t unheard of to throw 30’ farther in college. If you break that down into manageable steps, you need to throw approximately 8’ farther a year, over the course of your four-year career.
Taking it one step farther, after our first three years in college, we have increased our personal best to 135’. Just a little off of our projections for four years. In that last year of collegiate competition, you have a decision to make.
Is my goal still to throw 150’? If it is, then you can continue reading. If after three years of chasing your dream you have had enough, then it would be ok if you stopped reading here.
A 15’ improvement in a year is a realistic goal if you are willing to make some sacrifices to achieve it. The first three years of collegiate competition may not have gone as well as you had expected. Maybe an injury set you back a couple of months. You lost focus. You didn’t seem as interested as you initially thought you were. Now you may be at a crossroads. I’m not sure about this statistic, but I'm guessing that 98% of college throwers never throw again after they graduate from college. I’m guessing maybe 2% of collegiate throwers in the USA throw after they graduate. So, if you plan on being in that 98%, and you really want to achieve your goal of 150’, you need to ask yourself some questions.
First, why do I want to achieve this goal? What is my motivation behind it? Will it give me a chance of qualifying for Nationals? Or will it give me a shot at winning my conference championship? Do I have a chance to score at my conference championship with a throw of 150’? When you know what you truly want and WHY you want it, you are driven with passion to take the necessary steps to make it happen. Why do you want to accomplish this goal?
Make sure the habits you have today are in alignment with the dreams and goals you have for tomorrow. ~ Urban Meyer
What are you willing to sacrifice in order to accomplish your goal? What are you willing to do in order to achieve your goal? What are you willing to sacrifice in order to accomplish your goal? Are you willing to give up time spent with your family, with your friends, or with your significant other? Are there any financial sacrifices you might need to make? How about a time commitment? Are you willing to spend more time training, watching videos, or to take more throws in order to accomplish your goal?
It is just as important to make sure your daily commitments are in alignment with your goals. Your commitments need to drive you towards your goal. Your daily habits turn into weekly habits which in turn develop into monthly habits which will lead you to accomplishing your ultimate goal.
Do you have a "Do What it Takes" attitude to accomplish your goals and dreams?
As always, thanks for reading. ~ Charles
2018 Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies Sports Performance Conference
Shults Center-Forum Auditorium
July 14th, 2018
Welcome and Introduction by Charles Infurna, Ed.D. —8:45am
Session 1: Stephen Gonzalez, Ph.D., CMPC—9am-9:45am
Presentation Topic: Developing Champion Mindsets- How Thoughts and Emotions Influence Our Performances
In this session, participants will learn how thoughts and emotions influence our performance. Participants will learn basic principles of self-talk and mindfulness, and how to develop the discipline and awareness to be better understand how we need to think and feel individuals in order to be at our best.
Session 2: Heather D’Errico, MS, CSCS, CSFC, LMT—10am-10:45am
Presentation Topic: Importance of Strength and Conditioning For High School Athletes
Heather will be discussing the importance of proper strength and conditioning for high school athletes that wish to compete at the college level. She will go over the benefits of strength and conditioning and what athletes can expect when they transition into collegiate strength and conditioning settings. There will be discussion on how to best prepare to perform at the highest level.
Session 3: Craig Cypher, Psy.D.—11am-11:45am
Presentation Topic: Trust the Process - Goal Setting Steps for Success
Coaches always tell athletes that they need to "focus". But what should they be focusing on? This presentation focuses on the concept of process goals and how they can be utilized to keep athletes focused and on track during training and competition. Athletes, coaches, and parents will learn the difference between process and outcome goals in the context of goal setting as well as concrete strategies to apply process goals to the challenges they face within their sport.
Lunch—1145am-1pm (on your own)
Session 4: Kyle Glickman, MS, CSCS, PICP—1pm-145pm
Presentation Topic: Understanding Stress and the HPA Axis...How do we use it in our favor?
Stress...How many of you have pulled all-nighters to get work done? How many of you get nervous before a big game? What about getting cotton mouth before a speech?... Stress is a natural response in our body and it’s important to understand how, why and when it works. This is can make or break you when it comes to not just health but also optimal performance! Once we learn the basic fundamentals of the stress response we can then learn how to not only recover better but use stress in our favor!
Session 5: Megan Tomei, BS, IASTM Level I & Level II—2pm-2:45pm
Presentation Topic: You Can Only Work As Hard As You Can Recover
Recovery is a key element to athletic success. There are a multitude of elements that can be used to achieve our athletic goals. I have personally known the feeling of being over trained as well as accommodating injuries. Through my mistakes I’ve learned a great deal about different modalities that I later became certified in.
Session 6: Stephen Gonzalez, Ph.D. & Craig Cypher, Psy.D.—3pm-3:45pm
Presentation Topic: Panel Discussion With Your Questions-Moderated by Charles Infurna
In this session, Dr. Infurna will moderate a panel discussion with Dr. Gonzalez and Dr. Cypher. Audience participation will be greatly encouraged in this informative session where your questions will be answered. Dr. Gonzalez and Dr. Cypher have extensive backgrounds in resiliency, goal-setting, mental skills training, and developing championship mindsets.
Keynote: Iris Zimmerman, 2000 Olympian—4pm-5pm
Iris Zimmermann holds the distinction of being the first U.S. fencer in history, man or woman, to win a world championship in any weapon or age category. She earned this achievement in 1995, winning the World Under-17 Championships at her first major international event in Paris at the age of 14. Four years later, in 1999, Iris would become the first US fencer to medal in the Senior World Championships, earning the bronze medal in women’s foil. She represented the US in Olympic competition, joining her sister, Felicia, a two-time Olympian in Sydney, Australia in the summer of 2000. Born and raised in Rush, NY, the Zimmermann sisters currently co-own the Rochester Fencing Club.
Way back in April of 2008, I finished a book written by Lou Holtz, titled Wins, Losses, and Lessons, which was published in 2006. For those of you who may not know who Lou Holtz is, he was the head football coach at Notre Dame from 1986-1996. He also had a brief stint with the South Carolina Gamecocks after leaving Notre Dame. He now is a College Football Analyst on ESPN.
In 1988, Notre Dame completed a perfect season and were crowned National Champions. Before becoming the head coach at Notre Dame, Coach Holtz was the head coach at Arkansas, the New York Jets of the NFL, and many other stops along the way. His coaching career began as a graduate assistant at the University of Iowa in the mid 1960’s.
In his book, Coach Holtz describes a time in which he sat down at his kitchen table and listed out all the goals/things they wanted to accomplish in his life with his family. He had just been relieved of his coaching duties at his current college and was unemployed with a young family. Coach Holtz wrote down 108 things that he and his family were going to accomplish. They were going to meet the Pope, skydive, go whitewater rafting, etc. Up to the time he published his book, he had accomplished 101 of things he wrote down that day.
One of the facets of the book that was and still is fascinating to me is that he had a vision of where he wanted to go. He didn’t share all of the things he wanted to do, but he went into detail about having a vision of where he wanted his life to go.
I’ve written about this before, but I’ll mention it again. After I finished his book in 2008, I wrote down things I wanted to accomplish in my life as well. There I sat, in my college style apartment, and wrote down things I wanted to accomplish and do in my life. Now, at the time, I thought I had a real chance at accomplishing most of them. Some of them, now I realize, was absolutely 0 chance of accomplishing them. One of things I wrote down was to throw the hammer at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Trials. Yeah, no chance at all. I also wrote down that I wanted to hit an elite powerlifting total in either the 242# or 275# weight class. Still haven’t come close, but I’m not counting those ones out yet.
Then came the ones that I wrote down because I thought they would be cool to accomplish and would also advance my professional career. I wrote down that I wanted to earn my administrative degree so I could one day have the option of becoming a school building principal or superintendent. I also wrote down that I wanted to coach a National Champion thrower. I wrote down that I wanted to write a book about throwing. And the one that I thought would most assist my family and I down the road, earn a doctorate degree. In 2009 I graduated from SUNY Fredonia with an advanced certificate in school district leadership. In 2016 I coached the DIII Indoor 35# Weight Throw National Champion at Nazareth College. In 2017 I graduated from St. John Fisher College with my Ed.D. in Executive Leadership.
I’m sharing these details with you, because like some of us that have goals, we may feel that although it would be nice to accomplish, they are set so far off into the distance that it is difficult to realize their potential of actually being accomplished. I wasn’t involved with coaching at the collegiate level at the time, yet I wrote down that I wanted to write a book about throwing. I always kept two journals with me. A black marble notebook and a blue marble notebook. My black journal contained lifting session information. My blue journal contained throwing session information. In my basement I have eight years of throwing and lifting journals—every throw and every lift from June 2004-June 2012. I still write down all my weight lifting training sessions in a journal.
I share with you my goal of writing a book for throwers, because like I previously mentioned, thought it would be something cool to do. Back when I wrote that down there weren’t many books available about throwing. There still really aren’t that many books available about throwing. If you visit your local bookstore or Barnes and Noble, you can find a variety of books focused on the four major sports, as well as books about cars, fishing, mountain climbing, hiking, biking, swimming, bowling, soccer, rugby, tennis, Crossfit, nutrition, weight lifting, and professional wrestling. What you won’t find is a book about throwing—shot-put, discus, hammer, javelin, and weight throw.
My purpose in sharing all of this information is that now I’m in the early stages of mapping out a manual/template/journal for throwers that will help them stay focused on their goals, give them the ability to chart and monitor their growth, and most importantly as a method of holding themselves accountable to their goals. I’m breaking down this template by habits in which I believe give throwers the best opportunity to be successful at accomplishing their goals. I share all of this with you because I’m going to need your help. I have an idea of what the traits are. I have penned 11 so far. I have joined some together that I think fit well together under one trait, and then I have others that could be joined together but are not. Over the course of the next several weeks I’m going to write about one trait. I’m going to share why I think it is an important trait to possess as a thrower and give some supporting examples as to why I believe so. Hopefully we are able to engage in dialogue about what you think are the essential traits a thrower needs to have in order to be successful in reaching and accomplishing their goals.
Similar to the way Coach Holtz and I accomplished our goals, we had a vision of where we wanted to go. We had a vision of what we wanted to accomplish. We had a vision.
Trait #1—The Best Have a Vision
A vision allows us to see into the future. Our vision of where we wish to be in one, five, or ten years gives us something to aspire to. Something to dream towards accomplishing. A goal we wish to achieve. Jon Gordon talks a lot about having a vision in his podcast interviews. You can listen to some of my favorite episodes by clicking the links below.
He talks about looking into a telescope and seeing a picture that is far off in the distance. The telescope helps us look into the future. It helps us see the picture in sight. It gives us something to aspire towards achieving.
Having a vision without a plan to accomplish the goal or realize the dream is simply wishful thinking. We get caught up in the daily grind that we forget to develop a plan for how we are going to achieve that goal. In my example, in order to one day become a superintendent or principal in a school, you need to hold an administrative degree (In New York State it is required). That was my vision. That was, at the time, a dream of mine. In order to accomplish that goal, I knew I needed to earn my tenure in teaching (which I did), and also have five different people write me a letter of recommendation supporting my application to enroll in the program. Those were the initial steps. Once accepted into the program, I knew I needed to take 12 courses over the course of two years, plus complete and pass my internship, to graduate. Before I was awarded my certificate, I was required to pass two New York State certification exams. That was my action plan. To take two or three courses a semester, even over the summer, in order to accomplish my goal. I made plenty of sacrifices. I sacrificed my time spent with family, friends, and Saturdays were spent in the classroom. I also sacrificed a lot financially. I wasn’t awarded a scholarship, nor did I receive grant funding to offset the price of classes. I knew that in order to accomplish that goal, I needed to sacrifice time and money.
Often times what we may fail to realize is that in order to accomplish a goal, we need to make some type of sacrifices. This, in my opinion, is where I see a lot of athletes getting stuck in the daily grind of moving towards their goal. Most recently, I had an athlete tell me that their goal was to win a 2018 DIII National Championship in throwing. We laid out a plan of what was necessary to accomplish that goal. This person was going to need to make some sacrifices in their life in order to give themselves the chance of accomplishing this goal.
Unfortunately, this thrower was not ready to make the necessary sacrifices. They were not ready to really dig down and put themselves in the best position to be successful. They were not ready to give up an active social life, spending a lot of time with their friends on the weekends, taking care of their bodies (physically and mentally), and committing themselves to their weight room training sessions. After a few months, the aura of wanting to win faded. They weren’t ready. They had a vision. They had their sights set on their vision, their goal, but they weren’t ready to make the necessary sacrifices in order to realize that goal.
I hope you continue to join me on this journey over the course of the next couple of months as I begin to conceptualize more of the traits I believe the best of the best throwers possess. I have shared my initial thoughts with recent and past Olympic throwers and their coaches. I have received constructive feedback and guidance. As I continue to write my thoughts, I will also share and discuss them here with you. My plan is to share a new trait with you every week, over the course of the next several weeks.
Hopefully my thoughts serve as encouragement. The traits I'm going to discuss over the course of the next several weeks apply to everyone in any facet of their life. If you don't have a vision for where you want to be next year or in five years, now is just a good a day as any to start thinking about it.
Here are some steps to help you move forward to realizing your dream.
1. Where do you see yourself one year from now? What do you want to accomplish?
2. Why do you want to be there? Why are you driven to accomplish this goal?
3. What types of sacrifices are you willing to make to accomplish this goal? Are there financial sacrifices that need to be made? How much time are you willing to devote in order to accomplish this goal? How much time are you willing to sacrifice spent with friends, family, and with your hobbies in order to accomplish this goal?
4. What skills do you need to acquire in order to accomplish this goal?
5. What support do you need in order to accomplish this goal?
6. What are your daily/weekly/monthly commitments going to look like in order to accomplish this goal?
7. Get started!
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.