I’ve had the pleasure of coaching at two Division III programs over the course of my coaching career. I started my career as a graduate assistant at SUNY Fredonia in 2004. I was coaching my former teammates, and at times things got a little strange during the season. As far as throwing outcomes go, it was a very successful season. One female thrower won 5 conference championships between the indoor and outdoor seasons. She broke our school records in the 20lb. weight, discus, and hammer. Jen also qualified for and threw at DIII Outdoor Nationals.
My first year at Nazareth was the 2012-2013 season. In that year our men’s throwers broke the indoor 35lb. weight and shot-put records, as well as the shot-put, discus, and hammer records during the outdoor campaign. Our lone female thrower broke the hammer record. Since it was my first time coaching in a few years, I wanted to focus more on developing positive coach-athlete relationships, rather than focus on breaking records and throwing far. Yes, throwing far is one of the main objectives of throwing, but there are many ways to get your athletes to throw far. Raw talent is great, but having a belief that you can achieve your goals with a little bit of talent also goes a long way.
In a couple of weeks, I begin a new chapter in my coaching journey. I’ll be joining my good friend Tim on his staff as the throwing coach at Alfred State. I’m a Pioneer!
Over the past few weeks I’ve been in contact with some of the throwers that are currently on the team. We’ve discussed class schedules and practices schedules. Tim and I have discussed what this coaching endeavor is going to look like, but we haven’t laid out all the specifics yet. I’ve been thinking about a few things in the hopes of making a positive and meaningful first impression on my new group of throwers.
As coaches, I think deep down we have a laundry list of things we would like to share with our athletes during that first introduction. I didn’t really have an introduction at Fredonia because I was coaching my former teammates. It was a little better at Nazareth, but in the first week I lost an athlete for the fall semester because they weren’t registered for enough credit hours.
Not everything is going to go perfect or as planned. And that is ok. My list of topics that I want to discuss with my athletes during our first meeting includes:
In the past, I’ve asked me athletes to write down their answers. Then before the season gets going into high gear I have individual meetings with everyone to discuss their responses to the question. As an educator and coach, I believe this is the most important series of questions to ask early on in the season for a few reasons. First, it helps reinforce or re-evaluate their expectations about themselves and myself. Second, I’m able to ask questions about their specific expectations and get a sense of the athlete’s work ethic and set of guiding values. Third, the conversation helps increase the athlete’s sense of autonomy because they are essentially in the driver’s seat of the conversation and the development of the roadmap. Finally, we have something written down that will hold both the athlete and myself as a coach accountable. It will be my job to safely and ultimately successfully guide my athlete along an illuminated path towards accomplishing their goals.
I’m looking forward to meeting my new group of throwers. Excitement is not quite the word to describe how I’m feeling right now. Anticipation and eagerness might fit more appropriately.
Every now and again I’ll get contacted by either a high school or post-collegiate athlete interested in my coaching support. This usually comes in the form of a direct message from either Twitter or Instagram, with the occasional text message. And most of the time the message looks like this:
Hi Coach Infurna. I know you have coached (insert thrower name here) and (insert thrower name here) in the past. I want to earn a scholarship to throw in college or qualify for USATF nationals. What do you think?
Now, I’m being a little dramatic here, but really the tone is that they (the thrower) want to throw far. That is a given and obvious. They also have the initiative to contact me or other coaches for that matter in the hopes of throwing in college or at the post-collegiate level. In my opinion, 99% of these athletes have their heart in the right place, but fail to follow up when the rubber meets the road.
It isn’t their lack of initiative at practice. Just by showing up they put themselves in a much better position to succeed. They usually have a strong work-ethic and are goal-oriented because they have a end point in mind. This lasts for a couple of weeks. When they don’t see huge gains (or any gains at all) from let’s say from week 4 to week 5, they often get frustrated and lose interest.
As coaches we can't wave a magic wand and instantly produce 60m hammer throwers and 20m weight throwers at the high school level. I have been fortunate enough to coach both male and female throwers over these “magical” marks at the high school level. It takes more than 5 to 10 weeks to produce the types of results some are seeking. Let me give you an example.
Yesterday I got a message from Will Gross. He is a New York State high school weight throw champion and one of 7 men to throw the weight over 70’ and the shot-put over 50’ in the same season. Will did it in the same meet.
He messaged me by asking me if I remembered what our first goal session meeting was about a couple of years ago. I had to pull out my coaching journal for the specifics. Before I was able to do that, he sent me the numbers he wished to hit. Before he left for Akron, we accomplished all but 1 of his goals. He wanted to throw the 16# over 60m before he stepped on campus. We got really close during the summer of 2019, but didn’t quite make it. I knew he was disappointed, but the fact that he threw over 58m as a true freshman told me that he was going to have a bright future ahead of him.
Well, he must have thrown over 60m a dozen times this past summer while training at home. The number he sent me yesterday made my stomach drop. I believe Will is going to have a very successful collegiate (and if he wants, post-collegiate) throwing career. Will was one of those athletes that reached out to me. Besides traveling to Rochester from Buffalo every Sunday to throw, Will put in mental work as well. I provided him with additional “assignments” to work at home that would help him become a more well-rounded thrower. There were times during our training sessions that Will became very frustrated. Frustrated both at me and himself for not being able to do what the focus of that training session was. But Will, unlike most of the others, kept coming back. Together we would address his weaknesses in the circle, as well as weaknesses between the ears.
The 2020-21 season may be a non-traditional one, but I suspect that Will has the opportunity to be one of a few freshmen throwers capable in capturing the MAC hammer championship next May, with a chance at throwing at nationals in June.
For most of us, the 2020-21 season may be a non-traditional one. We may only have a couple of indoor meets followed up by a couple of outdoor meets. We may be practicing double that of previous years. We may only compete in 5-10 total meets, which gives us fewer opportunities to accomplish our goals. Yet you will still have the chance to do so.
You may be asking yourself how you might be able to accomplish your goals with a modified/non-traditional season. Answering the questions below will better prepare you for the upcoming 2020-21 season!
2. Understand that you might need to make some sacrifices along the way
This is a screen shot of what one of my post-collegiate athletes and I discussed the other day. This thrower has added 15m to their hammer throw since they graduated from college. It doesn't come easy. Growth and development takes time.
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.