The other day someone asked me about the transition to post-collegiate throwing immediately after graduating from college. It is an interesting question. My current research study with post-collegiate throwers may shed some light on the landscape of throwing at that level, especially since my research question is centered on the notion of why continue throwing.
After some consideration on the topic of transitioning to post-collegiate throwing, below I listed four traits or characteristics I think someone needs to possess in order to make a successful transition into the land of post-collegiate throwing. I would like to add that many more experienced coaches out there may find that different traits are necessary, therefore the list below is from my perspective and only my perspective.
With throwing, much like any other sports, it is rare to find a Phenom that takes the throwing world by storm in a relatively short amount of time. In most cases, specific to throwing, it takes time to develop the skills and traits necessary to be become an elite level thrower. In our case with Luis, he is in his fifth year of throwing. Compared to others who may begin throwing in 7th or 8th grade, Luis is behind the eight ball so to speak. He has exhibited the grittiness it takes in developing into an elite level thrower. He has goals, he is persistent in what he does, and his attention to throwing has not wavered. He could have “retired” after graduating from college last year. It would have been a pretty good career; one national championship and four All-American awards. His persistence to the sport of throwing has provided him with an opportunity to train with some of the best coaches and athletes in the United States. Like Dr. Duckworth clearly states in her Talk at Google, passion and perseverance are necessary in order to maintain focus and attention on a achieving one's long-term goals.
2. A Support System
I wrote an article about support systems a few weeks ago. Support systems make all look a little different, but the idea is that they provide individuals with love, care, guidance, and nurturing tendencies that individuals may not be able to fully provide. For our throwing example, the support system I am referring to is one that allows a thrower to continue pursuing their throwing dreams by providing; coaching, a facility to throw, a place to train and lift in, care, guidance, and other likeminded individuals pursuing similar dreams and goals. All are important.
As a post-collegiate thrower, if you are not able to secure a location a throw at, whether indoors or outdoors, it may make the dream to little more difficult to chase. Finding a group of likeminded individuals may be difficult to come by as well. If you are not one of the few individuals invited to train at the one of the Olympic Training Centers or one of the fewer individuals to receive grant monies in order to train, then the dream may be a little more difficult to come by. In Luis’ case, his training group is small. Just one other person in our small geographic area has dreams of continuing with her throwing career. Savannah and Luis working together has equally benefitted both of them. The camaraderie of having someone else to train with, throw with, and compete with has been a great asset to our training group.
Coaching is just as an important ingredient to the success of an elite post-collegiate thrower. With social media as large as it has got over the course of the past couple of years, people from around the world can instantly share just about anything in a matter of seconds. Virtual coaching is an avenue someone can pursue if they have a place to train, a group of people to train with, and a phone or camera. Moving someplace to train with a world-renowned coach may be difficult for most people to come by. However, reaching out to a coach and asking for assistance can’t hurt. You may never know the answer unless you are willing to ask the question.
3. Deliberate Practice
Anders Ericsson has spent the better part of his career focused on research about meaningful or deliberate practice. Not just showing up and going through the motions because you have to. What Anders, Angela, and Dan Chambliss have all written about is the time spent really focusing on a specific detail you are to a larger concept you may be trying to grasp. For example, in Anders’ latest book called Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise, he writes about a student learning to play a new piece of music, and then playing that musical number for her teacher. After the student is done playing the music, the teacher asks her how much time was spent playing the piece. The student shares with their teacher that they spent a lot of time practicing the musical piece from start to finish. The teacher follows up with asking how many times was the piece practiced correctly from start to finish. The student replies with a couple. Even though the student spent hours and hours practicing, they were just going through the motions, not necessarily being deliberate about what they were doing. Just playing individual notes as opposed to playing a musical number.
The same can be said about throwing, writing, and just about anything else. Something I really tried to emphasize last year with my group of throwers was to really encourage them to focus and be deliberate about what they were going to think about or work on with the next throw. Each thrower is unique, so a cookie-cutter approach to common terms like ‘maintain posture’ or ‘turn-faster’ was not going to be meaningful or efficient. Similar to someone learning a to play the piano, it takes time to gain the necessary where-with-all to know what you are doing and then be cognizant of what you are doing, and to finally be deliberate.
In respects to throwing, a non-deliberate style and methodology may look like this (I am certainly guilty of having coached like this in the past). This is an example of focusing on one specific phase of throwing the hammer:
Not an efficient way to spend your time practicing. Not an emphasis on anything specific. Let’s just get our throws in for the day.
A more deliberate style practice may look like this:
4. Ability to Self-Assess and Reflect
Anything worth pursuing and accomplishing takes time. Assessing the path to get reach that specific goal is a trait that has generated some momentum in empirical research. Being able to reflect upon where you were, where you are, and where you want to be (Thank you Jim Valvano). The self-assessment process may be difficult for some people to grasp. In those instances, people may reach out to a ‘life coach’ to gain a better perspective on how things are going.
For throwing, something that I have encouraged all my athletes to do is keep a detailed journal of their lifting and throwing practices. I have heard from and spoke to many Olympic Games participants that could not stress enough the importance of keeping detailed training journals for the purpose of being able to go back and see what may have worked, what didn’t work, and how those training sessions affected meet day performances. Knowing when to stay the course or veer off the course is a skill difficult to master without some type of previous experience or background knowledge. Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results I believe is the definition of insanity. Knowing when to step back and evaluate the situation can save you a lot of time, energy, and undue stress while reviewing the big picture goals of what you are trying to accomplish.
For all the coaches who have experience coaching post-collegiate throwers, what other traits would you add to this list? Would you remove any traits from this list? Tell us more about your experiences in coaching post-collegiate throwers.
My best ~ Charles
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.