Coach Dan Pfaff

Training Talk With Dan Pfaff (Part 3)

For the past week I’ve been posting snippets of my training talk with coach Dan Pfaff of the World Athletics Center. I’ve spent time listing Pfaff’s numerous accomplishments over the past week, so this time I will just jump back in to the discussion. If you like what you read below, also check out the first or second part.

For even more you can become a member of HMMR Media to get access to hundreds of other great articles I have posted, including more training talks with some of the top coaches in the business like Harry Marra, Derek Evely, Jean-Pierre Egger, Don Babbitt, Vern Gambetta and many others from the world of throwing and beyond.

» Part 1: Improving Technique and Finding Commonalities Between Events

» Part 2: Training, Intensity, and Density

» Part 3: Key Performance Indicators and Hammer Throwing

Martin: To end with I’d naturally like to know your experience with the hammer. How would you approach the event if you had a hammer thrower currently? What would be the training focus and what do you think hammer throwers can learn from other events in this regard.

Dan: Again this goes back our generation concept. I don’t think I’d train a hammer thrower much different than other events. I would do a key performance indicators (“KPI”) analysis to determine what are the KPIs for that athlete at that stage of their career and development. I would identify a priority list on those KPIs. The highest KPIs would get the most attention and density during the training week. The secondary KPIs would fill in the gaps. And all the work would be done with this movement screen idea where you are constantly evaluating movement to adjust KPIs, prevent injury, and enhance skill.

I’d also go back to the parasympathetic/sympathetic concept. I’ve always been curious with range throwing where guys throw in different zones. At those lower zones, is it really parasympathic response? And what is it doing to the brain maps?

Martin: Is this something we do better or worse than other events?

Coach Dan Pfaff

Coach Dan Pfaff. Photo courtesy of the World Athletics Center.

Dan: I traffic in a lot of circles and have a lot of friends in the throws world. It is amazing to me that athletes and coaches don’t do thorough debriefs after each competition or each training year or each cycle to analyze whether they accomplished what they were trying to accomplish. People have loose debriefs and loose target discussions about upcoming programs. But the plot gets lost and people default to comfort zones of training and emphasis.

For some reason I have been coaching a lot of pole vaulters over the last six or eight years. They might not do a speed endurance workout for two or three weeks. But when they come back to it they don’t lose a step. It begs the question of how many hits of these various regimes do we really need in a given time frame.

There is a world-class discus thrower whose therapist I share with a lot. He realized at an advanced age he probably didn’t need to lift as much and as frequently. But after a rough start to the season he went back to what he did 10 years ago. When panic sets in we tend to default to that magic year we had and stray away from the current KPIs and KPI intentions.

Martin: On the one hand you learn a lot about yourself over the years and what works. But on the other hand, circumstances definitely do change.

Dan: With this athlete he has had multiple surgeries and injuries that have continued to manifest. The body and mind he is training with today is much different than what he had eight years ago.

Martin: Definitely. I’m at the point now where I want to do what I did years ago, but that is not necessarily what is best for me right now. It feels comfortable.

Dan: One of the rages right now is about variability, anti-fragile, and this kind of stuff. A lot of times life present the variables. You are a lawyer working, writing, weather is crappy in Switzerland, you don’t have your coach there. There is a lot of variability every day. Because there are new variances you have to have new KPIs and new plans.

I’ve also been asked many times in many interviews “how does an advanced coach working with an advanced age athlete continue to excel.” I think it is this juggling game of KPIs. Both parties need to identify different generations of KPIs and learn to juggle throughout the year.

Martin: Thanks for taking the time to share some knowledge with everyone. We look forward to seeing your team’s results next year.

2 replies
  1. Scott Dochat
    Scott Dochat says:

    As a high school coach, how do I identify these KPI’s for each athlete with whom I work. Coach Pfaff makes it sound easy but I struggle constantly with what works for each kid. Any tips on identifying these KPI’s easier/sooner…
    Thank you for all you do for the sport and coaching!

    • Martin
      Martin says:

      I’m just speaking off the top of my head here, so bear with me. I’ll also try to get Dan to chime in with a more experienced viewpoint.

      I see various types of KPIs. First, you have general KPIs that do not very much from sport to sport. For instance, key performance indicators in all sports are technique and specific strength. The you have sport specific KPIs. In hammer this would be efficient hammer technique and hammer special strength, for example. Then there individual KPIs. This looks at the individual’s strengths and weaknesses to see how they differ from the model for their sport. For instance perhaps a particular style of technique suits them better, or they get more benefit from certain exercises or training styles.

      I think for beginners it is actually a bit easier to identify the KPIs. Beginners can focus a bit more on the event level KPIs. Identify what the sport requires I be successful an use that in training. For the hammer I focus on the basics of technique, as well as building general strength, specific strength, and specific work capacity (which often goes together with technical and specific strength work). With young athletes, general abilities or even abilities at just one specific ability are great performance indicators (as opposed to with world class athletes). This is also a time to experiment. Athletes are young, so throw different things at them to try to identify their individual KPIs, i.e. how they set themselves apart from other athletes. Then, as they progress and you gain experience with them, the KPIs should become more individual. They are always changing, but experience helps shape them. First it is experience with the sport that helps as beginners. Then it is experience with them as athletes.


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