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Marcel in Zurich this summer at the European Championships.

Training Talk with Marcel Lomnicky

A former world junior bronze medalist, Marcel Lomnicky took a leap of faith and moved from his native Slovakia to America in 2009 to chase his dream of repeating that success at the senior level. In his first year at Virginia Tech he was the NCAA champion and he has improved steadily every season since. In the past two years he has come close to that goal by making the finals at the World and European Championships. This year he consistently placed on the podium in the European circuit and set a new personal of 79.16 meters.

But perhaps more impressive than his results is the fact that he is self-coached, a rarity among world-class throwers. He has been writing his own training programs and also coaching himself technically since the 2011. Already in his first year he made a breakthrough and qualified for his first World Championships. I’m contemplating my own future in the sport and will likely embark on writing my own training plan next year as an experiment. Therefore I wanted to pick Marcel’s brain on how he has made it work so well.

For more information on Marcel, check out his webpage, where he offers coaching, video analysis, and an insider’s newsletter. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
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Don’t Forget the Simple Solutions

The difference between knowing the problem and fixing the problem is what seperates great coaches from average ones. This is the art of coaching. I love reading about how master coaches approach this topic and have written several times about finding the right cue and when to change it.

The process is not always easy. For example sometimes to get the feet to do one thing, you have to focus on an entirely different part of the body. This is where knowing the athlete, knowing how they learn, and how they move are of utmost importance.

simple_solution[1]But you can also easily overthink this process. I had this experience last week. One of my throwers was coming off of a break and consistently starting double support very late on the first turn. Naturally this problem snowballed into larger problems later in the throw. By the final turn she could barely get the hammer out of the cage. While landing late was a major problem, the issues had already started with errors in the winds and entry. So to fix it we focused on letting the ball run more on the entry, thus giving her more time and the proper balance to land earlier.

In theory this approach was great: we traced the problem back to its root cause and attacked it there. The only trouble was that it wasn’t working with her. Throw after throw were showing the same problem repeating itself with only minor improvement.

Finally I explained again the goal of this cue: we wanted to land earlier and by creating a longer path for the hammer on the left we give the body time to do just that. She stepped in the ring for the next throw, caught the hammer early on the first turn and produced her best throw of the day. I asked her what clicked and she responded “I just tried to land earlier.”

With some athletes and some issues you need to break things down a lot. But with others the simple path works just fine. Sometimes they need to just do it. Don’t forget that. Just like everything else in training, keeping it simple can often be the best strategy.

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The Four Eyes Principle

features-foureyes[1]When I started working in the finance world back in 2010, I quickly became familiar with the Four Eyes Principle. At the time I thought “four-eyes” was what bullies called kids with glasses, but in finance it is a risk reduction device. Humans make mistakes, both intential and unintentional, and having two people (i.e. four eyes) look at something before being approved can help minimize the mistakes.
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Coach Ken Foreman coached Gary Winckler in college and served as a big influence on him.

Training Talk with Gary Winckler (Part 4)

My training talk with sprint and hurdle coach Gary Winckler seems like it is going on forever. But, after nearly 7,000 words, it finally comes to a close with today’s final installment. After a wide-ranging conversation covering, reactivity training, periodization, planning, coaching, technique and more, this final part talks a little about Bondarchuk before looking at some of the issues facing coaching today.
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Training Talk with Vésteinn Hafsteinsson (Part 1)

VesteinnWhile it was great to see my coach last week, there were also some other benefits of having a training camp in Växjö. The training facilities were oustanding. And so was the company. Växjö is the training base of coach Vésteinn Hafsteinsson and his Global Throwing team.

After graduating from the University of Alabama in 1986, Hafsteinsson threw professionally for ten more years. His career as an athlete included four Olympics, qualifying for the finals in Barcelona, and a still-standing Icelandic record of 67.64 meters. Since 1996 he has been a full-time coach, guiding such athletes as 2008 Olympic discus champion Gerd Kanter and 2004 shot put silver medalist Joachim Olsen. He has also coached many other elite discus throwers and his group currently includes Märt Israel (4th at the 2011 World Championships), the Arrhenius brothers, Daniel Ståhl (4th at 2013 European Under 23 Championships), and shot putters Kim Christensen (Danish record holder) and Mesud Pezer (2013 European junior champion).

I had a chance to chat quite a bit with Hafsteinsson and I will post our talks in three parts. Part one below discusses his coaching and training methods. Part two and part three cover discus technique and the current state of throwing within track and field. Hafsteinsson is also a great presenter and if you would like to learn more from him, I recommend inviting him for a seminar or workshop.

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What Makes a Good Coach

Earlier this month I had the privilege of being interviewed by the Sports Coach Radio podcast. The podcast posts weekly in-depth interviews with leading sports coaches, sports scientists, exercise physiologists and team performance directors. When Glenn Whitney, the host, asked me if I would be interested in doing an interview I was a bit dumbfounded as to why. I’m always looking to help HMMR Media gain a bigger audience, but when I said he interviews leading people, I truly meant leading. He’s had some outstanding interviews Harry Marra, Vern Gambetta, and Clyde Hart in track and field and coaches of the same level in other sports too.

530838756ae1cfe0244204750c5d4761In the end we actually spoke little about coaching despite the name of the podcast. Instead we dove into topics like how to balance a career, technology in sports, and the hammer throw. All topics I fell like I can hold my own on. To have a listen, click here. But in preparation for the interview I spent some time thinking about coaching and since I didn’t get to speak about it as much during the interview, I thought I would share a few brief thoughts on the topic here.
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Just in Time For Christmas: The New HMMR Media Store

This article from the HHMR Media archives is being provided as a free preview. For access to other archived articles from Bingisser’s Blog and additional premium content, become a member now.

polanik_chirstmasThe holiday season is upon us and that means that you are are looking for gift ideas for those hammer throwers in your life. Well, let’s be honest, it’s time for you to send a list of hammer throwing things to people that will buy presents for you. Either way, we are happy to announce several new products from HMMR Media just in time for the holidays.
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Coaching Roundtable: Julia Ratcliffe Video Analysis

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Back in February I launched a new series on this site, the Coaching Roundtable, by inviting three of the world’s best coaches to analyze the technique of top US thrower Chris Cralle. Now it’s back for the second edition with an up and coming international thrower. Once again the Coaching Roundtable series brings together top coaches from the around the world to give their different perspectives on the same topic. Subjects for the coaching roundtable are chosen exclusively among members of this site. I plan on doing a rotational shot put roundtable in the near future as well as another men’s hammer roundtable, so if you are a member looking for an analysis of yourself or your athlete , please contact me.

The Subject

Julia Ratcliffe was born and raised in New Zealand and started hammer throwing under the guidance of her father, Dave Ratcliffe. On her 19th birthday last year Ratcliffe threw a senior national record and Oceania junior record of 67.00 meters at the World Junior Championships in Barcelona. Her mark earned her fourth place and was the best mark ever to miss the podium at the meet. This September she enrolled at Princeton University in America where she has continued her success. In April she broke her national record again with a throw of 68.80 meters and was one of the top throwers in the NCAA as just a freshman this season.

The Coaches

Derek Evely served most recently as Director of the UK Athletics Loughborough National Performance Centre. In addition, he has guided several hammer throwers including Sophie Hitchon, who at age 21 set a national record to become the youngest Olympic finalist last summer. Evely is strongly influenced by Anatoliy Bondarchuk, who he recruited to and worked alongside with in Kamloops, Canada.

Don Babbitt is of the most successful throwing coaches in the world over the past decade. Coach Babbitt works as the throwing coach at the University of Georgia for sixteen years in which his athletes captured 11 NCAA titles, and 55 All-American certificates. Chris Hill (javelin) and Jenny Dahlgren (hammer) also set NCAA records under his guidance. In addition, he has worked with athletes like Adam Nelson (shot put), Reese Hoffa (shot put), Breaux Greer (javelin), Jason Dunks (discus), Brad Snyder (shot put), Andras Haklits (hammer) and many other international champions.

Sergej Litvinov Jr. is one of the top active hammer throwers in the world with a personal best of 80.98 meters. He placed fifth at 2009 World Championships and now competes for Russia. He is coached by his father, Sergey Litvinov, who was a world record holder, two-time world champion, Olympic champion, and Olympic silver medalist. He still ranks third all-time with his personal best of 86.04 meters.

The Video

The Feedback

Derek Evely

Observations

Overall this girl has exemplary technique. Her patience is good, she has superior range and length on the ball, the countering is effective and time in double support is good. However, in the videos presented there is one common fault that is apparent.

In looking at all three throws presented you will see that her path of travel across the circle is quite pronounced towards the right cage door. as opposed to the preferred path of travel which is straight down the centre of the circle. If this were a one-off then it wouldn’t be a concern but when you see this consistently then it indicates an orientation issue and needs to be dealt with. If you look at the low point on each of the presented throws it is far to the right of her right foot – in the video of the 68.80-meter throw the low point is actually in line with the corner of the concrete slab and the corresponding high point is nearly at a 3′ o clock position (12 0′ clock being the direction of the sector, 0 at back of the circle). This, in my opinion, is too far to the right and the low point upon entry needs to be moved more in line with her right foot.

Many people see this fault as “under-rotating” or “under-turning”, but that to me is misleading because it doesn’t speak to the root of the problem and it can lead one on a wild goose chase of inappropriate corrections. . It is not under-turning but rather an orientation issue. This problem will also make the thrower appear to have far better catches and foot translations than they really have (although in this case her catches, especially early in the throw, are so good that even when she straightens this problem out the catch and the time in double support should not be an issue).

This usually happens for any one of, or combination of, the following reasons: (1) there is simply an orientation problem with too much emphasis on a right focal point on the entry, (2) there is too much “catch” or ‘X’ at the end of the last wind in preparation for the entry push (‘X’ referring to the X the hip and shoulder axis make when viewed from above the cage looking straight down upon the athlete); or (3) there is a ball acceleration issue. One and two are a very, very simple fix that can take a few throws only. The third, however, is much harder to change.

Correction

The goal here with Julia would be to bring the low point on the entry more in line so that the low point is a wide shelf that basically lines up with her right foot. Now, in the video taken from the rear (training throw) you can see that she has this funky foot position happening where her right foot is over to the left and against the rim and her left foot is about 4 inches back from the centre rear edge of the circle. If this is the strategy for entering then it is most likely a correction to attempt to deal with the travel issue. I would bring her back to the rear of the circle in a straightforward rear orientation where her feet are parallel and unilaterally centred at the rear of the circle. I would let her throw from that position and then determine where the low point is with this new foot position. Give this a few throws, maybe even a workout full of throws.

Then, if there is still an issue with the low point upon the entry then you have to decide which of the three points above to start with in order to try to fix the problem. I think there is a bit of all three going on but there is other evidence of a lack of push in a number of her turns so I might start with that. If you look at the 66.51-meter throw you can see that when the ball is reaching the high point of the orbit there is an inconsistent line from the hammer handle to her shoulders. In other words it is not straight. It almost looks like she is trying to “lift” the hammer up with her hands in the winds. This is a sure sign that the ball acceleration on the preceding push was ineffective: if the ball is accelerated optimally then this shouldn’t happen.

If you think the problem is a lack of push then you have to encourage the athlete to accelerate the ball more on the entry (and each succeeding touchdown) because the ball is basically dropping down from the entry catch to the low point without enough influence from the athlete. They simply want to “push” or increase momentum of the ball upon the entry. This can take a long time to improve as (I have learned quite painfully) each athlete’s body understands the concept of “push” differently.

Other Ideas

The other approaches are (1) to simply move the focal point on the entry towards the right foot or even centre of the athlete’s stance, and (2) decrease the amount of ‘X’ or twist with the trunk the athlete creates at the end of the last wind into the entry. A big X is great because it increases the acceleration path of the ball. However if you do not push from this increased range you are in trouble because the ball will simply ‘fall’ to a low point outside the base of support (feet) as in this case.

I see these last two corrections as quick fixes which may be necessary to implement in order to correct the problem. So if you have this problem try them out, but if it is an acceleration issue this will still need to be dealt with in the long term. Also, moving the low point to a more central position on the entry using 1 and 2 is very easy to do, but once done may take quite a while for the athlete to reconcile in a motor-sense because even a small orientation change in the hammer will screw an athlete up seven ways to Sunday, so be prepared for an adaptation period, especially if this problem has been there for a long time.

Don Babbitt

Julia’s overall technique reminds me very much of the French approach (Nicolas Figere comes to mind). Her winds (which are executed very much to the right side) and transition into the entry look very smooth and she can put together a good turning rhythm and pattern when she times up the first turn. It seems to me that this technique and pattern can take her up past her current level of 68.80m or so, well past 70m as she gets older, stronger, and more experienced.

Now to look from the other side, and bring up potential problems that could get in the way of the further development of her throw. Julia tends to turn on the very edge of the left foot through the course of the turns. It is a little more pronounced than your average thrower. This can sometimes lead to her over rotating on turns and/or landing heavy on the right foot because there is so little room for error in her left foot turning mechanics. While it is not that much of an issue now, it could be a source of instability in the future. This is just an observation, and it would really be impossible to give a good cue or suggestion without knowing a lot more about her personal approach to the throw.

Sergej Litvinov Jr.

Overall the throw looks good and she is choosing the right path for the radius. However, I see some problems with the rhythm.

Specifically, all three of her winds have the same speed and the turns have the same speed too. Her radius is also the same length in every turn. Why? Because she is trying to do a wide entry and this becomes a problem in the following turns. Physics has rules. The radius must grow further and further or the thrower will be crushed by gravity.

I would recommend working on the length of the radius. First of all this begins in the winds. What do we need the winds for? To produce the speed that we need at the entry and to control the length of the radius. She should try to begin very slowly and then increase the speed very slightly in every wind. It is important to find the speed she needs. Remember, slow is better than fast.

After that, Julia can try to fix the entry. Do it short. The target is a growing radius. In every turn the radius should be bigger. Try to feel that with experiments, maybe by trying to overemphasize the shortness in order to feel the difference. If you can fix this, the rhythm will be much better. Often the radius problems also come from heavy hammer or weights. I do not know how Julia trains, but this might also have an impact.

Photo by Terry McHugh.

Elton John and Throwing

Last Tuesday, I worked together with Terry McHugh and the United School of Sports to bring Harry Marra to Zurich for a coaching workshop. Marra is one of the world’s best multi-event coaches and currently guides decathlon word record holder and Olympic gold medalist Ashton Eaton. But rather than focusing on the training methods he uses for his athletes, Marra presented on the art of coaching to a diverse crowd filled with coaches from more than a dozen sports including figure skating, BMX, and even fistball.

While Marra talked about several facets of being a good coach, nearly every point came down to communication. And this applies to all sports. Coaches are essentially teachers; they have to understand their topic and then convey it to athletes  The latter part is the hardest and that is where proper communication fits in.
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Good coaching is not about yelling and inspiring as much as it is about teaching. Take John Wooden as an example. Photo by AP.

The Quiet Coach

Good coaching is not about yelling and inspiring as much as it is about teaching. Take John Wooden as an example. Photo by AP.

Good coaching is more about teaching than it is about fiery speeches. Take John Wooden as an example. Photo by AP.

Tennis was one of the first sports I played and it remains one of my favorites to watch on television. A unique aspect of tennis is that while coaches are involved intimately in training, often on a one-on-one basis, they have no role at the match. With the exception of some recent rule changes in women’s tennis, it is frowned upon to even look at the coach’s box during a match and communication is forbidden. Watching the ebbs and flows of a five-set grand slam final as athletes must cope alone with the momentum changes and building pressure produces some of the best drama in sports. The tennis coaches may not get much recognition but they are some of the best coaches in the world since they prepare their athletes to do this battle alone.

Talking with coach Harry Marra last week has gotten me to think more about coaching theory. Many of the topics Marra talked about concerned how to improve communication between athlete and coach. Coaches must know their sport, and the great coaches are those that can best convey it to their athletes. The great coaches will have athletes that are not just physical specimens, but also students and active learners. During a competition they are not on their heels waiting for a sideline instruction from their coach; they are proactively deciding their next move because their coach equipped them to learn for themselves.
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