While 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.
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.
In 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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 best 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.
Last week I began a discussion with Harry Marra, the coach of world decathlon record holder Ashton Eaton. In part one, we discussed the art of coaching. Marra wrote a detailed essay on the topic last year and was able to share his thoughts on how to improve the core of the coaching relationship: the communication between athlete and coach. In part two, we discuss the difficulties of training for a complex event like the decathlon. Incorporating technical advice in ten events, as well as finding a place for important concepts like specificity of training and transference can be quite difficult. Through the utmost focus and the careful selection of planning of exercises (especially the versatile use of medicine balls), Marra has been able to find that balance in the training of Eaton and his fiance Brianne Theisen.
If you want to hear more on these topics, I am partnering with the United School of Sports to bring coach Marra to Zurich for an evening of talking about coaching and training. The event will take place on Tuesday, May 28th. More information and registration details can be found here.
Despite serving as the US national decathlon team coach for a decade and coaching six men over 8,000 points, Harry Marra was a relatively unknown outside of the insulated world of multi-events when he was hired by the University of Oregon before the 2010 season. He was hired with one purpose: to guide a talented 21-year-old decathlete named Ashton Eaton. Ashton had already qualified for the national team at the 2009 World Championships, but he need continued development in several events in order to compete with the world’s best.
In three season working with Marra, Eaton set the NCAA record, won the Bowerman award, improved the world indoor heptathlon record three times, broke the world decathlon record, and claimed Olympic gold in London. And his fiance, Canadian Brianne Theisen, has also improved tremendously under Marra placing eleventh in the Olympics and moving up to second all-time in Canada. After being named the USATF national coach of the year in 2012, few people will overlook coach Marra again. Eaton and Thiesen have only competed in individual events so far in 2013, but they have done well. Eaton has posted new bests in the shot put, javelin, 200 meters, and 400 meters. Thiesen in shot put and 200m. Both will compete in their first multi-event of the year at the famous Götzis Hypomeeting in Austria next month.
I am proud to be partnering with the United School of Sports to bring coach Marra to Zurich for an evening of talking about coaching and training. The event will take place on Tuesday, May 28th. Coach Marra also took the time to sit down and begin talking about these topics. In part one below we begin by talking about the art of coaching and finding the right way to communicate with an athlete, something I have talked about both last year and this year. Part two, which will be posted later in the week, will dive into a little of the complexities of training for technique and specificity in a sport with ten different events.
Coach Stuart McMillan has produced some great interviews and commentary on his blog recently, often focusing on what a national governing body needs to do to be successful. From an interesting interview with former world 100m record holder Donovan Bailey, and some tips for national governing bodies. This week he has posted my new favorite, a two-part interview with Canadian coach Derek Evely focusing on his thoughts on how to create high performance. Part 1 focuses on building a successful training center. Part 2, posted today, focuses more on politics at the federation level.
Derek and I go back to when he was the head coach of the Kamloops Track and Field club when they hired Anatoliy Bondarchuk. Simply put, Derek knows high performance. He has been involved with three highly-successful training centers and has taken a lot away from that experience. His work in Kamloops set the foundation for what turned into the Canadian National Throws Centre. Next he helped run the Canadian Athletic Coaching Centre where he played an integral role in developing the world’s best online coaching resource at the Canadian Athletics Coaching Centre. His latest role was leading the Loughborough High Performance Centre for UK Athletics leading up to the London Olympics. In addition to these management roles, Derek has always remained active in coaching, molding Olympians in the sprints and throws along the way. Derek has also been a great mentor of mine, and you can read more about his training philosophies in the extensive three-part interview I conducted with him last year.
As a coach, I try not to advise other coach’s athletes unless they ask for my input. Not only do I not want to get into a territory war with another coach, but I also think you need to know about an athlete’s background in order to give them advice that will actually help. If I point out one error in the throw, 99% of the time the thrower already knows they are doing it wrong and my input will just hurt their confidence without helping their throw. To provide better input I need to know what they are working on, what progress they have made, and what are some of their strengths and weaknesses. What may look like a bad throw could in fact show a lot of progress on their points of focus. Knowing more about their background can also give you a guide as to what cues may or may not work in fixing the problems.
While these rules are not set in stone anywhere, I generally expect others to abide by them just as I do. For me, it is just common courtesy. If the point of giving advice is to help the athlete, then a coach should do whatever they can to make sure their advice is helpful before giving it. And, for the most part, the throwing community respects that at meets. Rarely does a stranger come up to me and offer unsolicited technical advice. While the coaches that do may be well intentioned, their advice often comes across as trying to boost their own ego rather than helping me.
But something apparently transforms some people when they log on to the internet. Their moral compass is no longer aligned the same and they are no longer hesitant to make comments they wouldn’t dare make in person.
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