All posts by Daniel McQuaid

Coach Nathan Fanger analyzes the shot technique of Danniel Thomas-Dodd

Not a bad year in the shot for Kent State’s Danniel Thomas-Dodd!
NCAA champion.
Fourth at the World Championships.
And now, the subject of a technique analysis on McThrows.
I’ve never met her coach at Kent State, Nathan Fanger, but I know he’s a patient man because he graciously answered approximately 472 questions from me while breaking down Danniel’s technique.
I think you’ll like the resulting interview.
McQ:  Let’s take a look at Danniel’s 18.91m throw  from London. I figure analyzing that will give you a nice endorphin buzz.
 
Here’s her windup. The thing I notice about it is that it is very simple. Some throwers sit lower, wind farther, or lean forward a bit. Danniel seems to be doing a nice, easy, minimal wind. Can you comment on that? What is important to you about this phase of the throw?
Coach Fanger: This position, even though is very simple, is the key to her success!  We have played with getting low or having a wider sweep, but her balance was always slightly shifted.  She is an extremely fast athlete and has classically blown past this position, so we have done a lot of static starts to activate her legs instead of using too much upper body. That said, the use of her left arm is incredibly important.  Allowing the left arm to sweep out ahead gets her body moving very quickly.  Her ability to get her legs moving just as fast is what allows her to throw as far as she does.  She is a speed thrower and it all starts out of the back!
McQ: This is a couple of frames later. She is turning her left foot. Her left arm has swung open. Could you talk more about what you are looking for here? You mentioned an active left arm action. Would you elaborate?
Coach Fanger:  What we are looking for here is an activated left knee drop and an opening up of the left arm.  When she stays tall out of the back she accelerates easier to the middle.  We have learned that if she gets lower with her legs like in her discus throw, then she ends up hopping up and floating to the center.  This initial dropping of the left leg and left arm sweep helps her get grounded in the center of the ring faster, which in the long run creates more torque and separation.  The left arm sweep really starts both direction and speed for her. A lot of people would not advocate such an aggressive upper body movement, but this movement–if done in a rhythmic fashion–is the best thing for a smaller-statured thrower.
McQ: A common cue when teaching rotational putters is that they should keep their left arm over their left leg as they start turning out of the back. In Danniel’s case, you’re saying it is better for her to be more aggressive with that left arm, so that cue would not work for her, correct?
Coach Fanger: For Danniel, I keep the left arm over the left foot in the initial start of the throw.  Its starts to get ahead of the system after about 90 degrees of rotation–the arm essentially pulls her into her drive to the center.  I think this is under-utilized in smaller throwers. The speed of the throw is crucial.  I personally think you need to go as fast as the left leg will allow you to block–meaning, if I keep my left arm and left leg together I create speed and torque yes, but to what degree?  Can you gain more?  Probably yes, BUT if you go too fast and let the upper body take over, the block leg will be delayed and not be used. Or, even if the left leg was able to get down in time, is it strong enough to fully block the body with that type of speed?  For bigger shot putters, I would never want that arm to over sweep. Trying to stop say 300 lbs of moving force is extremely difficult.
McQ: As she turns her left foot and gets set up to drop the left knee, at what point do you want her right foot coming off the ground? Some teach getting it off as quickly as possible. Others prefer keeping the right foot grounded until the left foot is turned down the right foul line, so basically the right foot would be ripped off the ground as the thrower drops the left knee. Could you talk about your ideas on this phase?
Coach Fanger: As far as the right foot getting off the ground, I don’t think of it as late or early.  We actually don’t talk about that aspect of the throw at all really.  I think of it as a reactionary movement of the the left knee dropping and the flexibility one has in their hips.  As her left knee drops, it creates a wide “V” position in her hips and the right leg lifting off is a reaction to that drop.  I think a lot of coaches try to coach an action verses a reaction.  A reaction is a far faster movement then a voluntary, thought-out, action or movement.  For some people, that thought helps generate the initial starting movement–for us, not so much.  Each athlete is so different in their type of abilities and their motor patterns.  I think the best athletes should focus on an initial movement or action that corresponds with a reactionary movement (creating speed).  I mentioned the openness of the hip and flexibility as well.  If she drops the left knee down and she is tight that day, say from doing squats the day before, then the reacation is slow and short.  So, the more flexibility one has in the hips the more stretch, or separation one can create.  Like pulling a rubber band back–the more stretch it has, the farther it can fly when let go.
McQ: So, if I have this right, between here…
…and here…
...Danniel is using her left arm to create momentum and set herself up to drop on her left knee. This dropping action will pull her right foot off the ground.
 
Can you comment on this next frame?
…She has dropped her left knee, but some might argue that her right leg is lagging behind and that her left foot has over rotated. Could you explain why this position works for Danniel?
 
Coach Fanger: For sure. I really advocate for the use of that left arm to be more active out of the back which leads to the position we see.  The right leg takes a back seat while the left side gets the body moving at the start of the throw, but the reaction that comes from this left leg drop is quite significant.  As that left knee drops it kicks the right leg out and puts the muscles in a strongly stretched position.  She is able to react much more aggressively from this stretched phase vs. trying to actively set the right leg out in front.  Even though this position looks like she is leading the throw with her upper body, it is creating speed that she can use later in the throw as strong separation.
The over rotation of her left foot is the result of such a dramatic movement out of the back.  The key is not to let it to continue to rotate from the position you see.  Right now, it is pointed towards the direction of the throw (our linear drive).  The left side is what is so crucial in her throw. That left knee drops hard to the direction of her throw, which allows the right side to actively wrap hard and around to the center.  With a smaller thrower, I try to advocate more linear work than rotational work.  The bigger athletes can and will use more rotational movement because of their size and the size of the ring.
 McQ: Here are shots of Danniel as she hits the middle of the ring:
To those of us who believe in…what would you call it…the “Venegas” approach?…it sure looks like her left leg is late out of the back as her right foot lands in the middle, and that her upper body is going to pull her into the throw. But then she hits a really nice power position. Can you explain to us Venegas disciples how she does this? She appears to be working the left arm hard to stay wrapped. Is that the key?

Coach Fanger: This was difficult for me to accept as well. These are non-standard positions.  But, females throw different than males.   We can see the obvious difference in the discus, but there have not been a lot of consistent female rotational shot putters to analyze and pick apart.  I’ve had to allow myself to adapt to her femininity in her throw.  I, like you, know and understand the Venegas approach very well, but if you think about it 6’2″ to 6’7″ men that weigh 265 to 350 pounds are far different than Danniel, who is  5’4″ and  210.

Okay, now to the positions. I will agree she is late off the left leg and it is something we are working on, but this is still going to look late no matter how fast we get it.  The aggressive drop puts a lot of weight on that leg and even though it creates some awesome stretch, it creates a delay in waiting for that stretch.  I have some shots of Sandra Perkovic which show very similar positions:

That left arm is what is so important again, since we use it to swing open and create so much early momentum, then it is also used to to put on the breaks in the middle of the ring.  AND that is where Danniel’s throw truly is, in the middle.

The goal is to get the right foot down and grounded early.  The more we can load the spring, the more effectively we can unload all that power and drive our legs, then hip, then chest and shoulder, and finally arm and extend through the release.  The last frame…

…really shows her attempting to pre-turn the right foot as it is about to make ground contact, something we are working on more as well.

In this particular throw she was a little more hoppy than I would have liked to see.  The rain played with what she could do out of the back. I would have liked to have seen more directional drive, but she let the body lift and float to the center instead of grounding sooner.

But you can really start to see that left arm swing back so as to delay her upper body while the legs continue to load in the center.

McQ: Here are some photos  of the final phase of Danniel’s throw. When I look at them, I see her doing a great job of getting her right heel up while her right leg is still loaded and the right elbow is behind the right foot. Also, when she finishes her reverse, she is right smack in the middle of the toe board, which is usually a sign that things have gone well up to that point–that she got out of the back on balance, hit a balanced power position, then used her legs (rather than her head and left shoulder) to blast into the throw.
 

Coach Fanger: The first two pics are of her being loaded and back on that right side, her loaded spring.  The left arm that was allowed to swing open out of the back has to wrap back and hold her shoulders back while her hips stay open and turning to the throw.  She has a very strong lower body and she uses it very well to turn and drive through the finish.  We really focus on keeping the shoulder up and back to create as much wrap as possible.

The third pic is  a crucial part of her throw!  You can see what I call the “car crash” of the throw.  It is her hips colliding at full force. That left leg holds a strong block while the right side drives aggressively out.  The collision of the hips accelerates the shot put up and out of the hand!

The last  picture before the reverse is the extension through the throw.  We are really working on staying longer on the left leg block at the release.  (In this particular throw she got off the left side far to early–the rain was not optimal to throw in, but it was what it was.)  It is key that the left arm blocks so she can square her shoulders to the throw.  If her shoulders are square and her left side holds, she gets optimal extension through the ball.

Danniel doesn’t have long levers so she needs to use every bit of extension she can.

The last picture we see is of her reverse.  She is very well-timed here and puts the left leg down in the middle of the toe board.  She is very consistent with her reverse, so there is not much we work on here.  BUT the more extension we get by staying long at the release will definitely start testing her ability of an easy save.  We will definitely continue to work her finish!

 The main cues we use at the finish are, shut down that left side… EXTENSION through the ball…Reach the armpit over the toe board…Commit to the finish!

Coach Sean Foulkes on How to Build a Great Throwing Program

When Sean Foulkes came to Portage Northern High School, he inherited fewer than ten throwers. Last year, he had forty. He built his program partly by reaching out to the local middle school to help them build their program, and partly by creating a great sense of identity and family among the throwers at Portage Northern.

Sean is excited to share the concepts he has developed through ten years of trial and error, concepts that have allowed him not only to attract a large number of throwers, but to then train them effectively.

If you are a new coach at the high school level, join us to find out how to create and manage a thriving throws program. If you are a veteran coach, join us to get some fresh ideas to help boost participation and performance for your team.

Sean will present on Thursday, October 26 at 7:00pm Central time.

There is no charge for this webinar.

You may register here:

https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_cCfl0XWXQl2x5j2JdzprjA

 

 

Coach Zeb Sion on Valarie Allman’s big year

Stanford’s Valarie Allman just completed a fantastic 2017 season. Not only did she drill a PR of 64.69m that announced her as a world class thrower, but she gained valuable international experience by qualifying to represent the US at the World Championships in London and the World University Games in Taiwan where she earned a silver medal.

All this came while adjusting to a new coach, Zeb Sion, who arrived at Stanford after five seasons at Wake Forest.

Coach Sion was kind enough to recount his experiences with Val this past season. I think you’ll find it very interesting!

 

First of all, thank you very much for asking me to do this interview about Valarie and her 2017 season. She is an absolute joy to work with each day, and it was a lot of fun traversing through a season of changes, ups and downs, and exciting results with her.  Hopefully, I can give everyone a feel for what Val and I worked on this year as well as what we need to improve moving forward. We will openly admit that we have a lot to work on in the future, but we view this as an exciting challenge.

The very nature of coaching and teaching is rooted in the idea of helping people improve. How can you help them improve if you don’t have plans to change their technique and training? So yes, I definitely had ideas of how to help Val improve in my first year working with her. I also find it interesting that “everyone and their mother” seems to have an opinion about how Val should throw or what they would do to change her technique. She had a good amount of success in high school and through her first three years of college, so I’m not a huge fan of being too aggressive with those statements. So while I had intentions to help her improve by making changes to her technique and training, I wanted to work with her and make the changes in a thoughtful way. I wanted her to understand what we were doing and why we were doing it as I knew, based on her personality, that she would improve much quicker that way.

I think putting her first three years of college in perspective before discussing this past season and how we approached it is important. As we know, Val was a very good high school thrower, and she competed at a high level during her first three years in college. The 2016 NCAA Championships, however, was when she had a major breakthrough throwing over 60m for the first time and increasing her personal best by almost ten feet. She followed that meet up with a solid performance at the 2016 Olympic Trials, throwing a distance of 59.02/193-8 which would have been a PB before NCAAs. The natural view and perception became that she was a 201’/61m thrower, even though the average of her top five meets, including the marks I just mentioned, was only 58.86m/193-1. Talk about pressure for her new coach!! Regardless of Val’s PR and top-five meet average, we had goals of improving as much as we could. We focused on the process of making changes with the notion that the results would follow.

Back to when I arrived on campus last fall… I felt fortunate in that I recruited Val to Wake Forest four years prior, and therefore already had established a relationship with her. I think it made it easier to have open dialogue about the plan and how we would move forward. In the first serious chat we had about training and technique, she mentioned that she was worried about me totally changing her technique. I reassured her that this wouldn’t happen, and definitely not too fast, even though that wasn’t necessarily my intention. I joke about it by saying that I told her I wouldn’t change anything and then ended up changing everything. Of course, that’s not close to reality, but it’s fun to say.

It’s important to note that I didn’t analyze a ton of old video of Val prior to working with her. I didn’t want to go into our sessions with a set perspective on what needed to change, but instead wanted to actually work with her and talk through things to get a feel for what needed to change.

I realized that the overarching theme for the changes we needed to make, which was applicable in each phase of her throw, was the idea of taking more energy into the direction of the throw. I often call it “directional energy.”

The back of the throw…

Overall, I liked the back of the ring concepts that Val had worked on previously in terms of her wind, how she loaded the left leg, the stretch she created between her legs, etc… I wanted Val to focus on driving/sprinting across the ring earlier and with more intention. We focused on stopping the left foot earlier and driving across the ring more. The intent of driving/sprinting with more energy naturally lowered her high point because the energy was more linear than vertical out of the back. More importantly, it also lined up her high and low point with the middle of the sector as opposed to being late and down the left side.

During March, April, and May, this part of her throw was very dialed in. I’ll be the first to say that we didn’t totally fix this issue and unfortunately saw it come back at the end of the season. Val had very high throws at USAs, and she was definitely getting off of the back late and not driving at Worlds. Val’s second throw in London was between 61m and 63m according to two different sources, but she fouled “at the front” and by that I mean on the left side of the circle because her energy was so late and left.

The middle and front of the throw…

Now that we had the right concept of how and when to drive out of the back creating better energy across the ring, the second priority I had was to better connect the middle of her throw into a more powerful finish. After landing in the middle of the ring and as Val would rotate into her power position, her left arm would shorten/bend dramatically and begin to rise. When her left foot would get down, she would pull her left arm/shoulder back and away to the left. This put her in an imbalanced and relatively weaker position and was a big reason why she couldn’t transition energy into the direction of the throw and would throw high. Specifically, (1) she wouldn’t have her shoulders back and closed upon left foot touch down so she had less separation, (2) her radius would shorten as she pulled away (left) which made it impossible to keep the correct shoulder plane, and (3) because her left arm/side wasn’t leading the energy out into the direction of the throw, the right side/arm couldn’t be as long as possible working around the hip and OUT.

Our focus was to keep the left arm longer and closed in the middle of the ring and at left foot contact (power position). If her left arm was long and opposite her right arm in a straight line, we felt good about the position. When she hit this balanced/centered position, it was so much easier for her to turn the right hip/side into the throw. As we got her shoulder plane to be more consistent and her left arm to be longer, it put her in a better position to properly lead the left arm out into the sector, so her right arm could then follow it and take the discus out. Ideally, I would want to keep her left arm longer for a longer amount of time (think Dani Samuels). We found that as long as the left arm led out and into the sector, whether it was led by her elbow, forearm, or hand, the resulting throw would be better because it had the right energy.

Results…

While I used various cues and drills throughout the year to help Val make these changes, it was pretty obvious when her “directional energy” was better. One quick way to tell if the “directional energy” was better, other than how far she threw, was to look at her reverse. On Val’s far throws, she would be in a good position and had the ability to turn the right side into the direction of the throw resulting in a nice displacement of her energy into the throw on her reverse. When we first started working together, her right foot would barely travel forward when landing at the end of the reverse. This was an easy way to see that the directional energy was wrong (vertical). Compare that to her two 64m throws [Links to those throw can be found below] and you’ll see a significant difference.

It’s clear that we need to refine these technical concepts and make them much more consistent. While we worked on keeping the left arm longer and on the correct plane this year, we are going to add more of a wrap in the middle, which should help with separation and her ability to then accelerate her left arm into the direction of the throw adding more stretch and energy.

As I look back on Val’s 2017 outdoor season, I’m incredibly proud of the changes she made and the things she accomplished. I think it’s fair to say that it’s pretty awesome to go from throwing over 60m at one meet prior to the 2017 season to having competitions at 64.69m, 64.26m, 62.64m, and 61.65m with additional 60m throws in those meets at 62.46m, 61.98m, 60.31m, and 60.10m. Val’s five-meet average for 2017 was 62.36m. We’re both happy with the changes and progress that Val made this year, but are excited to get back to work and make changes for the 2018 season and beyond.

Here is a vid of Val throwing 64.26m this  season:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPc1hAWeLfc&list=PLhTP-j1O8QwFZm6L_ovA1xrMLqD6oHsGO

Here is a vid of her PR toss of 64.69m:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t80UVRJadss&list=PLhTP-j1O8QwFZm6L_ovA1xrMLqD6oHsGO&index=2

 

Grand Valley State growing into a throws mecca

I first met Grand Valley State throws coach Sean Denard when he was a heavily-bearded freshman thrower at Naperville North High School in the suburbs of Chicago. I was (and still am) the throws coach at a rival school, and was less than thrilled to see a guy who appeared to be in his late ’20’s show up to compete for the NN Huskies. 

Like dry white wine and certain types of mold, however, we grew on each other over the years, and when Sean went off to Mount Union College and came back an unrepentant throws obsessive, our bond was sealed.

Recently,  Sean was kind enough to tell me about his program, the magnificent facilities at Grand Valley, and the growing corps of elite throwers that have relocated to GVSU for their training.

 When did you start at Grand Valley State?

I started at GVSU in October of 2014, so while I’m starting my fourth season here, I’ve only been here for about three calendar years.

 What are some of the  highlights of your time there?

My first year here, our men’s team came in unranked at the NCAA DII Championships and finished as National runners-up. We had three men’s weight throwers earn All-American honors, including second place. It was the best finish in our men’s program’s history. The next year, Darien Thornton, who had finished second the year before, threw the NCAA Championship record in the hammer and ranks only behind Olympian Kibwe Johnson on the All-Time NCAA DII list. I also tell him it is impressive because Kibwe was twenty-eight at the time he set the record, and I think Darien hadn’t yet turned twenty-one as a true fourth-year senior. The Throwers Page ranked our men’s squad as one of the top five programs in all of college that season. Also, last year our women’s team finished as NCAA runners-up indoors and outdoors. Indoors, Dajsha Avery broke the fifty-foot barrier in the shot and earned All-American honors after having  thrown thirty feet and gotten second-to-last two years ago at the conference championships. At the outdoor meet, Mary Hecksel, a freshmen, threw thirty-six feet farther than her high school PR in the discus to finish third with a 172’ mark.

 Can you describe the facilities at Grand Valley. From what I’ve heard, they are pretty awesome.

We have probably one of the best track facilities in the country.

We have two full-sized weight rooms with eighteen combined racks/pads on them, and another two ‘pod’ style weight rooms with fours racks combined at both the indoor and outdoor track, and a rec center for weight training.

We have four athletic training stations and a chiro/physio who comes twice a week.

Our indoor facility is a 300m turf building with a ceiling high enough that Andrew Evans can non-reverse 65m with plenty of room to spare, although Sam Mattis did hit a light in warm ups, I think. [Note: GVSU holds an elite indoor discus competition each winter. More on that later.]

Indoors, we have a wooden discus circle that I just repainted this year, two additional wood shot/weight rings, and a cement shot/weight circle as well.

We throw discus for distance several times during a given week during the indoor season, and other times we lower the curtains and throw discus/hammer/javelin into them.

Our outdoor fields are used just for throwing and are not drainage areas, so they stay pretty dry throughout the year. We have two shot rings, a hammer/discus cage, and a two-way jav runway. There has to be 5-8,000 square feet of cement too, for drills/spectators.

The wind comes in a pretty perfect 10-20mph right corner cross for the discus. If we have to adjust at times because of weird weather, I will usually just get the wood ring from inside and place it out on the other end of the field so we can still have the desired wind that we need (we use the weight cage as a substitute barrier).

Probably the most important thing about the facilities is the amount of time we get to use them. We can use the outdoor areas 24/7. There are lights out there, so we can even throw at night if we ever really need to.

Indoors in the fall we get the turf building from 12:00-2:00 and during the winter 2:00-4:00. We get the weight rooms for ten hours a week, too.

Everything is also very conveniently located, so you can get from anywhere on campus to practice in ten minutes walking or five minutes by bike.

 Can you  tell me about your annual Big Throws Clinic?

This is our third year doing our Big Throws Clinic. It started out as a one-day camp for Michigan-area high school throwers and has turned into a two- day meet and clinic.

On Saturday, December 16, we’ll have a weight lifting seminar with Garage Strength’s Dane Miller, Olympic shot putter Justin Rodhe, and USA hammer thrower Sean Donnelly. Each will be disseminating twelve-week training programs and breaking down how to properly execute them. They each utilize three pretty unique training styles. Dane does a four-day upper/lower split with emphasis on snatch, bench and mobility work, while Donnelly uses a three-day triphasic model that utilizes no Olympic lifts and almost exclusively uses single-leg squat variations, and Rodhe uses the “Bondarchuk” system with his athletes. It’ll be good information for college and high school athlete/coaches alike and I don’t think anybody has given out training programs like this since John Smith did at the ITCCCA (Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association) clinic in 2007.

After the weight lifting seminar, we’ll have a dinner before the “wammer” competition. A “wammer” is a 35/25/20lb weight on half a hammer wire. I’ve had a lot of interest from elites about this, but I’m hoping more high school/college athletes sign up.

The purpose of the weight training seminar was to give more time during the weekend to go further into parts of throwing that we couldn’t get done previously in one day, and the point of the wammer competition is to give the hammer throwers another championship stage for their careers and help promote the sport. While there’s been plenty of indoor discus competitions around the world the last twenty years, not many people even use the wammer as a training tool. This will be the first ever competition for it, and I think that if people use them the right way they will throw everything further so I’m hoping to influence the sport and help younger throwers improve their training with this tool. Men will throw 35lbs, high school boys 25lbs, and women 20lbs. John Smith told me he thinks he will send his women up, but wants them to compete with the 25lbs ball as they already throw it over 30m in training. I don’t know if the rest of the field will be ready for that yet…

The next day, on Sunday morning, we’ll have three learn-by-doing segments intermittent with three classroom sessions by Rodhe, Miller, and Donnelly on various issues from technique to lifestyle. I think we may also do a panel discussion on Facebook live and let people write in questions. Halfway through the day we’ll have lunch (Brittany Smith made 150 bomb sandwiches last year for the clinic) and a multi-weight shot put competition using Rodhe’s glove.  [Note: Sean informs me that “bomb” sandwiches are what old people like me would call “really good” sandwiches.] Last year, Big 10 Champion Rachel Fatherly beat Olympian Taryn Suttie by just a few centimeters. Throwers will get three throws each with a light and heavy shot, furthest total distance wins.

Last year on the men’s side, Lucas Warning won the men’s event and went on to place 10th at the DI Meet as a glider. With our new volunteer coaches at GVSU I think we might have a deeper field than last year…[more on this below].

After the last learn-by-doing segment (we do three stations at once, shot/disc/hammer, campers choice each time) we’ll have the Elite Indoor Discus National Championships, Alex Rose has won the last two meetings.  Jason Young won the first ever meet in 2010. Last year we also had Olympian Andrew Evans and American College Record holder Sam Mattis compete along with World University Games Champion Reggie Jagers. They should all be back this year, and I’ve also got confirmations from NACAC U23 Champion Brian Williams and Olympian Jason Morgan. On the women’s side, NACAC Champion Beckie Famurewa won last year, and I’m hoping we can get more women to come and compete this season. I’ve concluded that being a female professional discus thrower might have the smallest market of all the track events, and so there are not many professionals and the ones that are usually live out west. Either way, I’ve contacted 300 college coaches to send their athletes to this meet and a number of professionals, but time will tell if they feel confident enough to come out here in December.

One of the ways I’m trying to help the women (and men) with this weekend is by working with USATF to make this part of their development programs for the throws. Each event group gets three to five mini-camps at the OTC each year to train, work with the biomedical people and get good weather. Right now, there is a proposition being considered to take one of the discus camps and move it to this weekend in Grand Rapids. They would fly out and house and feed all their men’s and women’s discus throwers for the weekend, and have them go through several training sessions in throwing, lifting,  Functional Movement and other evaluations, and finally the discus competition.  One of the ideas is to use it as a half way measuring point before and after USAs and to also help decide how and who to fund for the future. We will find out in a month or two if that will happen. Everyone I talk to seems really positive about the change, and I’m hoping it will allow us to get someone like Mason Finley out here so we can honor him before the competition for his performance at Worlds this past year.

 I understand you’ve got quite an interesting group of elite athletes set to train at GVSU this year.

This year I have five volunteer throws coaches on staff. There are no limits in DII on this situation, and with our facilities and location a lot of athletes have converged to train here this year.

GVSU alumni and NCAA Champion Darien Thornton is working on his masters degree and training here for the hammer throw. He finished 7th at USA’s last year.

Sporadically throughout the year, but probably not until December (he just got an invite to train full time at the OTC) my hammer thrower Sean Donnelly will get a training session or two in here. He finished third indoors in the weight and outdoors in the hammer this season.  Last year, Donnelly and I collaborated with Cal Dietz on weight room stuff, while I did the throwing side. This year we are going to move towards a little bit of a different approach to training, with a shorter indoor season due to the Worlds being held the first week of March (this has pushed the USA’s up to the second week of February rather than second week of march) and with Sean being able to throw outside in California.

My girlfriend, Brittany Smith, is a nineteen-meter shot putter for Nike and has been training here on and off since 2014. She was coached the last two years out in Kansas, but made a change this year and will be working with Ryan Whiting starting in October. She’ll move out to Phoenix at some point, but we’ll see each other every couple weeks. I help her out with whatever her coaches are having her do when they are not around.

New this year, Olympian Alex Rose will be training at GVSU. He spent the last two years as a graduate assistant at Aurora University (in Aurora, Illinois) but he and his wife are originally from this area. She got a job in Grand Rapids, so things kind of fell into place there. He works online with Dane Miller on technique and lifting, so I will act as a mediator to help Dane and Alex have the highest level training and communication possible.

Also new this year is World Championship competitor Dani Bunch. She has been coming here since 2014 on the weekends as she’s been dating and now married to one of my former athlete’s brothers who lives in the area. After getting married this fall, they’re getting a home together in town and things worked out with all of our infrastructure to give her a good training environment and group. She’s still working with her coach at Purdue, it will just be more satellite than before. Dani’s Husband, Zach Hill, is the Michigan state high school record holder in the shot put and has a similar role that I have with Brittany. I’ll facilitate their training to the best of my ability.

The last member of the group came together just this past weekend as Tia Brooks contacted me to train at GVSU. She is a local kid from Grand Rapids, and she is just coming back from taking a year off from competing and will use this year to get ready for Worlds/Olympics in 2019/2020. We’re still working out the details of her stay, but like the others I’m just going to provide whatever service she needs to help her throw far and train well.

Each one has a little different of a situation. I’m not everybody’s coach, but I’ll be an important resource to make sure they train and live at a high level. This is all kind of new to us, so we’re not sure how the group is going to work. I’m sure the dynamics will change over time, but I think it’s a pretty high level training group of professionals akin to what you might find at the Olympic Training Center or Oxford or Phoenix. I hope that each of this group of Laker Elite throwers can throw farther than they would on their own, and that it also encourages other athletes to form long-term training groups to improve our sport.

 

 

 

 

Einbecker discus webinar available on Youtube

On September 21, Roger Einbecker, the highly successful throws coach at Waubonsie Valley High School in the suburbs of Chicago, presented a webinar on discus technique. He analyzed the basics of sound discus throwing, using video of many outstanding throwers to illustrate his concepts.

Roger also provided some excellent drills to help build proper discus form.

That webinar can be viewed here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifyPWIhrhV0

Information about upcoming webinars will be available soon!

Discus webinar with Roger Einbecker

Roger Einbecker, for the last thirteen years the highly successful throws coach at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, Illinois, will present a webinar on discus technique on Thursday, September 21 at 7:00pm central time.

Roger plans to focus on the aspects of the discus throw that, in his experience, require the greatest amount of time and focus. He will present drills to correct technical faults and build solid form.

In his time at Waubonsie, Roger has coached 6 indoor state medalists in the shot and 9 outdoor state medalists in the shot and disc including his son Brett who threw the disc 197’6″.

Brett was an Illinois state champion, as were 3 additional athletes that Roger coached privately.

There is no charge for this webinar. Register here:

https://zoom.us/webinar/register/4048c58f24b66af87510d14dfea9e911

Shot Put webinars available on Youtube

Two recently broadcast shot put webinars can be found on Youtube.

The first is on the glide shot. It was hosted by me and originally offered this past June:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-FfK2z8iXo&t=922s

The second is on the rotational shot. It was hosted by Jeff Rebholz of Towson University and originally broadcast earlier this month:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YB4_BKzgXy4&t=19s

More webinars are in  the works, so stay tuned!

Former Coach Lynden Reder debuts Velaasa

As a result of the “foul or no foul” scandal in the men’s shot at the recent World Championships, throws obsessives are a lot more familiar with Joe Kovacs’ feet today than they were a couple of weeks ago.

That’s Joe above. Those are his feet below.

And if you took a moment from trying to figure out if that really was a foul to ask yourself “What in the heck brand of shoes is that man wearing?” I can provide an answer to the second of those two mysteries.

Joe is wearing a prototype of a shoe that he is developing under the auspices of a company called Velaasa, which was founded by former University of Minnesota throws coach Lynden Reder.

Lynden started working at Minnesota in the fall of 2008, and stepped down after the 2016 outdoor season tired of  the travel demands of DI coaching.

After taking a month off to ponder his future, Coach Reder decided to start a business. His love for the sport of track and field dictated the direction of that business. A desire to solve a series of problems he had run into as a coach dictated the focus.

The first problem he decided to take on was, as he put it, “a lack of attractive, highly-functional, Olympic lifting shoes on the market.”

Having once considered a career in graphic design, he decided to use his long dormant artistic skills to design “the most athletic-looking lifting shoe of all time.”

The result was a product that Lynden dubbed the “Strake.”

 

Besides being a sharp-looking shoe, this product will come with three different heights of wooden heel that can easily be interchanged, and which can be decorated with a school logo.

The next problem Coach Reder decided to tackle was the inconsistency in diameter among shots and hammers of varying weights. He explained that “at Minnesota, we did a lot of training with light and heavy implements, but it could be awkward for the thrower as a sixteen-pound shot might be 129mm in diameter but a six-kilo shot might have a diameter of 110mm.”

Lynden’s favorite implements at Minnesota were those manufactured by Polanik, so he flew to Poland for a meeting and came home with an agreement to be a dealer for Polanik products including a newly designed line of training implements with consistent diameters.

For example, they will offer women’s shots in the 3k to 5k range in 0.25k increments, with all implements from 3k to 4.5k having the same 113mm diameter.

On the men’s side, they will offer shots from 14 to 18 pounds in 1lb increments, all with a diameter of 135mm.  Additionally, they will produce a 125mm 6k shot and a 9k at both 135mm and 154mm.

A similar variety of training implements for the weight, discus, and hammer will also be available.

A final problem that Coach Reder hopes to address through Velaasa is the difficulty that post-collegiate throwers in this country face in supporting themselves while continuing their careers.

He thinks he has a solution that will help grow his business while offering post-collegians a chance to make some money.

That solution is the Velaasa Track Club.

Club members, such as the aforementioned Joe Kovacs, will  use their contacts (social media and otherwise) to promote Velaasa products. When a customer purchases an item from Velaasa, they can designate Joe to receive a commission.

As mentioned above, Joe has been working with Velaasa to develop a rotational shot put shoe, and may collaborate with them on other products as well.

According to Lynden,  “One of the biggest things that differentiates us is that if you sign with the Velaasa Track Club, you will own your personal brand, we will partner with you to design a shoe or other products, and it will lead to a long term commitment with our company,”

And, rather than being at the mercy of a certain behemoth athletic wear company which has been known to giveth and taketh away sponsorship deals with little regard for the well being of the athlete, Lynden wants to give Velaasa reps “the opportunity to leverage their network to bring in revenue. And, since we are a small company, we can give lots of support and personal attention.”

For more information, visit https://velaasa.com/

 

 

 

 

A Q&A with Coach Dale Stevenson

You know how when someone loses an election or an Academy Award they always say they’re happy for the winner, but you know in their head they’re really thinking, “I hope that blankety-blank falls into an empty well or gets dengue fever”?

Well, there were for sure some bitterly disappointed competitors at last weekend’s men’s shot put competition at the London World Championships, but none of that bitterness was directed towards gold medalist Tom Walsh of New Zealand, one of the true gentlemen of the sport.

And it turns out that Tom’s coach, Dale Stevenson, is a great guy as well. The day after Tom’s win, he took a few minutes off from a celebratory visit to a London pub to talk about Tom’s career, his unusual off-season pursuit, and the challenges of grinding out a win at a major championship.

McQ: Congratulations, Coach. That was a huge win for Tom.

DS: Thanks. Tom is a great athlete and more importantly, a great human being. It is a fun journey to work with someone like that. We are both aspiring to be good at our craft, and it’s an exciting time for Tom and for the throws in New Zealand in general.

McQ: How long have you been Tom’s coach?

DS:  Officially since 2014. Prior to that we were competitors. I stopped competing in 2012, and was sort of mate/mentor to Tom for a couple of years. We officially formalized it in 2014 when I moved to New Zealand and started working there, and the rest is history.

McQ: Are you employed by the New Zealand federation?

DS: Yes, I’m the head throws coach for Athletics New Zealand.

McQ: You said you moved to New Zealand. Where did you move from?

DS: I’m originally Australian. Born and raised in Melbourne and competed for Australia. My wife and I moved to New Zealand in 2014. It was a major checkpoint for our lives, and here we are three years later and loving it.

McQ: What does your wife do?

DS: My wife was originally in real estate. Now she works in recruitment. She is incredibly supportive. They say behind every good man is an even better woman. I want to thank her…she supported me right through my throwing career and now as a coach in a job that requires extended time on the road and is not a nine-to-five job. I love her with all my heart, and she is a huge part of this result here in London, as are the other members of our team.

McQ: How does Tom maintain such a high level of performance over the long season from indoors to the end of the outdoor season? Last year, for example, he was World Indoor Champion then still threw great at the Olympics five months later. How do you keep him at that level for such an extended time?

DS: It is a bit of a different philosophy than in the US model. We don’t have the collegiate system, so there is not a huge amount of pressure on our athletes to be at their peak when they are seventeen/eighteen/nineteen years of age. Tom is twenty-four now, and we’ve had a long term plan with incremental improvement. We don’t take crazy risks to make fast gains. I guess it’s a bit more measured from other philosophies out there. There are guys who are super strong five, six, seven years younger than Tom just blowing crazy numbers up, but they tend to have more erratic series in meets like major championships. I was fortunate to have spent a lot of time under the mentorship of Don Babbitt (longtime throws coach at the University of Georgia) and spent a lot of time training with Reese Hoffa. And that’s probably something that Reese did well across his career, and as a result he’s one of the greatest shot putters of all time. Improve by small increments over time, and brick by brick you end up building an impressive career. We’ve got the luxury of taking that kind of approach in New Zealand because we don’t have the rigor of the hard selection trial like the US Championships every year. And we get support from the federation. We are trying to leverage our advantages, and as a result it has been a long, steady road, and we are now at the point with Tom that his bad days are still enough to get him through qualifying rounds.

McQ: Is his good health partly due to the slow progress in training that he’s made over the years. To the fact that he wasn’t rushed?

DS: Absolutely. Tom was incredibly fortunate. His first coach when he was a young boy was a really wise man who lives in a small, rural town in New Zealand. He taught Tom that no one competition was worth sacrificing your health and well-being. He planted the seed at a young age, but it requires a certain kind of demeanor and Tom has it. Some guys like to get really fired up and go out and chase that one huge throw, whereas Tom is more prepared to say “What am I going to do to get one percent better today?” Eventually, that adds up. That incremental improvement is something that we are looking for.

McQ: Is it true that Tom does construction work in the off-season?

DS: Yes, he does. In October, November, and December he works three hard days a week depending on training and where he is at physically. He’s got a good relationship with his employer. They basically let him pick his own hours. And it is an important part of his development as a shot putter. We feel this is crucial for his development as a good human being and a good athlete.

McQ: Do you feel that it is mentally healthy for him to go back to being a “normal person” for a couple of months a year?

DS: Totally. We want our athletes to be balanced. We want them to be smart and to feel grateful for the opportunity of getting paid to do sports for a living. When you’re up at 5:30am and you’re laying bricks, you’re laying a foundation, or you’re digging holes or whatever you are doing on the construction site it gives you a really gracious mindset when you come into training. Training feels like a privilege. It is good for Tom to have something in his life other than throwing. For his development as a young man, it’s crucial.

McQ: Will he go back to working construction this October?

DS: Yes, We’ve got a short turnaround this year with World Indoors in March and then the Commonwealth Games, which is a reasonably big deal in New Zealand, in April. So, he may have a shorter time on the job, but we’ll have a conversation about that when the season in Europe ends.

McQ: Let’s talk about the Worlds. Tom had a perfect day in qualification. One throw. Killed it. (22.14m to be exact). That had to feel good.

DS: Absolutely. It doesn’t matter whether you throw 20.75m, the auto, or 24.75m as long as you get the qualifying out of the way. It gives you the peace of mind to go ahead and line it up the next day.

McQ: Watching the competition, it seemed like it took everybody several throws to find their timing.

DS: That’s not unusual for a major championship. Guys like Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs, they’ve been there and done it before and they still get challenged by that. It’s not unusual for them to take a couple of rounds to get into their work. You’ve just got to work through it and deal with it and bring your way into the competition. Get into the top eight to guarantee yourself six throws. And guys started to free up towards the end. But to be honest, those were funny results. But it is what it is. Championships do funny things to people.

McQ: Even with super-experienced throwers, do you feel like the atmosphere at a World Championships or Olympic Games can be hard to manage?

DS: It’s just so infrequent. The exposure to it three times every four seasons. And guys like David Storl, Ryan Crouser, Ryan Whiting, Joe Kovacs, Tom…they want to be regarded as among the handful of throwers who are the best who ever picked up a shot. They are vying for their legacy, essentially. The first things that people look at are the Olympic Games and World Championships, and you’ve got to perform well there if you want to be considered among the best. When it means something, it does funny things to us as human beings. It is strange that we pin our self-worth and our meaning as a human being on an arbitrary kind of competition where you pick up a metal ball and throw it, but hey, we all do it.

McQ: During competition, I know a  lot of throwers like to  check in with their coach between throws. Do you and Tom do that?

DS: No, we don’t. I’m there, but my end game is to make myself redundant, so we are working towards Tom becoming more and more independent and not needing me. I’m trying to work towards being more of a safety net. It’s probably going to take a little more time, but I’m pretty content Tom’s got a good feel for what he’s doing now. He knows what he has to do and when he has to do it. My role is kind of like the bumpers in ten pin bowling. If he goes too far one way, I sort of give him a nudge back the other way. He’s getting better and better at bowling strikes, so my role is probably becoming more and more redundant, which is fine with me.

McQ: Did you say anything to him during the final in London?

DS: Yes. There were a couple of technical things he needed to iron out. He was throwing early in the order in the first three rounds, then last in the order for the final three rounds, so that meant that he had twenty or twenty-five minutes between throws from the third to the fourth round, so I think more than anything just to break up that time he came over and we had a few words. It was mainly to get out of the heat of the battle, because you’ve got twelve guys pacing around in a fairly confined arena. Sometimes just getting out of that and going and seeing a different face helps you to reset.

McQ: Was your heart beating like crazy when some of those guys were taking cracks at twenty-two meters?

DS: Absolutely. It would have been foolish to think that the competition was sewn up at any point when you have guys that can throw well over twenty-two on any given day. We knew it would come down to the wire and we were prepared for that. I was probably more calm than I have been at any other major championship because I knew Tom was in good shape. We’d done all the work that could be done. But, the heart rate does go up. When it was all done and Tom came over, I found myself jumping the fence and running out on the track to give him a hug.

McQ: But you kept your clothes on, right? Unlike the guy on Saturday night?

DS: Say again?

McQ: You kept your clothes on, unlike the streaker on Saturday night?

DS: I did keep my clothes on. Security was keeping a close eye on me. I managed to shrug a few of them off I was so pumped for him. Tom’s an amazing athlete and he deserves everything that comes his way. I just wanted to affirm that for him, and it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

McQ: I know people in the sport really like Tom.

DS: I was talking to Art Venegas (coach of Joe Kovacs) last night about this. We talked about how important it is to mentor athletes into becoming good human beings. I’d rather coach a lesser athlete who is a good person than a medal winner who is an asshole. But you can have good athletes who are also good people, and certainly Tom is one of them as is Joe and Ryan and many of the other guys. As we speak, I’m out having a drink and Ryan Whiting has come to join us to help celebrate Tom’s victory. That speaks to the character of Ryan and to his selflessness. We are incredibly thankful to everyone who has helped us around the world. We’ve got great friends in the US and they continue to welcome us and have us back every year. I’d like to say thanks to everyone who has helped us along the way.

McQ: One last question. Were you surprised that Stipe Zunic (the bronze-medalist from Croatia) was able to put Tom on his shoulders during the victory lap?

DS: No. Stipe is probably the strongest guy throwing at the moment. He is a beast. Stipe could probably pick up three guys and put them on his shoulders. He’s a large man who can move. He competed in the martial arts and was a fine javelin thrower. I wouldn’t want to get in his way, but fortunately, he’s a great guy too. He seized his opportunity to get on the podium, and good on him.

 

London Predictions: Women’s Shot

There has been a recent development.

Just last week, China’s Lijiao Gong

…cracked the 20-meter barrier for the first time this season. Her 20.11m put in Bohmenkirch, Germany vaulted her into the world lead by a substantial margin over Raven Saunders, whose 19.76m blast at the USA Championships in June announced her as  a serious  gold medal candidate.

After finishing a disappointing fourth in Rio with a 19.39m toss (she had thrown 20.22m to take silver at the London Games) Gong appears to be in excellent trim as she seeks a fourth outdoor World Championships medal.

Standing in her way is a formidable female foursome.

The aforementioned Saunders has been something of a riddle during this long collegiate indoor into collegiate outdoor into World Championships season.

She won the NCAA Indoor meet with a massive 19.56m effort, then sank to 4th at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

Buried in fifth place as she stepped in for her final  throw at the USA Championships, she detonated that 19.76m bomb. (You  can read more about that incendiary moment here: http://mcthrows.com/?p=1820)

The question is, which Raven will show up in  London? The confident butt-whipper who PR’d in Rio and came up big in Sacramento, or the foul prone, sulking Raven who could not find her bearings in Eugene?

And how about Dani Bunch?

She is exhibit A for those who argue the superiority of the rotational technique. Certainly, her switch to the spin (detailed here: http://mcthrows.com/?p=1829 ) has paid off.  She went from a really good Big 10 shot putter as a glider to one of the top throwers in the world as a spinner.

The question is, will her technique hold up under the pressure of her first really, really, I mean really big meet?

And what of the most decorated female rotational thrower of the past few years, the Hungarian Anita Marton?

She was fourth in  the Beijing Worlds.  Second at last year’s Indoor Worlds in Portland. Third in Rio with a 19.87m PR.

With that track record in major competitions,  there is no question about Anita keeping her stuff together in London.

Her best throw this year is 19.63m, but it came on April 30th. Has she slipped a bit since last year, or has she simply been biding her time all summer, waiting to shine on the big stage as she did in Rio?

And let’s not forget the defending Olympic and Indoor World champion Michelle Carter. 

Her best this year is the 19.34m that got her third in Sacramento. That’s more than a meter less than her gold-medal-winning toss in Rio, but considering that she won her World Indoor and Olympic titles with titanic sixth round chucks, there will be no such thing as a safe lead in London until she’s  had her say.

Aside from these five, I  see no one who has  a reasonable chance at getting on the podium. So, it is time for some predictions.

Trofimuk

Gold: Carter.

Reason: Even after Gong’s recent twenty-meter toss, Trofimuk has not lost faith in Carter’s ability to rise to any occasion. She is, according to him, “Much in the clutch.”

Silver: Marton

Reason: Trofimuk’s gut tells him that Marton is ready to go big, and he suspects that Raven’s loooong season will make it tough for her to rise to the occasion.

Bronze: Saunders

McQ

Gold: Gong

Reason: If the women’s shot consisted only of Gong versus Saunders, it would still be enough to set this man’s heart aflutter. The world’s best glider against the world’s best spinner. China against the United States. Monolithic communism against Coach John Smith.

Forget NBC Gold, this match-up should be available only on pay-per-view.

And if I were NBC, I’d arrange a bunch of Mayweather v. McGregor style press conferences with lots of posturing and Mandarin cuss words.

Anyway, as  much as I love the pure, sometimes malevolent energy that Raven has brought to the sport, I’m giving the nod to Gong based on her extensive international experience.

Either way, don’t miss it.

Silver: Saunders

Reason: From a fan’s point of view, the great thing about Raven is that every time she enters the ring, it is possible that something amazing might happen. She might foul a huge throw then go headbutt Coach Smith, then get back in the ring and throw 20 meters. It’s like watching Nascar. You don’t want to see somebody get into a huge wreck, but the fact that it might happen really keeps your attention.

I’m guessing that Raven will avoid a ten-car pileup in London, but if Gong is as fit as she appears, it will be hard to match her consistency.

Bronze: Marton

Reason: God knows I love and respect Michelle Carter. She has personally made the United States a dominant force in women’s shot putting. But it might take 19.70m to medal in London, and based on the year she’s had, I just don’t see her getting there.

Same for Dani. She has had an amazing year, and on a given day she can outgun Marton (as she did at the Shanghai DL meeting) but when it comes to the Olympics and World Championships, experience can make a big difference.