All posts by Daniel McQuaid

A chat with Dale Stevenson after Tom Walsh’s big win in Birmingham

One nice thing about covering the throwing events is that the day after someone turns in a fantastic performance, say Tom Walsh breaking the Indoor World Championship shot put record in Birmingham last weekend (with a throw of 22.31m thank you very much) you can call up  his coach and have a really interesting chat with him while he’s sitting around an airport waiting for a flight to New Zealand.

And that’s exactly what I did last Sunday.

I called up Tom’s coach, Dale Stevenson, and shot the breeze with him for a while about how things have been going for Tom.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who is so pleasant to talk to that it seems like you’re having a beer together even though you aren’t? That’s what it’s like talking to Dale. Actually, the first time I called him–last summer after Tom had won the outdoor World Championships in London–he was having a beer, in a London pub while celebrating Tom’s big win.  That did not prevent him, though, from taking the time to answer a bunch of questions about Tom’s career and training.

(You can read that interview here.)

This past Sunday, he was equally generous with his time. I’d actually caught him in a bit of a reflective mood.

He mentioned that they had to head straight back to New Zealand because the national championships were just a few days away, and I complimented him on his and Tom’s ability to manage the huge travel demands faced by someone living and training half a world away from most international competitions.

He replied that for athletes from “our sleepy little corner of the world” being away from home is “just part of the territory,” and pointed out the dichotomy faced by many coaches that “being away from loved ones sometimes makes you question whether this is something you really want to do,” but at the same time “steels your resolve” to do it well.

Right now, nobody is doing shot putting as well as Tom Walsh, and as a throws geek writing for the benefit of fellow throws geeks, I opened with some questions regarding Tom’s technique.

If you’ve seen Tom throw, you’ve likely noticed that his setup at the back of the ring is pretty unusual–his left foot on the center line and his right foot staggered back quite a bit. You can see it clearly in this still from a training session that Tom posted a couple of days before Worlds.

I asked Dale how Tom ended up adopting this method of setting up the throw.

“It was just a natural evolution,” he told me. “People learn to straddle the back of the ring initially just because of symmetry. You go from there, and as things evolve you see most throwers working their left foot back to the top of the ring, whether you call that the twelve o’clock or six o’clock position. We kept playing with it until we found the sweet spot, and as Tom gets stronger and can maintain his posture and rhythm, year upon year it is probably going to change and he will end up coming more around trying to maximize the rotation out of the back of the ring and the drive across the middle.”

Like other highly successful throws coaches I’ve spoken to over the years, Dale was careful to point out that just because something works for Tom doesn’t mean that it would work for most throwers.  

“We are not trying to copy anyone or change the game. It’s just playing around and finding what works. Tom also likes to start back away from the ring and not jammed up against it so he feels like he can have a nice, clean, flying entry to the throw.”

Another notable aspect of Tom’s technique is the way he throws open his left side when initiating the throw. As a high school coach, I am intrigued by this because I find myself constantly trying to get my athletes to slow down their left side out of the back. But, according to Dale, the active left side allows Tom to create energy that eventually enhances the drive across the ring into the power position.  (These photos of Tom’s entry phase should help illustrate Dale’s comments.)

“We see it as a coupling between the left hand or arm and the right leg. We want to create a diagonal sling. That creates more power than trying to push the right leg. It’s about timing that sling, keeping it on stretch and timing it so that you can couple that initial tension with the drive across the ring.”

I then asked Dale what, for me, is the vital question regarding the rotational throws: When should the right foot leave the ground when coming out of the back of the ring?

“For Tom, the right foot comes off sort of as a symptom. We don’t think about picking it up or kicking hard. It is kind of like the cracking of a whip–you crack the handle of the whip and eventually the end of the whip will come through faster as a result. If you crack the end of the whip, it’s not going to be as fast as if you let the chain of events play out. We never talk about it. We never train it. We see it as a symptom, not as a cause.”

With no outdoor World Championships or Olympics this summer, I asked Dale what would be the focus of their efforts the rest of the year.

He pointed to the Commonwealth Games in April (to be held in Australia). “Along with the Olympics, it is the one thing missing from Tom’s record. In 2014, he was beaten on the last round on a great throw from O’Dayne Richards. It burns a bit.”

Tom’s agent is also negotiating a couple of possible appearances in the United States, perhaps at the Kansas or Drake Relays.

Any thoughts of taking things a bit easy in this non-Worlds, non-Olympic year?

Nope.

According to Dale, “Each year leads into the following, and the way men’s shot is going you can’t afford to sit back and assume 22 meters is going to be enough to win a major championships. There is a chance that you will have to be around there just to make the finals.”

Alright then, since there will be no slacking off this summer, how about taking a whack at the world record?

“There are enough guys out there that can do it. Tom wasn’t throwing phenomenal at a young age. He’s been told a number of times that he’s not big enough or strong enough to throw 20 meters, then 21, then 22. Eventually, you run out of reasons to believe that you can’t do something. There are enough guys around that are pushing big numbers. We want to be in the mix.”

I told Dale that, in my humble opinion, if Tom stays healthy for the next couple of years he is one of three guys (along with Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs) who have a chance to establish a new world record. Did he agree?

My question brought out his inner diplomat.  

“I don’t know how to answer that question. How about this: I hope I’m there.”

Fair enough. And one thing is for sure, Dale. The day after it happens, I’ll be giving you a call.

Jim Aikens to host free webinar on coaching the high school thrower

Jim Aikens spent thirty years building a top notch throwing program at Fremd High School in Palatine, Illinois, and has now undertaken the challenge of starting from scratch at Burlington  Central High School.

This has caused Jim to re-examine his approach to developing  throwers. Which drills, for example, will work best for athletes with no experience at learning the rotational shot put? How should a coach divide his practice time among throwing, drilling, and lifting when his athletes need tons of work in each of those areas?

We invite you to join us as Jim discusses these matters and more in a webinar titled “Coaching the High School Thrower: Drills, Skills, and other fun stuff.”

This live webinar will take place on Sunday, March 11 at noon Central Standard Time. Participants will be able to ask questions throughout Jim’s presentation. Registration is free. Follow this link to sign up.

Torsten Schmidt Lönnfors Discus Webinar Coming Tomorrow!

On December 9th at noon Central Standard Time, Torsten Schmidt Lönnfors, Coach of Rio Olympic Champion Chris Harting, will present a webinar on the German method of training young discus throwers.

Here is an outline of the topics he will cover:

  1. German Support Systems for Young Athletes

sports school

sports clubs

Olympic support center

the role of the German federation

2. Long Term Education Concepts

3. Possibilities for Training During Youth/School Years

4. Planning a Season for Youth Athletes

main training resources

build-up, progression, shaping

condition training

5. My Philosophy on Youth Training

general training

weight lifting/special strength training

training technique/motor learning

6. My Personal Coaching Principles

The cost for this webinar is $30. To register, first follow this link to pay on Paypal.

Next, follow this link to register on Zoom.

You will then receive an email invite allowing you to access the webinar.

Anyone who registers and pays will also be given access to a video of the webinar on Coachtube.

 

 

Just rehearsed with Torsten Schmidt Lönnfors for next Saturday’s discus webinar

After the 2004 Olympics I somehow got my hands on a CD with clips from the men’s discus competition, and I often watched it with my throwers. That was the year that the great Virgilius Alekna opened with a titanic 69.89m toss (still the Olympic record) and walked out of the ring looking pissed because he knew that his arch nemesis Robert Fazekas was capable of beating that mark.

Fazekas did, in fact, surpass Virgilius’s record toss (what did he throw, just under 71 meters, wasn’t it?) but then ran into a bit of trouble with the anti-doping folks when they insisted on watching very carefully as he…ummm…prepared to provide a urine sample. The testers had been tipped off that Fazekas had been pulling the old switcheroo and submitting someone else’s clean urine in place of his own.  Much vexed that the testers would not get out of his grill, Fazekas stormed out of the testing room and into infamy.

Also on that CD were clips of Franz Kruger showing off his long-levered fixed-feet style, the super smooth Aleksander Tammert, and a very tall young German named Torsten Schmidt.

Fast forward ten years, and I just happened to be walking through the lobby of a hotel near the Zurich airport when I spotted that tall, still remarkably fit German ambling towards the elevator.

He was in  Zurich coaching 2012 Olympic champion Robert Harting and Julia Fischer (now Julia Harting) at the 2014 European Championships. Another thrower in his stable, Chris Harting, was not competing in Zurich that week, but would go on to win discus gold in Rio.

I accosted him and unleashed a barrage of questions about discus  technique, which he patiently answered then and continues to patiently answer to this day.

Now married to a wonderful woman named Sanna Lönnfors (Torsten has since taken on Sanna’s last name) Torsten has agreed to share his insights on the German method of developing young discus throwers via a webinar to be offered Saturday, December 9th at noon Central Standard Time.

Roger Einbecker (my partner in crime with this website and with our webinars) and I rehearsed Torsten’s webinar yesterday, and I can tell you, it is going to be fascinating to anyone who trains teenage discus throwers.

One clip that Torsten shared with us was of a young thrower he is currently training performing discus steps in a gym while holding a small weight plate. It is the kind of drill that many of us have our athletes do, but Torsten has an approach to it that coaches will find really, really interesting.

Roger and I agreed afterwards that we could have spent the better part of an hour just asking Torsten questions about that clip.

And that is just one segment of what promises to be a super informative presentation.

The cost to attend this webniar is $30. I invite you to join us by following this link to Paypal, and then following this link to register for the webinar.

Attendees will be able to submit questions throughout the webinar. It will last somewhere between 90 minutes and 2 hours.

Afterwards, a video of the presentation will be posted to Coach Tube, where those who have paid the $30 registration fee will be given access to it at no additional charge.

The webinar will be limited to 100 attendees.

I hope you can join us!

 

Preparing your training plans for 2018? Get ideas from German Federation coach Torsten Schmidt.

Part of the fun and challenge of coaching throwers is figuring out how to organize their training over the course of the season. How much time should your athletes spend lifting weights? Which lifts are the most essential? What other types of exercises are important to a thrower’s development? How do you blend everything together into a training cycle, a training week, a single practice?

On Saturday, December 9th at noon Central Standard Time, throws coaches can get some expert advice on those matters from German Federation coach Torsten Schmidt.

Torsten was an Olympian himself in 2004, and in the years since he has coached many fine throwers including Rio men’s discus champion Chris Harting.

Torsten’s December 9th presentation will be available as a webinar. Here is an outline of the topics he will cover:

  1. German Support Systems for Young Athletes

sports school

sports clubs

Olympic support center

the role of the German federation

2. Long Term Education Concepts

3. Possibilities for Training During Youth/School Years

4. Planning a Season for Youth Athletes

main training resources

build-up, progression, shaping

condition training

5. My Philosophy on Youth Training

general training

weight lifting/special strength training

training technique/motor learning

6. My Personal Coaching Principles

7. Questions/Discussion

The fee for this webinar will be $30.

To register, follow this link to pay on Paypal.

Then, follow this link to sign up on Zoom.

After completing both of these steps, you will receive an email invitation giving you access to the webinar.

This webinar will be limited to the first 100 registrations.

 

Develop young discus throwers the German way: Upcoming webinar with Torsten Schmidt

Since 1992, the first Olympics after German reunification, Germany has produced a remarkable number of discus medalists at the Olympics and World Championships.

I don’t mean to insult the USA, and things are looking up for us after Mason Finley’s bronze-medal performance in London last summer, but take a look at these numbers:

Olympic  and World Championship Discus medals since 1992

German Men: 20  (10 gold)

US Men: 2  (1 gold)

German Women: 7  (4 gold)

US Women: 1 (1 gold)

These numbers illustrate what a great job the Germans have done in developing discus talent, and on Saturday, December 9th, at noon Central Standard Time, German Federation coach (and former Olympian) Torsten Schmidt will offer insights into how Germany has consistently produced excellent discus throwers.

This webinar will cost $30 and last from 90-120 minutes. Attendees will be able to submit questions throughout the presentation.

To register, follow these two steps.

  1. Follow this link to pay $30 on Paypal.
  2. Follow this link to register for the webinar.

Once both steps are completed, you will receive an email invite to the webinar.

This webinar will be limited to the first 100 registrants.

Unlike our previous webinars, a recording of this one will not be posted to Youtube.

 

 

 

Torsten Schmidt Webinar “German Discus Training for Young Throwers” to be presented December 9th

Torsten Schmidt, the coach of Rio Olympic gold medalist Chris Harting, will present a webinar on  “German Discus Training for Young Throwers” on Saturday, December 9th at noon Central Standard Time.

This is an unprecedented opportunity to get an inside look into the system which has produced many World Championship and Olympic medalists.

Torsten’s presentation will focus on the training of discus throwers under the age of twenty.

Here is an outline of the topics he will cover:

  1. German Support Systems for Young Athletes

     sports school

     sports clubs

     Olympic support center

     the role of the German federation

2. Long Term Education Concepts

3. Possibilities for Training During Youth/School Years

4. Planning a Season for Youth Athletes

     main training resources

     build-up, progression, shaping

     condition training

5. My Philosophy on Youth Training

     general training

     weight lifting/special strength training

     training technique/motor learning

6. My Personal Coaching Principles

7. Questions/Discussion

After making the discus final at the 2004 Olympics, Torsten transitioned to coaching and gained valuable experience mentoring young throwers at the Federation Training Center in Neubrandenburg. While there, he helped develop  outstanding young athletes  such as Anna Ruh, Patrick Muller, and Henning and Clemens Prufer,

For the past several years he has been based in the Federal Training Center in Berlin. In 2016, he coached Robert Harting, Julia Fischer Harting, and Chris Harting to the Rio Olympics where Chris won the gold medal.

The cost for this webinar is $30.  Attendees will be able to submit questions throughout Torsten’s presentation. This webinar (the presentation and the Q&A segment) will last somewhere around 90-120 minutes.

Unlike our previous webinars, a video of Torsten’s presentation will not be posted to Youtube.

Registration for this webinar requires two parts. First, fill out this registration form.

Next, use this link to pay the registration fee on Paypal.

You will then receive an email invitation to attend the webinar. This invitation will be sent by December 1st.

If you have any questions regarding this webinar, please contact Dan McQuaid at daniel.mcquaid@cusd200.org

 

Sean Foulkes webinar on building a great throws program now available on Youtube

Much thanks to Sean Foulkes of Portage Northern High School in Michigan for sharing the methods he has used to build a robust high school throws program. Sean detailed his program philosophy, his recruiting techniques, and his ideas about organizing effective practices.

Here is a video of Sean’s presentation:

Stay tuned for more webinars. We’ve got some great ones in the works that will help coaches prepare for the upcoming season.

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