All posts by Daniel McQuaid

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

 

 

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.