By any measure, DeAnna Price of Southern Illinois University had a great collegiate career. After winning the 2015 NCAA hammer title as a junior, she opened her senior season on March 19th with a 72.19m toss at the Alabama Relays and finished with an NCAA meet record 71.53m on June 9th in Eugene. In between, she broke the 70-meter barrier in nine of the ten meets in which she competed.
It was this ability to be consistently excellent under a variety of conditions that interested me most about DeAnna’s season, and her coach, J.C. Lambert was kind enough to answer my questions about her mental approach to competition.
First question. DeAnna was remarkably consistent this year. It seemed like she threw 70 meters every week. What was it about her personality and her preparation that allowed her to do that?
She’s a tiger when she competes, she will go after throws no matter the situation. The one thing we’ve been working on a lot this year is making sure her first throw makes finals and she gets a 70m+ throw within her first three throws.
Have you two worked at all on any sort of pre-meet ritual? Are there a certain number or types of warm-up throws that she likes to take?
As far as a pre-meet ritual, she does a light lift, she likes to eat either Olive Garden pasta or half a chicken with a baked potato the night before. Breakfast the morning of, she likes to have one pancake with syrup, no butter, some eggs and meat along with coffee.
For warm up throws, she likes to start with turns with a two ball system. That’s one thing we’ve used this year to help her turns and with pushing the hammer. After that, she usually goes to a left arm throw and 1-2 80% throws and then is ready to go.
What do you mean by a “left arm” throw?
With a left arm throw, it’s a drill we use a times to warm up. You just take the hammer with your left arm, wind it like a regular throw, turn and throw.
Here is something that gives me endless amounts of trouble as a high school coach. Over the course of a season, my guys will, like DeAnna, develop their own routine for warming up. But, there are times when that routine gets disrupted. Rain delays. Officials who for some reason decide to limit the warm-up period. This year, at our state meet, the guy in charge decided to move the shot competition indoors due to predictions of dire weather. So, after eight weeks of competing outside with an iron shot, the competitors were moved into the field house and made to share four indoor shots, three of which were egg-shaped. There went their routine. That’s an extreme example, but I’ve heard stories about having flights of 25 at the World Championships, or of Reese Hoffa getting a single warm-up throw at the Athens Olympics. Have you worked with DeAnna on staying focused even when her routine is disrupted?
Deanna does pretty good in tough situations. When it gets down to the bigger meets, your athlete should be ready to go no matter the situation as long as long as the preparation leading up to the meet is done right. I learned as a athlete a long time ago that there will never be a perfect meet, something(s) will always try to get in your way. You must learn to adapt and adjust. You have to go with the flow. Deanna understands this and has done a great job so far with her mental preparation.
If you have a lump of coal you think has the potential to be a diamond, you must put that lump of coal under extreme and intense pressure. If it survives, you have a diamond. If it breaks apart and crumbles, then you just have coal. Not all lumps of coal are meant to be diamonds just like all athletes aren’t meant to be world class competitors. During practice, you must put your athletes under various situations that may pop up at a meet. Some athletes can learn and adapt quick, some have to be guided and talked through, others can just never seems to get past the little things that get in their way.
Can you give me an example of something you might do in practice to help get your throwers ready to handle a pressure situation?
For handling competition- At any time of the practice, I will bring up a meet time situation that they may be faced with. For example, Deanna might be at the middle or near the end of her practice and I will bring up a situation to where I will have her imagine that she is currently 4th place at the Olympic Trials, just been jumped by someone. I will say she has 1 or 2 more rounds to beat her best mark to make the Olympic team.
What is your role during competitions? At the NCAA meet, were you in a position where you could talk with DeAnna between throws? If so, can you characterize your interactions? Dave Dumble once told me that between attempts he tried to give his throwers a compliment on something they were doing well, then give them a suggestion on what to improve, then finish with some encouraging words. Can you tell me about your approach?
During competitions, most times I am at a place where I am able to talk to her. Leading up to big meets, I try to keep my coaching towards her simple in practice. That way if she messes up, I can use a simple cue that she’s very familiar with and it clicks in her head fast. That means less thinking and more competing. I also will let her know what she’s doing great during her throw and then will follow it up with something simple to fix. I try to be confident, aggressive, and excited when I say explain something to her. She really feeds off attitude and excitement.
Which competition this year presented the biggest challenge mentally, and how did you two deal with it? Will the challenge at the Olympic Trials be to treat it like it is any other big meet and not get overwhelmed by its significance? If so, how will you manage that?
The biggest meet of the year for Deanna will be Olympic Trials. At a lot of the meets this year, Deanna has been trying to throw for a mark (college record). When she tried to throw for a certain mark, she actually tries way too hard and thinks too much about it, compared to when she competes against someone.
If you watched her compete at NCAAs, you could see what I am talking about. Even though she had a big throw in her and had a big sector foul over the fence, she was “going for broke” for a big mark. So far this year, she’s only had one meet with some competition in it. During that meet, her opening throw was over 70m, she had 2 other 71m throws and her final toss at 72.49m. At that meet she was more focused on the competition and it helped produce a little PR at the time in heavy training.
We will treat the Olympic trials like any other big meet she’s gotten ready for in the past. She’s going to have other high class hammer throwers that she can chase down and they will push her as well. One challenge will be to keep her excitement and eagerness contained. Coach John Smith and Coach Connie Price-Smith refer to her as a tiger when she competes, so I came up with the term “keep the tiger caged and hungry”. But she’s learned over the past couple years how to relax and keep her self slightly distracted Leading up the competition. She has a very good “on and off switch”. During practice and the day of competition, the switch is on. Most other times it’s off. If it’s not, I will help by changing the subject of conversation.