All posts by Daniel McQuaid

For Big Dogs Only: A Prefontaine 2019 Men’s Shot Preview

The 2019 New York Yankees have put together the type of lineup that could give a guy a bladder infection. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Edwin Encarnacion, Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, and Gleyber Torres can all hit the long ball, so you have to sip your beer slowly at a Yankees game. Head to the bathroom, and you risk missing something spectacular.

Same thing this Sunday during the 2019 Prefontaine Classic men’s shot.

Olympic champion Ryan Crouser (22.74m PB) leads a stellar field of putters including 2017 World champion Tom Walsh (22.67m PB) 2015 World champion Joe Kovacs (22.57m PB), 2017 Diamond League champion Darrell Hill (22.44m PB), and 2018 European champion Michal Haratyk (22.08m PB).

Add in 2019 NCAA Indoor champion Payton Otterdahl (21.81m PB), former World Junior champion Konrad Bukowieki (21.97 PB), five time Brazilian national champion Darlan Romani (22.00m PB), and World Indoor bronze medalist Tomáš Staněk (22.01m PB) and you have one outstanding group of shot putters.

Any one of these gents could mash a huge throw on any attempt and all of them enter Sunday’s competition with something to prove.

In his short career as a pro, Crouser has accomplished a lot. He’s got an Olympic gold and the Olympic record. He doesn’t have the American record yet, though, which also happens to be…I’m not going to to say it…I refuse to say it…if I say it, I’ll jinx it…the WORLD RECORD. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. No pressure, Ryan, but I did fly all the way from Chicago to see this meet, so if you could maybe toss one out there around 23.13m I would appreciate it.

One person who seems to have had enough of this world record talk is Crouser’s rival, the courtly kiwi Tom Walsh who, in a recent interview, took pains to remind the mammoth American that he is not the only big dog in the kennel.

Walsh took a while to get rolling this season. His inability to hit the 22-meter mark early on prompted his coach, Dale Stevenson, to describe his results during the winter months (summer in the Southern Hemisphere) as “disappointing.”

They spent, according to Stevenson, “about six months in a holding pattern before making the necessary changes.”

Those changes paid off starting in May when Tom hit 22.06m at the Doha DL meeting. He has maintained a nice groove since, going 22.18m and 22.27m in two competitions leading up to the Pre, and there is nothing he’d like more than to interrupt Crouser’s march to the…you know what.

Back in 2015, talk of the “you know what” revolved around Joe Kovacs as he won his World title and gained notoriety for a massive warmup throw (at an earlier competition) well beyond the “you know what” line. He took the silver behind Crouser in Rio and the silver at the 2017 Worlds behind Walsh. Joe told me yesterday that he is “slow playing” things this year with the Worlds in Doha still three months away. But he is a fantastic thrower in the middle of his prime and a highly competitive young man. If people start dropping bombs Sunday, he will not sit idly by.

Nor will defending USA champion Darrell Hill.

His season so far as been fairly quiet. Like Kovacs, he appears to be “slow playing” in preparation for what promises to be a hellacious battle at the US Championships in late July. But he has gone 21.72m this year and is a big man with a big personality who loves a big stage. As he did at the Diamond League final in 2017 when he knocked out a huge 22.44m, he’d be quite happy to preempt the Walsh v. Crouser show.

The athlete in Sunday’s field with the most to prove is one with the least experience competing at this level.

A few months ago, Payton Otterdahl, a senior at North Dakota State University barged his way to the top of the world shot put rankings when he posted indoor marks of 21.64m, 21.81m, and an Indoor NCAA winner of 21.71m.

He maintained his form as the outdoor season got rolling, hitting 21.37m and 20.75m in the month of April.

Unfortunately, a lower back injury sustained while lifting weights just prior to the Drake Relays in late April forced him to curtail his training.

A couple of weeks later, just as he started feeling better, Payton aggravated the injury while warming up to throw the hammer at NDSU’s conference meet

After that, according to his coach Justin St. Clair, Payton had to drop serious weight lifting from his training. Even worse, he could barely throw in practice. During the two weeks between the conference and regional meets, Payton had “maybe two” throwing sessions.

In order to maintain his feel for the throw, St. Clair said that Payton needs to do a lot of full non-reverse throws, “to make sure that his balance and direction are all in line.” Payton also normally took a lot of throws that St. Clair calls “up and overs,” basically non-reverse attempts that he would finish by stepping over the toe board.

He could do neither of those once his back flared up.

The lack of training made it difficult for Payton to maintain his mojo as the outdoor NCAA meet approached.

St. Clair says that physically Payton felt pretty good when they arrived in Austin, “but his confidence wasn’t where it needed to be.” The day before the shot put competition he threw twenty-two meters in training, but the fact that Payton wanted to throw the day before he competed told St. Clair that “he wasn’t confident. Traditionally, we will never throw the day before a meet, but he felt the need to go throw, and that tells me he was doubting himself.”

The next day Payton managed a best of 19.89m, a fine throw but good for only fourth in the hyper-competitive men’s shot competition.

To his credit, he followed that up with an outstanding discus performance two days later, his third-round toss of 62.48m snagging him second place, just five centimeters behind the winner.

After that, he and St. Clair returned immediately to hard training, as the US Championships and a chance to qualify for Doha loom.

He received an invite to the Pre, his first competition as a professional, after two-time World champion David Storl of Germany had to bow out with a back injury of his own, sustained, according to Storl’s coach Wilko Schaa, just before the Doha DL meeting. Storl went five weeks without being able to take serious throws, so he is now focused solely on preparing for Doha.

For Payton, throwing at the Pre offers a huge opportunity. A solid performance might get him invited to more DL meetings, which would give him a chance to prove that he belongs among the world’s best, which would bolster his case when applying for a USATF grant, which could make or break his ability to focus on training during the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics.

Bottom line, as Payton said recently to Coach St. Clair, “If I want to be a big dog, I’ve got to show I can beat the big dogs.”

The kennel will be filled to bursting on Sunday. Tune in.



The ladies who Launch: A Prefontaine 2019 Women’s shot Preview

This Sunday’s Prefontaine Classic—to be held at Stanford University due to the ongoing overhaul of the Temple of Track in Eugene—will feature a rollicking women’s shot put competition. Some of the best putters in the history of the sport will be there, along with a corps of youngsters vying to make their mark. Here are three questions for throws obsessives to ponder as the meet approaches.

Can Michelle Carter Recapture the Magic?

It’s not easy to stay on top in this business.

For Michelle Carter, it was a long climb just to get there. She was U20 World Champion in 2004. In 2008 she won the first of her seven outdoor national titles. In 2009, she competed in her first World Championship, taking fifth in Berlin. In 2012, she took silver at the Indoor Worlds and fourth at the London Olympics. Finally, in 2016 she broke through with a dramatic final-round 20.21m bomb to take gold at the Indoor Worlds.

She repeated that feat a few months later in Rio, launching an American record of 20.63m on her sixth attempt. It was one of the great moments in the history of American shot putting and definitively established her as the best thrower in the world and possibly in the Carter family as well.

Unfortunately, she has struggled since, slipping to third at the 2017 World Championships with a 19.14m effort. Last year she posted her lowest season’s best (18.16m) since 2007, and in her only competition so far this season put 18.28m.

I had a pleasantly rambling chat recently with Nathan Fanger (coach of Danniel Thomas-Dodd who will also be competing at the Pre) and he pointed out how difficult it is to compete at the highest level of this sport over a long period of time.

He made the point that a professional athlete has to be selfish. “You wake up in the morning and your breakfast has to be just right…you train hard all day and you might come home exhausted and edgy. Then you have to go to bed at a certain time. Day in and day out, everything has to revolve around you, which is fine when you’re young and single, but when you get married and have a family that gets tough.”

Michelle got married last year. And had knee surgery. And turned thirty-three.

Not many throwers compete for World or Olympic medals at that age, but count me among those who hope that she returns to her butt-beating ways. Round six in Doha might be kind of dull without her.

Is it Possible to Throw Twenty Meters on No Sleep?

Germany’s Christina Schwanitz had a heck of a 2015 season, winning the World Championships and setting a massive PR of 20.77m. She followed that up with a lackluster sixth-place finish at the 2016 Olympics. She followed that up by giving birth to twins.

A guy I teach with became the father of twins two years ago, and it transformed him from a fit, happy-go-lucky sort of man into an exhausted, haunted-looking creature who no longer gets asked to play on the faculty dodgeball team.

Schwanitz, obviously made of sterner stuff, was able to come back last year after sitting out the 2017 campaign and post a remarkable 19.78m season’s best.

She is the same age as Michelle Carter, and likely shares the same goal: to close her career with medals in Doha and Tokyo.

Sunday’s Pre, Schwanitz’s first outdoor meet ever on American soil, should provide some indication of how likely she is to achieve that.


How is Chase Ealey Doing What She’s Doing?

Here’s what I know about Chase.

She was a fine college shot putter, finishing second at the 2016 NCAA meet while representing Oklahoma State University. She also finished seventh at the Olympic Trials that year with a toss of 18.46m.

As a glider.

In 2017 and 2018 videos of her throws would pop up on social media occasionally as she tried to build a post-collegiate career. She notched season bests those years of 17.79m and 17.78m respectively.

As a glider.

This past winter, videos of Chase throwing began appearing on Ryan Whiting’s Desert High Performance Instagram page.

But now, she was spinning.

I happened to run into Whiting at a clinic this winter, and I asked him how Chase’s glide-to-spin transition was going. He said she was doing just fine, thanks.

I interpreted this to mean that she was struggling mightily as putters commonly do when switching techniques, but that she was staying positive. I also felt admiration for her courage in adopting the rotational style when it was clearly going to take her a few years to get comfortable with it.

Then, on February 9th, she threw a PR of 18.84m. “Good for her!” I remember thinking. “A PB during her first year as a spinner? Outstanding!”

Then, on February 24th, she won the US Indoor Championships with a toss of 18.62m.

Then, the outdoor season began and things got really strange.

She raised her PB to 18.95m on a trip to New Zealand in March, before returning home and blasting a 19.37m toss in Arizona, her home base when training with Whiting.

That earned her a May appearance at the Diamond League meeting in Shanghai. It generally takes throwers a couple of seasons to get acclimated to the rigors of traveling to compete overseas, even those who have not completely changed their technique over the past six moths. It would have been perfectly understandable for Ealey to wilt under the pressure of traveling halfway across the globe to take on the likes of Lijiao Gong, Anita Marton, and Danniel Thomas-Dodd (all World Championships medalists and all, by the way, appearing Sunday at the Pre) but instead she put 19.58m for the win.

She followed that up over the next few weeks by tossing 19.21m in Nanjing, 19.38m in Finland, and 19.20m in Norway, making it clear that it had not taken her long to adapt to the rigors of travel.

I asked Coach Fanger how in the world Ealey could be so consistent so quickly after switching to a technique whose best and most experienced practitioners experience bouts of maddening inconsistency.

He said that the secret may lie in Ealey’s particular version of the rotational technique.

“She is very slow out of the back, “ he told me, “and has a heck of a strike. She’s long and really drives the ball like a glider.”

“She starts slow enough,” he continued, “that she doesn’t lose control and then she’s still able to smack the finish. She’s similar to Ryan Crouser in that sense.”

As Coach Fanger sees it, rotational throwers are often erratic “because they are a little spastic out of the back, but if you can control the back it doesn’t have to be that way,”

He pointed out that some throwers, Joe Kovacs for example, have to be fast out of the back because of their stature.

“The shorter throwers like Joe or Adam Nelson back in the day have to use speed to throw far because they don’t have long levers. It’s a trade off, though. They are sometimes inconsistent because they have to be as fast and dynamic as possible even at the start of the throw.”

So what happens a couple of years from now when Ealey gets more comfortable with her technique and becomes more dynamic out of the back?

Tune in to the Pre this Sunday, and you might just get a glimpse of America’s next great putter.

Here is the start list for what should be a fantastic competition.


Rotational Shot Put webinar now on youtube

Cody Foerch and Kip Gasper of Deerfield (IL) High School have built an outstanding throws program, and yesterday they delved into their approach to rotational putting on a Mcthrows webinar.

It was a super informative session. These guys have an in-depth understanding of rotational technique and an ability to plainly explain their approach.

Much of the session was spent breaking down film of a 63-foot toss by current Deerfield senior Sam Liokumovich, who is the best skinny putter I’ve ever seen.

If you are a new coach wanting to get started teaching the rotational style, this webinar is for you.

If you have been coaching for a long time and have your own approach to teaching the spin, you’ll still love this presentation.

Take a look, and stay tuned for more webinars from Mcthrows.

Free Rotational Shot put webinar with deerfield throws force

Have you ever wanted to see a video of a high school kid who looks like a high jumper but is actually a consistent 60-foot-plus shot putter? Well, here you go:

Pretty remarkable eh?

If you are wondering how that kid (his name is Sam Liokumovich) learned to throw this way, you are in luck. Sam competes for Deerfield High School in the suburbs of Chicago, where he and the other members of the Deerfield Throws Force are coached by Cody Foerch and Kip Gasper. This Sunday, March 3 at 1:00pm CST, Cody and Kip will discus the fundamentals of the rotational shot technique employed by Sam and his teammates.

Log into this free webinar to listen and watch as they break down Sam’s big throw. Attendees will be able to submit questions throughout the webinar.

Cody and Kip have built a fantastic throws program at Deerfield. We at Mcthrows.com invite you to join us for what promises to be an extremely informative hour with these two gentlemen.

Register here.

Throws Webinars on Youtube to help you prepare for the season

If you are ready to start planning for the 2019 track season, there is no better place to begin than with our 2018 series of throws webinars currently available on Youtube.

Roger Einbecker’s presentation on discus technique covers all the basics for that event.

Jim Aikens and Sean Foulkes detail the methods they used to construct outstanding high school throws programs.

Dan McQuaid digs into glide shot basics, for those not ready to fully commit to the spin.

If you are all about the rotational method, we have two outstanding presentations for you. In the first, Kent State throws coach Nathan Fanger examines the technique of his most successful putter, Danniel Thomas Dodd, silver medalist at the 2018 Indoor Worlds.

Our second rotational shot webinar features Illinois State University throws coach Jeff Rebholz. Jeff details the throws progression he puts his spinners through during a typical practice.

In addition to these presentations, which are available free on Youtube, we have a webinar from German national discus coach Torsten Lonnfors available on coachtube for $30.00. Torsten’s presentation details the German approach to youth discus training.

Feel free to give these webinars a look, and stay tuned for more presentations by top coaches this winter and spring.

 

Cues and Corrections by Dane Miller and Trevor Stutzman: a Review

I really like this book.

One, it’s an actual physical book with pages, and I’m old so that puts it right in my wheelhouse.

Two, it’s laid out in a user-friendly way that will appeal to both new and veteran coaches.

It was produced by the folks at ThrowsUniversity.com, with Dane Miller and Trevor Stutzman credited as authors. Those two gentlemen have accumulated a ton of coaching experience at the high school, college, and international levels, and they do a nice job of distilling what they’ve learned into an easy-to-digest eighty pages.

They’ve broken down each throw (rotational shot, glide shot, and  discus) into various phases, and have identified anywhere from two to four faults common to each phase.

Each fault is illustrated with a photo like this…

…with the facing page containing three possible solutions to that particular error.

Anyone who has coached more than five minutes will be familiar with these flaws.  I had to ice my neck after reading it, so vigorously did I find myself nodding in recognition.

The corrections offered are generally simple and reasonable. For example, if a coach notices a rotational putter pulling out of the back of the ring with their left shoulder, the authors advise cuing the athlete to focus on a.) shifting their weight to the left foot, b.) rotating the left shoulder around the left foot, or c.)pushing down the right foul line on entry.

If you are new to the business, you’ll find it helpful to be offered three possible solutions for each problem. If you’ve been coaching for a while, you’ll probably be familiar with a lot of these cues, but it’s still nice to be reminded of them and to have this solid advice laid out in a simple, common-sense manner.

My only quibble with this book is that I disagree with some of their cues regarding the glide.  For example, the authors recommend that the right heel not touch down in the power position, and I don’t think that works for most gliders. The key, in my opinion, is to get that heel up again as quickly as possible.

But here’s the thing. We have won a lot of football games at my school with a 4-3 defense. Does that mean that the 3-4 is not an effective front? Or that a coach in a 4-3 system cannot benefit from learning about the 3-4?

No, it does not.

In my case, disagreeing with the author’s approach to the glide made me think more deeply about why I use the cues that I do, and that’s a healthy exercise for any coach.

Cues and Corrections: Fixes to Common Technical Errors goes for $24.99 and can be ordered from the Throws University website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preparing for Doha, Part 2

In part one of this post, Dale Stevenson and René Sack shared some insight into how they will adapt their training plans for the 2019 season which, due to the late date of the Doha World Championships, will extend six-to-eight weeks longer than normal.

Dale (coach of 2017 shot put World Champion Tom Walsh) and René (coach of 2011 World Championship discus silver medalist Nadine Müller) are both adherents of block periodization, and they seem confident that this method of planning will provide them with the flexibility they will need to help their athletes adapt to the rigors of a monstrously long season.

JC Lambert, who last year coached DeAnna Price to an American-record in the hammer throw (78.12m), is also in the process of puzzling out how best to manage the 2019 season.

I spoke with JC the old fashioned way, over the phone, and he told me that he and DeAnna learned a lot during the 2018 season that will help them prepare for Doha.  Last year was an important one for DeAnna, as she had to get used to competing through August after several years in the NCAA system where the biggest meets take place in May and June.

“In previous years,” he said, “when she competed in a meet like the DécaNation in September,  she was mentally worn out. So in 2018, we focused on the Continental Cup. We wanted to see if she could throw far overseas late in the summer.”

The importance of throwing well at the Cup, which was held on September 8th, influenced the structure of DeAnna’s training for the entire season.

Indoors, that meant de-emphasizing the weight throw. According to JC, last year they “took maybe nine total practices with the weight and we didn’t even throw much during those practices, maybe eighteen throws. And she competed in three meets. I didn’t really care how far she threw in the first two meets. Then she went to USAs and we didn’t even peak for it–and she ended up going over 80 feet (24.51m) for the first time and got the win. But our goals all focused on the hammer.”

Outdoors, they chose meets based on how they might affect DeAnna’s ability to throw well late in the summer.

JC emphasized that, “chasing the money”  by competing in the IAAF Hammer Challenge meets was “not important.”

“She could have made some money doing that, but how would that impact her training? Would she have been in good mental and physical shape at the Continental Cup?”

Their plan worked well in 2018. After setting the American record in Des Moines in June, DeAnna won the World Cup in Ostrava in September with a toss of 75.46m.  And according to JC, she was in shape to throw even farther.

“If it wasn’t for the stupid format [Note: way too complicated to explain here, but I’ll include an excerpt from the Continental Cup team manual at the bottom of this post], if she had just been able to throw and go after throws she would have thrown 78 meters again. On the 75.46m throw, she had to back off the release just to make sure it stayed in the sector. To end the way that we did made me feel pretty good, though.”

And it gave JC confidence that following a similar approach in 2019 will prepare DeAnna to drop bombs  in Doha.

I asked JC if he would describe his approach to periodization as “block” or “linear.”

“Honestly, a mixture of both, if that’s such a thing. It’s linear from now until the outdoor season, then I block it up until the end. Certain blocks I want to make sure we get a good throw in. Last year it was the NACAC championships. I wanted to make sure that she could get in a good throw, good enough to win but not spend all our cookies at that meet. Then for the Continental Cup, that was a bigger block leading up to a peak.”

One issue unique to hammer throwers is the difficulty they face in finding quality meets when they need them. Right now, I’d imagine that Dale Stevenson knows which competitions Tom Walsh will enter from March through the World Championships. That’s not hard to do, as there are a ton of meets that feature the men’s shot.

Not so with the hammer.

There are plenty of chances for hammer throwers to compete in the States during the college season in April and early May (post-collegiates are welcome at many college meets), but once the NCAA Regionals take place in late May those opportunities disappear.

In the past, JC has hosted a couple of competitions in June so that DeAnna could stay sharp. He’d like to do the same this summer.

“My hope would be to put one on leading up to the USA Championships [held July 25-28 this year] just to make sure we can stay competitive, stay in the ring, keep it in the sector, not have to travel very far before the US Championships.”

And will she be competing in Europe as well?

“I’d like to send her over, especially since we don’t have to worry about the US Championships until July. I’d like to send her over early on, then get her back in the States with enough time before the US Championships, maybe four or five weeks before. Get her back on track with her sleep schedule, eating, training, lifting…make sure we have all the bases covered.”

Assuming DeAnna makes the US team for Doha, she and JC then have to deal with the two-month gap between the US Championships and the Worlds.

“There ain’t going to be many meets around that time in the US.  At that time, people are going to be shutting their season down, but  we are going to have to find competitions somewhere.”

The bottom line for a hammer thrower in this or any other season? Flexibility.

“You go with the flow,” JC explained. “You adapt and survive as you go. You play the hand you’re dealt and make the best of it. If I get an idea in my head of the ‘perfect scenario’ it ain’t going to work out that way, and then we’re going to be stressed. The way I look at it, if something comes up, it comes up. If not we’ll find a way.”

I touched bases with one final coach on the matter of preparing for Doha, and he may face the oddest situation of all trainers of elite throwers. Torsten Lönnfors is the coach of Chris Harting, the defending Olympic champion in the discus. Like JC Lambert, Torsten prefers to employ a combination of linear and block periodization when planning a season’s worth of training.

He told me via email that “for Chris, it will be a traditional linear periodization. Only the last six to eight weeks before Doha would be kind of a block, if Chris will compete there.”

When Torsten says “if Chris will compete” in Doha, he is not referring to the possibility that Chris might not qualify to represent the German team. Chris has made it known that he does not want to compete at the 2019 Worlds.

According to Torsten, Chris is “already concentrating on Tokyo,” and is concerned that the late date of the Doha Championships combined with a need to recover from the 2019 season, combined with his obligation to serve four weeks of police duty each fall will make it impossible to begin his 2020 training in time to get in top shape for the 2020 Olympics.

Something tells me, though, that the German Federation, which supports Chris financially, will try to get him to change his mind, especially if he proves during the spring and early summer that he is Germany’s best hope for a Doha discus medal.

Time will tell for Chris and for all the athletes and coaches trying to figure out the best way to adjust their training in what promises to be a strange year in athletics.

Speaking of strange, here is the explanation of the rules for the throwing events at the 2018 Continental Cup. I have cut and pasted it from the Team Manual published by the IAAF.

Enjoy!

502.3.2 Field Events High Jump and Pole Vault are conducted according to IAAF rules. Long Jump, Triple Jump, Shot Put, Discus Throw, Hammer Throw and Javelin Throw (“Horizontal Field Events”) will have two phases. In the first phase (Qualification), all athletes have three trials after which they are ranked. The highest ranked athlete from each team (i.e. a total of four athletes) proceed to Round 4. All other athletes are eliminated and ranked from fifth to eighth according to their best performance after three rounds of trials. Round 4 (Semi-Final) and Round 5 (Final) is the second phase of the competition. In Round 4, the two lowest ranked athletes are ranked third and fourth according to their performance in this round and are eliminated. The two best ranked athletes in Round 4 proceed to Round 5, which is the final round. In Round 5, the better ranked athlete in this round wins the competition, the other is second. The competing order in all the five rounds will be the initial draw order. If all the four athletes fail in Round 4, the two best ranked athletes after the first 3 rounds will go to Round 5. If in Round 4 only one athlete has a valid performance, the second athlete to progress to Round 5 will be the athlete (from a different team) with the best valid performance after the first 3 rounds. If in Round 5 both athletes fail, the winner is the athlete with the better performance in Round 4. If in Round 4 those athletes failed, the winner is the athlete with the better performance after the first 3 rounds and the other is second.

 

 

Preparing for Doha, Part 1

Winning a medal at a World Championships is never easy, but winning one in 2019 might be trickier than usual.

In most years, professional throwers practice and compete over a ten-month span. Serious training begins in November. Important competitions stretch from May through the summer with the most important–the World Championships or Olympics–generally taking place in early-to-mid August. At the Rio Olympics, for example, track events began on August 12th. The 2017 World Athletics Championships in London opened on August 1st.

The 2019 season, however, will be different. Due to the climate in Doha, where August temperatures tend to be unbearable, the 2019 World Championships will not begin until September 27th.

This creates a challenge for throws coaches who must design and manage a plan for their athletes that accounts for an extra six-to-eight weeks of training while somehow keeping them fresh for Doha.

Curious as to how different coaches would handle this predicament, I contacted a few.

One person I for sure wanted to check in with was Dale Stevenson, coach of the defending shot put World Champion Tom Walsh of New Zealand.

Dale and Tom have become experts at handling extra-long seasons because for them, every season is extra-long. As New Zealand is located in the Southern Hemisphere, their outdoor national championships take place in March, a full two months before the outdoor season even begins in North America and Europe where most of Tom’s competitors reside. 

So Tom and Dale have had to devise a system that allows Tom to maintain excellent form two-to-three months longer than many of his rivals.

And based on recent results, they seem to have figured out a way to do just that. 

Last year, for example, Tom won the Indoor World Championships in Birmingham on March 3rd with a monster toss of 22.31m.  A week later, he headed back to New Zealand and won his national championships with a put of 21.58m. He then stayed in great shape through the months of June (22.29m at the Oslo Diamond League Meeting), July (21.92m at Lausanne) and August (22.60m to win the Diamond League final in Zurich on the 30th of that month).

That’s six solid months of excellent putting.

I asked Dale, via email, how they’ll attempt to stretch that to eight months in 2019 and put Tom in position to defend his World title.

Dale seems confident that he and Tom can handle the challenge, and that confidence seems to stem in part from their use of block periodization.

According to Dale, he and Tom “always follow the same planning structure” for Tom’s training. That structure consists of a sequence of four training phases which Dale calls “Slow Eccentric,” “Fast Eccentric,” “Ballistic,” and “Competition.” The sequence can be modified to last anywhere from two-to-six months, and always consists of those four phases repeated in that order.

A quick note on terminology. In the past, when coaches referred to “periodization” they generally meant “linear periodization.” A training plan based on linear periodization would begin with a high-volume “preparation” or “hypertrophy” phase and gradually morph over a period of months towards a low-volume, higher intensity phase before ending with a maintenance phase during which an athlete would devote a minimum amount of time and energy to strength exercises–just enough to maintain the raw power necessary to throw far. This final phase would be timed to coincide with the most important competitions, and if calibrated correctly would allow the athlete to derive the benefits of all those months of hard training and throw their best when it counts the most. 

In a plan designed in the linear style, the various phases would not be repeated. Once an athlete moved past the high volume phase, for example, they would not engage in high volume training again until the following season.

A training plan utilizing “block periodization” would include the same basic phases as a linear plan, but over the course of the training year those phases would be repeated in segments or “blocks” of varying length. So, instead of engaging in say ten weeks of fairly high volume training during the winter months and then leaving high volume workouts behind for good as might be typical in a linear plan, an athlete training in the block style would engage in a shorter period of high volume training each time the block was repeated. And over the course of a ten-month season, the block would be repeated several times.

Here’s an analogy.

Linear periodization is like working hard at your job and saving all the money you can from November through May so that you can enjoy yourself on an extended summer vacation.  The more money you sock away during your “accumulation” phase, the longer your vacation will last. 

Block periodization would involve breaking up the save/spend cycle into a series of mini-cycles during which you’d save for a bit, spend that money on a shorter vacation, and repeat the process several times over the course of a year.

Advocates of a linear periodization system would argue that each phase of training must be maintained long enough to produce the desired training effect. If you want to produce hypertrophy in your athletes, for example, you must spend the time necessary to create that hypertrophy before moving on to another phase. Chopping the training year into blocks might not allow each phase of each block enough time to work its magic.

The challenge faced in 2019 by those using a linear model is that athletes cannot maintain peak fitness indefinitely. Once they begin a “maintenance” or “competition” phase and get farther away from their last strength-building phase, the clock begins to tick on their ability to generate maximum power. Eventually, the strength they accumulated during several months of preparation will diminish, like the savings of the aforementioned vacationer. With the Diamond League schedule beginning as usual in May, and the Worlds not taking place until late September, coaches have to figure out how to keep their athletes in competitive shape for a much longer stretch than they are used to.

Those like Dale Stevenson who favor a block periodization model might argue that it provides coaches the flexibility they need to manage this kind of situation. Each block contains a strength building phase, which would ideally restore an athlete’s ability to generate maximum power and produce peak throws.  Repeating the block ensures that an athlete never goes too long without rebuilding their capacity to throw far. 

Dale and Tom vary the length of each sequence depending on the importance of various competitions.

“If a short cycle is required (such as before World Indoors), then each phase is fifteen to eighteen days in duration, whereas a longer cycle might be forty-two days per phase. Pretty simple but it works for us.”

Rest will also be important if Tom is to be at his best in October.

He took seven weeks off after the 2018 campaign before starting back with twice-weekly sessions. Last week marked his return to a full training schedule.

Dale also plans to help Tom conserve some energy by de-emphasizing the Diamond League schedule.

“We will be sacrificing some of the meets in May-August next year to ensure we’re ready for October, some by reducing expectation of performance or simply skipping them altogether.”

Another coach who will be employing block periodization and emphasizing rest as he prepares his athletes for the 2019 season is René Sack, the German national coach for the women’s discus. René’s most prominent athlete is 2011 World Championships discus silver medalist Nadine Müller.

I spoke with René via the worldwide web, and he told me that the main adjustment he will be making in preparing Nadine for the 2019 season will be figuring out ways to include more rest in her training.

“I think you have to plan much more regeneration time,” he said. “I switched to the block periodization model last year. With Nadine, we do the European Winter Throwing Cup in the middle of March to see where we are at, then I will give her one or two weeks off. Then we will go to Chula Vista for three weeks for a training camp and begin the next phase.”

“The German Championships are on 3rd and 4th August, and the week after this she will get one more week free. You can’t train and do competitions for eleven months without finding ways to sneak in rest.”

René also plans to take special care to monitor the energy levels of his athletes throughout the season. He will regularly “do some surveys with the athletes where they answer a few questions to help me see how they are feeling so I can say ‘Ok, looks like you are really tired. Just go home and I’ll see you on Monday.’”

Like Dale Stevenson, René values the flexibility of block periodization and the way that the blocks can be stretched or shortened to suit an athlete’s needs.

René calls the first phase of his blocks an “accumulation phase.” During the first block of Nadine’s training, he will have her perform sets of ten during that phase. As the season progresses, the accumulation phase will always be the highest volume segment of a given block, but that volume will decrease relative to the accumulation phase in the first block. If Nadine’s first accumulation phase requires her to perform five sets of ten reps on various exercises, that may drop to sets of seven or “maybe a pyramid” in the second block.

“I change exercises too, ” he continued. “They might do heavy squats and leg press in the first block to prepare the structures for heavy lifting, and the next block maybe squats only, then later single leg squats or step-ups.” This is also designed to keep the athletes fresh over the course of a long season.

Like many coaches of elite throwers, René also has his athletes train with a variety of implements as a way of developing “special strength.”  Nadine routinely throws 1.2k and 1.5k discs in practice, with a 2k mixed in on occasion. Over the last two years, they have “played around” with a 0.8k disc, which Nadine can throw over 70 meters when she can get a good flight on it.

René estimates that Nadine has taken 120,000 throws in her life, so unlike a novice who needs to build technique, “she just needs to remind the body how to do it.”

If he can calibrate her training correctly, Nadine’s body and mind will be fresh and  ready to launch some big throws in Doha.

For part two of this article, I will share insights from JC Lambert, (coach of hammer thrower DeAnna Price) and Torsten Lönnfors, (coach of 2016 Olympic discus champion Chris Harting) on how they will prepare their charges for the rigors of the upcoming season.

 

An inside look at the German club system

Are you the type of person who strikes up conversations with folks at airports or on subways or in line for a bagel?

My wife is. You sit next to her on an airplane, and she will know your life story by the time you reach your destination.

I ‘m usually not like that, but while I was waiting in line at the airport in Berlin about to begin my journey home from the 2018 European Championships last August, I couldn’t help myself.

The guy standing behind me had a credential from the meet hanging around his neck, and I guess I was still buzzing from the endorphins I’d accumulated while watching some of the best throwers in the world compete in front of 60,000 joyous fans at the Berlin Olympiastadion because next thing I knew I was talking to him about the meet.

It turns out that he was a German club coach from Wiesbaden in town to attend the Euros, and more specifically to watch the throwing events.

His name is Zlatko Zigric, and after  we spoke for a few minutes I told him about Mcthrows and asked if I could do an interview with him regarding the German club system which has helped to produce so many outstanding throwers.

It’s funny, Germans have a reputation for reticence, which I sometimes think is well-earned. They will not, for example, acknowledge you when you pass them on the street. Nor will their dogs. German dogs are so well-trained that their owners can take them anywhere (the park, the tram, restaurants) secure in the knowledge that their dog will not embarrass them by sniffing butts or stealing liver wurst.  Here, for example, is a picture I took of a dog patiently waiting in line at a post office in Berlin:

Looks like he’s waiting to mail a letter, doesn’t he?

Luckily for me, German throws coaches are not at all standoffish when it comes to talking about their craft. Zlatko was the fourth German coach I’d had the opportunity to chat with in Berlin, and each was exceedingly generous in sharing information and doing so in English. He even supplied the photos of his club facilities that are contained in this post.

If, like me, you are familiar with the American method of developing track and field athletes, I think you’ll be intrigued by the advantages and disadvantages of our school-based approach compared with the German club-based system.

Clearly, we in America benefit from the affiliation of sports programs with schools. At my high school in the suburbs of Chicago, for example, we had 250 boys and girls on our track team last year. Our crosstown rival had almost as many, so in a single American city of 50,000 people, nearly 500 teenagers competed in track and field. Throw in another 200 or so pre-teens competing at our middle schools, and that is a lot of potential talent entering the pipeline. That level of participation would not be possible, though, without our public school system paying coaches and providing facilities.

German schools do not do that.

Nor do they have university programs that provide financial aid and world-class coaching as the best athletes take the next steps in their development.

The German club system does, however, provide a support system for athletes for the duration of their careers, thus eliminating a big hurdle faced by American post-collegiates: how to stay in the sport long enough to reach their ultimate potential.

The German federation also provides club coaches with access to a comprehensive training program to enhance their ability to develop young athletes.

But, enough from me. Let’s hear about this from Zlatko.

Can you tell me about your background? Where did you grow up?

I was born 1963 in Zagreb (former Yugoslavia, today’s Croatia). When I was four years old, my parents migrated to Germany where my father’s ancestors originally came from. From elementary school to my graduation in electronics in the university I was educated in Germany.

What were your athletic experiences?

When I was twelve years old, I became part of my school’s track and field team where I threw the 200-gram ball in a competition between different schools of my hometown Wiesbaden (near Frankfurt/Main). A school friend who also was a team member invited me to join him in the track and field club where he was a member because no one in the club could throw the ball as far as I did. At that time, I would have rather liked to train martial arts but my parents did not allow this. So I joined my school friend in his track and field club. There I found a friendly group of peers who were instructed by an experienced coach.

Quickly, I was integrated in this clique and we had a lot of engagements even outside our sports activities. This experience strongly influenced my attitude to sports and to track and field in particular. Track and field athletes are often considered to be strong individualists and for that reason will not perform any team sport. This may be true for some of them, but it is true for some guys who perform team sports as well. Actually, performing the same sport in the same club or in the same sports ground brings people together anyway.

Training track and field disciplines was great fun for me. I worked out three times a week. If my coach would have offered, I would have worked out every day. I found it boring to only just run, throw or jump, so I found my way to decathlon. When I was fourteen years old I tried to throw discus for the first time. By chance, I had a good feeling for this discipline and a month after my first throw I reached a distance of 47,58 m with the 1 kg discus. The throwing disciplines stayed my favorites among the disciplines of the decathlon or heptathlon.

Unfortunately, my training group was dissolved when I was sixteen years old. I still kept on training somehow about three times a week and attended some competitions until I got drafted in the basic military service, but the results were moderate as it was to be expected with the lack of coaching instructions. Anyway, at that time I reached ranks somewhere around the first five in the provincial level of the German Federal State of Hessen in the throwing disciplines and in Decathlon.

How did you become a coach?

After I finished the basic military service, which was obligatory in Germany at that time, I turned to old habits and started to work out regularly on the well known sports ground. There I met some old friends who had the same idea. We became a training group. After some training sessions where each time we first had to discuss what to train together I got the idea to ask a former coach of our club to help and instruct me to build up a training plan. Because I took the initiative, I became the administrator of the training plan and suddenly I was “the coach.” Also, I started reading literature and articles about track and field training methods, techniques for the disciplines and about athletic training in general. Then I started developing new plans and instructing my athletes autonomously.

Soon, younger athletes joined my training group and the generations changed with the time. After my friends who were my first athletes as a coach stopped training regularly because of their jobs and families, I coached young people from fourteen to twenty years of age.

Besides studying (and later besides my job) I found no time to obtain a coaching license. I made up for this eight years ago when I changed my job from an IT manager to a teacher at a vocational school. This year, I plan to obtain the  coaching license in the A-level to gain further knowledge and to learn to know other coaches to exchange views.

 

What will you have to do to obtain your A-level coaching certificate?

The German Athletics Association’s (Deutscher Leichtathletik Verband DLV) licensing model for coaches for competitive sport provides three successive and interrelated levels:

Level C is intended for the basic track and field training of children in the age of eleven to fourteen years. The education of the coaches includes one week of gaining general basic knowledge in sport science in a first part focusing on topics like:  

– impact of sporting activities on muscles, tendons, bones, vessels, nerves and the cardiovascular system

– general training structure

– good and bad general sporting exercises, etc.

The second part of the education usually takes place on weekends and includes practical and theoretical training in the specific track and field disciplines (techniques, exercises, training structure). Usually the education ends with a theoretical and a practical test. All together it takes a time of at least 120 learning units (45 min each) to obtain the track and field C license.

Level B is intended for those training young athletes in the age of fifteen to nineteen years. The scope of this license is focused on one of the specific track and field discipline blocks: sprints, long distance running, jumping, throwing and combined athletics. The education covers topics like:

– long-term planning and controlling of track and field training

– biological development and physiological principles of performance of adolescents

– technique models and teaching them to athletes with different skill levels

– social, pedagogical and psychological competences etc.

Usually the education ends with a test covering the development of a training plan for a specific period and an analysis of an athlete’s technique with proposals for exercises to improve the detected deficiencies. To obtain the B license at least 60 learning units are required.

Level A is intended for athletes in the age from 19 years. This coaching level is intended for top-level sports and focuses on one of the specific track and field discipline blocks: sprinting, long distance running, jumping, throwing and combined athletics. The education covers topics like:

– training strategies for young athletes and top-level sport

– short-, middle- and long-term planning, documentation and evaluation

– physiological and biological basics of performance

– psychological controlling during training and competitions

– talent scouting and promotion etc.

This education consists of three parts:

  1. Five days course with theoretical and practical instructions.
  2. Work shadowing training and competitions with a DLV (German Athletics Association) coach.
  3. Three days exam course.

Additionally to the exam, a homework needs to be developed in which the coach plans the training process of his own group of athletes, documents the realization and the controlling and finally analyzes and evaluates the process. To obtain the A license, at least 90 learning units are required.

As I mentioned above, the licenses are successive. To obtain the A license you first need to obtain the C and the B license  and you need to be active as a B-license coach at least for three years. To keep the license, a coach needs to periodically attend courses.

 

What kinds of athletes are you currently training? How old are they and what are your typical practices like?

I currently train young athletes in the age of fifteen up to nineteen years of age.  Four guys train and compete in decathlon, and one of the guys has specialized in discus and shotput. Additionally, two athletes who do not compete and do not work out five-to-six times a week join our training group. Most likely a few new young athletes will join the group soon because their old training group was dissolved. This year, my athletes reached the highest ranks in our federal state and rank among the first thirty in the federal level of Germany.

I suppose that my typical practices are very common. A usual training session consists of warming up, short stretching, coordination exercises, discipline training and finally a chill out run and/ or stretching. Mostly we train two disciplines in one training session, but this depends on the season. In the development phase, which will start very soon, we have a lot of training sessions without any specific discipline training. Instead, the athletes do more weight lifting, specific gymnastics, explosive power training, etc.. In my training plan I orient myself on the proposals of the DLV’s (German Athletics Association) outline training plan.

 

Here in the US, when an athlete finishes high school (usually at the age of eighteen) if they wish someday to be a professional thrower they enroll at a university and train and compete there for four or five years. In your case, if you have a promising athlete would they continue to train at your club as they reach the age of eighteen or nineteen or would they join a training group run by a full time coach? And how is that decision made?

Track and field sport in Germany is mainly performed in small clubs, which are operated by volunteers. But there are a few bigger clubs which are sponsored by companies. These clubs can afford to engage coaches and administrative staff who do their jobs professionally. The athletics associations of the federal states of Germany and the German Athletic Association engage full time coaches and volunteers to coach the squads. The German talent development program plans that young talents are spotted already in the age from thirteen years. The young talents stay with their clubs, but they will be promoted with additional training sessions which are given from the coaches of the athletic federation of the related federal state. The association’s coaches are supposed to advise and to coordinate the training schedules with the home coaches. The talent promotion is built up in squads from E to A. Squads E to D cover young talents from twelve to approximately nineteen years. These are coordinated by the federal states associations. The German athletic association covers squads C to A. Squad C covers young athletes from sixteen to twenty-two years. Squads B and A are intended for grown-up top athletes. The call for an athlete to a specific squad depends on the performance of a particular athlete who is spotted by the coaches of the associations.

A good promotion for German top class athletes is granted when they start a police career or a career in the German Armed Forces. The athletes obtain a complete professional education, a paid workplace and time for the necessary training to be a top athlete.

Some sports funding exists in Germany like e.g. “Stiftung Deutsche Sporthilfe“. This way top athletes can obtain some financial support. Some athletic clubs are able to organize a sponsoring for their top athletes. And here I come to the probably most important trigger for decisions of athletes why and when to change their club. When an athlete decides to get professional with his or her sport, he or she needs to be financed.

The school system in Germany in general is not intended to promote sport talents. At best, the teachers recommend a young athlete to join a sports club if they can see a talent. A few schools cooperate with sports clubs in order to promote talents in the way that training sessions get coordinated and home work and tests are scheduled on dates which are the least inconvenient e.g. to perform on competitions on weekends.

If young athletes reach higher performance levels, they usually change their club for one or two reasons: they expect better training options and/or they expect a better financial support. Because the bigger clubs have better options to cater for these expectations, young athletes often change from a smaller club to a bigger club when they reach a higher performance level.

In my club, we try to promote a few athletes who reached the top class and who are close to it. But there is an everlasting discussion about the main goals of the club: Are we able to handle the development of young talents plus the promotion of top athletes, or do we neglect many interested young athletes because we focus on a few top athletes?

By the way, not all top athlete coaches are full time coaches. For instance Günther Eisinger,  who was the coach of the former very successful high jumper Ariane Friedrich, earned his living as a teacher before he became a pensioner. He was just “crazy” enough to spend all the rest of his time to coach and manage top class athletes besides his job.

Dear Readers: Let me know if you have questions for Zlatko and I’ll bug him about a follow-up interview.

 

A reflection on Berlin

My sister-in-law lives in the old East Berlin, and every day when she walks out of her door she sees this statue in a park across the street from her apartment:

That fellow was a German communist who was executed by the Nazis. His bust is one of many statues that the Soviets erected across East Berlin after World War II to remind the Germans who was in charge.

One of the most popular parks in that half of the city was converted by the Soviets into a mass grave and memorial for thousands of their soldiers who were killed in the assault on Berlin:

As you can tell by how tiny the people sitting at its base look, that is one hell of a big statue.

But that’s typical of totalitarian architecture. That’s the aesthetics of intimidation.

And you can see those aesthetics at work on a stroll around the Olympiastadion, which hosted the recent European Championships.

This is a picture  of my daughter inside the stadium during the recent European Championships:

Can you see that tower rising up beyond the opening in the far end?

That’s a structure that looms over the grandstands of a giant parade ground built, along with the Olympiastadion, in the 1930’s by the Nazis.

Here’s a closer look at it:

This picture does not do justice. There are twenty-five acres of grass in front of those grandstands.  That’s about the size of twenty American football fields. And the entrance is bordered with statues like this:

When you walk around those grounds, you can’t help but feel the sense of grandeur that the architects of this vast facility intended to convey. Then, you remember who those architects were.

That’s a heavy load for the Germans to bear. How do you forget the horrors of those years, and at the same time, how do you remember so as never to go down that path again?

That’s the difference between attending a track meet in Berlin and attending one in Zurich or Eugene or Des Moines. I’ve been mulling this over quite a bit, and I think I’ve finally got it figured out. It’s not the quality of the beer and chocolate. Those are just as good in Zurich. It’s not the enthusiasm of the fans. The folks in Eugene get just as nutty. It’s not the quality of the competition. Lots of the marks posted at the US Championships in Des Moines this summer would have earned medals in Berlin.

It’s the weight of history.

The ghost of Hitler. The shadow of Jesse Owens.

And it’s the grace with which the Germans bear that weight.

My sister-in-law told me that the Germans have left many of the Soviet-era statues intact because they don’t want to forget the cost of being seduced by fascism. I assume that they have let the Nazi parade ground outside the Olympiastadion stand for the same reason.

But it’s more than just letting a bunch of old structures stand as memorials to human folly. It’s what they’ve done with those structures.

One of my daughter’s favorite novels is Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. When she heard that we would be visiting Germany this summer, she asked if we could travel to Dresden, where Vonnegut was held as a prisoner during WWII. He and his comrades were used as laborers throughout the city by day, and were kept at night in the basement of a slaughterhouse, hence the novel’s title.

One night, the city of Dresden was bombed and at least 30,000 civilians were killed. Vonnegut and his mates, saved by their subterranean sleeping quarters, emerged to a scene of unspeakable destruction.

We did travel to Dresden, and engaged a tour guide to show us sights related to Vonnegut and his novel.

It turns out that the actual slaughterhouse five is still intact.

This cow marks the entrance:

But they don’t  process animals there anymore. The very spot where Vonnegut and the other POWs sheltered from the bombing is now a coat check room.

Above, the huge open halls of the slaughterhouse now host concerts and exhibitions. People gather there to drink and to dance and to remember never to forget.