by Jim Aikens, (Burlington) Central High School
Well, it is the first week of this new track season, and man do I realize how I have been spoiled all these years. You know when you have this great practice plan and feel it’s all organized and everything is set up perfectly? Well, that didn’t happen for me. All these years at Fremd I have had a consistent place to practice (for the most part) and athletes that had been taught the basics by the athletes that came before them. Also, I knew where everything was at and storage was in the same area that I practiced. At my new job I have none of that, and my practice plan went out the window day one and man did I love it! It is forcing me to become a better coach.
Next year Central High School in Burlington, Illinois will have one of the best facilities in Northern Illinois. We will have a 200-meter indoor track with multiple jumping, vaulting and throwing areas—it is going to be awesome! Unfortunately, because of the construction required to build this great facility and all the space limitations due to ongoing construction, things are quite interesting this year. During the first week, I have had practice in hallways, an elementary school gym, the weight room, in the cafeteria and outside in a field. It has forced me to be very flexible and inventive, which I thought I was before but because of all the different places we’ve been I have had to alter my practice plan daily. I stuck to the plan the best I could–I altered the drill or exercise to help teach the aspect of the throw I wanted in the limited facility I had available. For example, we were supposed to do ¼ turn forward-facing throws. We ended up in the cafeteria that day, so I couldn’t use shots as planned, so we used small med balls instead. Even with using the small 5.5lb med balls, we had to take time to fold up the cafeteria tables and set them up against the glass display cabinets of trophies that are in the cafeteria to help protect the glass cases and keep people out of the space. This facility issue is really challenging me as a coach. It is forcing me to think of new ways to do things and different ways to get the work done.
As I mentioned above, I have been spoiled by experienced athletes who have taught the younger athletes the basics. This year so far I have 7 throwers: 2 juniors, 2 sophomores and 3 freshman. I am also working with the girls throws coach Cory Barnes (she is fairly new to the throws, but I can tell she is going to be a good one!). Corey has about 9 girls under her tutelage. We have decided to combine our talents and the limited facilities and work together this season coaching both the boys and girls. The thing is, none of our athletes have any experience to speak of. They literally know nothing about throwing the shot and discus. This is both a good and a bad thing. Good is that they do not have any bad habits that they have learned earlier that we needed to correct. The bad thing is that they really don’t have any frame of reference for the throws. As I said earlier, I was spoiled by having my older athletes teach the younger ones the basic techniques and then I would refine it from there. We have to work with these athletes breaking everything down to its most basic component, and on top of that we haven’t actually thrown a shot except for the first day. What I am noticing due to these constraints and the fact that we have to teach even the most basic concepts is that I am forced to analyze what I do down to its simplest component of the throw and build from there.
I need to remain patient, and I have to realize that it is going to be a long while before the kids show proficiency at the throws. It is easy to try to rush things so that the kids are ready for the first meets, but that is not the most important thing. I need to keep in mind to look at the big picture: making sure the kids have the correct foundational throwing concepts and that they can perform them. This will have huge benefits in future performances later in the season and the following seasons, but for now it’s a slow go. I need to constantly remind myself I am building a program and there are no quick fixes.
Our athletes may not be the most talented throwers yet, but I could not be more pleased with these athletes. They are willing to work hard and have given an excellent effort every day of practice. Our practices are only 2 hours to 2 ½ hours, which includes 45 minutes to 1 hour of lifting, which leaves us around an hour to finish all our other work. When I was coaching at Fremd, our practice were 3 to 3 ½ hours including lifting so I am learning to do more with less time. I think if I practice as long as I did with my kids from Fremd, I will burn these athletes out. I found out early season that practices in the past were only 3 days a week, so it’s a vast improvement just practicing every day.
So that’s the state of things at the end of week one. Everyone at Central has been very welcoming and great to work with. The head football coach Brian Melvin has been great in supporting the program and helping to get football players out. The baseball coach Kyle Nelson has helped me to learn this great computer program the athletes use at Central called “TrainHeroic.” It is really cool. You can easily enter the workout and the kids can follow along on their phones if they input the weight lifted it will determine amounts and percentages for the next workout. There are also instructions and a video that show how to do each lift, and I swear there must be a thousand exercises in this program. The head coach, Mike Schmidt, has been phenomenal with trying to give me everything I need to help make the kids successful. The one thing I am noticing about this school is that coaches all work together to share their athlete–this is one reason I think they have such great school spirit.
We have spent the majority of time this week working on proper foot placement, a proper power position, correct shot placement and shot release, and we have spent a lot of time in the weight room. We have also spent a lot of time working on the concept of driving with the hips into the throw for both shot and discus.
Some of the drills I used a lot this week are:
Kneeling arm strike drill: https://youtu.be/PT3MOjI0oNw
This drill teaches the athlete proper upper body delivery mechanics. We emphasize keeping the elbow up and the thumb down upon release of the shot. Proper wrist flick is also emphasized. The athlete can also work on the timing of the strike and the upper body block.
Wall Drill: https://youtu.be/pk2UuMWo7bU
This drill is great for developing hip flexibility and the concept that the athlete’s hips must be rotated to face the direction of the throw.
Quarter turn front facing put: https://youtu.be/QJzZG6Ba9B0
This drill teaches the athlete proper upper body delivery mechanics. We emphasize keeping the elbow up and the thumb down upon release of the shot. Proper wrist flick is also emphasized. The quarter turn & flexing of the knees also helps the athletes time the development of the power from the ground up and the rotation of the torso involved in the throw. It’s a simple but effective drill.
Rt. Heel up, Left heel down drill: https://youtu.be/MnEfzKMTxTk
This drill we are trying to develop the often-overlooked foot mechanics involved in the stand throw. In order to effectively block the left foot (block side on a right handed thrower) the athlete must have the foot flat in order to transfer force between the stopped left side and the ground (a block). If an athlete is on their toes, force will not be fully developed. Likewise to engage the right hip (power side on a right-handed thrower) the right heel should be lifted high to facilitate hip movement. This drill helps to develop that process.
1,2,3,4 stand throw drill: https://youtu.be/na35lYXGwmM
This drill helps develop the overall rhythm and movement of the standing throw. Each count 1 through 4 involves a little more movement of the thrower’s body into the throw.
That’s all for this week!