by Jim Aikens, (Burlington) Central High School
MONDAY 4/30: Today we had a triangular meet at Saint Charles North with us and Elgin. The weather was finally really nice, and the kids did a nice job. This was the final meet of the season where all the kids get to compete. Unfortunately, due to the poor weather this spring we missed several opportunities for all the kids to get to compete. I wish we could have had more. It was fun to go to this meet since the throws coach at Saint Charles North, Ken Kemeny, is a good friend and one of my former athletes. He is doing a great job there developing his kids and building a great throws program. He has a good number of kids out who are really excited about throwing and are well coached.
After our poor showing at Crystal Lake Central we needed to have a good showing. We didn’t blow the doors off of anybody, but it was good. My junior shot putter hit 43 feet again for the first time since the first outdoor meet at Sycamore and all of his throws were over 42 feet, so I liked the consistency. My freshman had a nice series in the 40’s with his best at 41’ 6”, and my other junior threw over 40 feet again. I also had another freshman put the shot 38 feet so that was a positive as well. In the discus, we had five PR’s with one of my freshman improving eleven feet with 104-foot throw.
TUESDAY 5/1: Today was a weird day I kept getting texts all day from kids giving me various reasons why they couldn’t make it to practice. By the time that practice came around, out of my thirteen throwers only five were present. I had it planned that I would work with the three kids on the invite team while the other guys were lifting weights. As it turned out, only one of the three invite team guys was at practice. I worked a lot with him on discus, since that is what he will be throwing at the meet on Friday. We worked on trying to develop his discus spin. He has been doing powers so far this season. He is having a hard time spinning and ending up in a good power position, for a number of reasons. His biggest problem is that he thinks too much. He thinks about the movements he makes and has a specific focus instead of a general focus and letting his body move. It’s kind of like if you thought of every movement your body made, you would have very choppy movements. He needs to gain more of a general body awareness and let things flow instead of thinking about his movements. When a kid first learns a new technique there is always thinking about your specific movements, but as you do the technique more you should think less and less about the movement. I have found that athletes who are very analytical tend to have this problem. Anyways, we worked for a little over an hour. We did a lot of South Africans and modified South Africans to try to develop the drive and rhythm across the ring in the spin. He was struggling, but had a couple of good tosses during practice. At the end of his session, I told him to go home and let his body assimilate the drills he had done today and that I was pretty sure he would be better tomorrow. Often times when athletes are working on something and having some difficulty when they come back the next day they are able to do it considerably better after the body has had time to process what it has learned. I am pretty sure that will be the case for this kid.
The other kids came out after weights and we worked on stand throws and the full shot put movement. For the stand throw we did a lot of 1-2-3-4’s with a throw on the four. Then we went into some straight-leg glides and double glides. We ended the session with them doing glides to a stop, checking the power and throwing, followed up with full glides. We then went over to discus and followed pretty much the same recipe starting with perfect powers into wheels, South Africans, modified South Africans and finally full spins.
WEDNESDAY 5/2: Today I gave practice off to all the kids who weren’t going to be throwing Friday at the Kane County Invite. The weather played a factor again today. We had some pretty bad storms move through the area. Not being one to blow an opportunity, I had my kids hustle inside and onto the shelf in the gym. I knew the baseball/softball teams would want that space, and I wanted to make sure we got there first–and we did! Those teams came up to the shelf, but we were there first so we still got a good practice in.
I have raised up the starting position of my big freshman thrower in the back of the ring. I decided to do this because he has not been able to start correctly from the lower position. He is able to hold the position and looks good, and I thought he was strong enough to get out of it but he is not. He uses his upper body too much and raises up too much getting out of the back. As a result, he is way too open when he hits the power position and his right foot isn’t underneath him, so there are very little legs involved and no hip action. I decided before our meet on Monday to raise him up higher out of the back, my idea being that it would essentially look like the wall glide drill without the wall. I felt it would be easier for him to get his right foot underneath and therefore use his hips better. He did much better. All of his throws were between forty and forty-one feet. This was one of his best averages of the season. He still opened up way too much, but that’s what we are working on today. As a coach, I think you have to be willing to experiment and alter your technique if what you are doing doesn’t seem to be working very well. We focused on staying back on the glide action. Take a look at the comparison between his lower position in the back and after one day of work raising him up in the back. I think it worked out pretty well. Take a look. https://youtu.be/G332ogJyphM
With my junior, we are really trying to work on him staying back and trying to get his hips into the throw more. It has been a struggle. He has thrown 43’ 11” without really getting his hips into it. We have tried a number of different drills and verbal cues. I think this is one of those instances where we just have to keep working on it until he gets the feel of it. He has improved, and I think he is ready to throw farther–he just has to do it in the meet.
My junior discus thrower who was having trouble with his discus spin yesterday looked a lot better today. I wouldn’t use his technique on a “how to” discus video, but it was much smoother and he was hitting better positions. He did a lot better working on his general focus today and not focusing on all the little details of the throw. Now we just have to keep working it so he can carry that same concept into a meet. My other freshman discus thrower is working on driving out of the back of the ring. He is usually too circular and over-rotating out of the back of the ring. Today we had him doing a lot of South Africans where his focus was on driving out of the back of the ring. I told him to imagine he was trying to get over a ditch. For this portion of the practice we would have him do two South Africans focusing on driving out of the back and then two spins focusing on the same thing. He must have done thirty South Africans and full throws, not to mention the fifteen powers I had him do before. He is not ready for that volume yet–towards the end his form was getting really sloppy, so I had him stop. This is a video from the middle of the drill session. Not bad for a kid who has never thrown before this year. ________
THURSDAY 5/3: Today was our Cookie Blitz fundraiser. We had practice until 4 pm and then had to meet inside for the Ccookie Blitz (the kids take 2 ½ hours to go around town and sell cookie dough then have a team dinner afterwards). I had the kids not going to the Kane County meet lift weights and then come to the team meeting at 4pm. We had practice outside for those kids who were going to the Kane County meet. We worked on trying to blend the techniques we have been working on in the throws. We threw light shots and had them going about 80% effort. I wanted to work on them feeling the throw and putting it all together. We got back into the school for the team meeting a little late, but oh well.
FRIDAY 5/4: This was a pretty good day for us. We competed in the Kane County meet at East Aurora High School. I had never been to the Kane County Meet before, and this was the 100th anniversary of this meet. I must say this was a great meet with a lot of history. I also got to spend some time with some of my throws coaching buddies from the Fox Valley area. It was great to see everyone and the meet was very well run.
What I was most pleased about was that some of the things we have been working on in practice finally showed up in the kids’ throws. I had my two freshman throwing the discus. My big freshman who is a pretty good shot putter had some serious back issues. His back was hurting him pretty bad and he toughed it out and showed some true grit competing even though it hurt him. His best is 113 feet, and he only threw 109 feet but I was proud of his performance. My other freshman, who is a 38 foot shot putter and a 10 foot pole vaulter, had a 13-foot PR in the discus and threw 117 feet. He is finally starting to drive out of the back and not over-rotating as much.
In the shot put, my freshman thrower, despite his back pain (I had to pick up his shot for him because it hurt too much when he bent over) threw 42’ 1.5”. All of his throws were over 40 feet. I let his parents take him home after the meet and gave him the weekend off. My junior shot putter had a nice PR also. He had thrown 43’ 11” earlier in the year, but the best he could muster recently were throws in the mid 42’s. When you look at his form, it’s not great but it’s a lot better than that. His first two throws were 41’ 6” and 39’ 11” and they looked okay for where his form is currently at, but they weren’t going anywhere. So about 8 throws before him I told him to watch some of the throwers and tell me what he noticed about them. He observed various flaws they had and I said, “You are correct.” I asked him, why are they throwing much farther than you? What are they doing that you are not? He couldn’t answer. I said “They are going through the movement faster and finishing more explosively.” We had talked about this same concept many times before, but for some reason it finally clicked for him. He said, “Oh, I get it. I got to not worry so much about form and just get after it.” I said, “YEAH.” So, for his last throw he got in the ring and threw his best effort of the season: 44’ 04.5”. I am hoping this is an “Ah Hah!” moment for him. I won’t find out until the conference meet next Tuesday. He ended up in 10th place. They took nine throwers to finals. He was pissed, and I was glad to see that.
SATURDAY 5/5: This was our last practice for all the throwers. I gave the kids who competed on Friday off. I also needed to have a throw-off for the final discus spot for JV conference next Thursday. I decided to have a competition for our last practice. The winner gets a box of Girl Scout Cookies. The kids loved that prize! I did the competition a little different. I decided to develop a handicap for each thrower so that everyone would have an equal chance to win. I did this in both shot and discus, and it really worked out well. Let’s use discus as an example: I took the team average in discus. For ease of understanding let’s say it was 100 feet. Then I took everyone’s best throw and either added or subtracted the feet necessary to make it equal 100 feet, and that was their handicap. So if one throwers best throw was 75 feet, his handicap would be a plus 25. That means we would add 25 feet to however far he threw. If a thrower’s best throw was 113 feet, then his handicap would be minus 13. That means we would subtract 13 feet from however far he threw. We followed the same formula in the shot put. The kids seemed to really get into this and had a good time. I brought along my tailgating music box so we also had some music playing. As I was hoping, not the best kid in each event won and the competition was really close. In the throw-off spot for JV Conference I used their actual distances and not their handicapped distances. After we were done, I opened a couple of boxes of other Girl Scout cookies I had, and we ate a couple and talked about the season. I am going to miss these guys. They were a great group of kids who really have come a long way.