Where I Failed This Season

No coach at any level ranging from youth to professional ever wants to admit that he failed. However, in order to grow and get better I feel it is necessary. Over the past number of years at Notre Dame High School we have created a reputation of producing throwers year in and year out regardless of the talent we have inherited. It is our expectation that multiple shot putters will make the CIF finals, some will move onto Masters meet, and at least one will qualify for the state meet. And we meet that expectation. Recently we have had four years with at least four throwers over 50’10” in the same season. One season we even had six throwers over that mark. On the woman’s side we have had two girls over 49 feet in the shot as recently as two years ago. We have also had as many of 4 of the top 9 in the CIF finals and 3 of the top 12 in the Masters meet.

The Goal: 65 feet in 2017

This year I had a special individual returning. Kylan Wilborn who had thrown 62’11.75″ his junior year. Having an elite thrower like this was different for me. I’ve had multiple guys over 58 or 59 feet, but in my mind 62 feet is a different level. So I pondered awhile on what to do with him the 2017 season. Should we stay with the traditional system that has worked so well in the past 2 years? Or should we move to the system I am known for using: the Dr. Bondarchuk system? Nearly all of my top single-event athletes in prior years have moved to the Bondarchuk system in their senior year with great success. After much internal debate I decided to stay with the traditional system because, as they say, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

I must admit I felt a bit of pressure to get Kylan to the 65 foot range and if improvement at the same rate as prior seasons 65 feet should not have been a problem. But much to my surprise the entire season felt like a struggle. I kept banking on the fact that his average results throughout the season were higher at than at the same time in 2016. As the season neared an end I did my best not to panic (or show panic) when no PB materialized as the unloading and peaking process could still bring us on track. Later in the season there was even one big sign of hope: at our dual meet against Chaminade Kylan threw 18 inches up a fence placed at roughly 60 feet. We were never able to get an accurate mark, but we knew the throw was surely over 61 feet. Unfortunately when talking about distance that was the pinnacle of the season.

Don’t get me wrong we had some positive things happen. Kylan won the CIF Championship and qualified for his 3rd state meet in a row where he finished sixth with a throw of 59’7″. He was also voted athlete of the year at Notre Dame High School and got to experience his first steak from Ruth’s Chris while at the state meet. That’s a real positive thing in my book. Haha 🙂 Throughout his career he made the state finals three times, which is quite special in California as we have just one state meet for all schools of all sizes.

The Analysis: What Went Wrong

So what went wrong? Most would say nothing. You got a kid to the state meet, his overall average throw was better then the year before, and at the state meet he threw his best throw in five weeks. Things worked out pretty well. But I’m not most people; I say I failed as a coach.

I was pulling my hair out trying to figure out why their was not even a sign of a peak besides the 59’7″ at the final. When you are three feet off of your all-time best, that’s not a true peak in my book. I stayed up all night after the state final in the team hotel comparing his last three seasons. As you looked at the different blocks at the start of the year the peaks and valleys lined up with prior seasons. But then the last five weeks the graph just stays flat rather than reaching the peak we had in prior years. This made it even worse on me. There has to be an answer.

I talked to Kylan and asked him to be completely honest about what he did outside of track. Was he doing any football stuff, supplemental training, etc.? He said no. The only relevant factor was that he lost 15 pounds of weight. Was that enough to make a negative difference on his throwing? Maybe. He is not the heaviest individual in the first place and as the old saying goes “you can’t shoot a cannon out of a canoe.” But on the other hand I feel he was still big enough to throw far and his strength numbers where up (which once again proves that max strength has less transfer than we think it does). I also talked to many of the best coaches I know and they explained that sometimes there is no answer and it’s just the way it went.

Once again we see that max strength has less transfer than we think it does. @nick_g_garcia Click To Tweet

The Conclusion: We Need More Change

What do I think the answer is after a few months of reflection? CHANGE!!! As I mentioned earlier in the article each single event athlete I have switched to the Bondarchuk system has improved their senior year. Not only did they improve, but when I look back at the stats I see them made big jumps of four to five feet on average. And these athletes were already at a high level before switching. On the other hand, those who I did not switch to Dr B either improved a tiny bit or didn’t improve at all.

On Episode 92 of our podcast with Derek Evely we discussed change and he firmly believes that it is necessary after a few years on the same plan. The data I have on my high school throwers supports this view as athletes on the same system for four years stagnate in their last year.

How different is the Bondarchuk system? Different enough. Compared to the traditional system it offers more throws with multiple weighted implements, more focus on specific strength, and the traditional lifts are to be done with more of a focus on speed than maximal strength. This last factor is the biggest and most influential difference as all my athletes use some different implements and specific strength work. There is something to be said for it focusing on power over maximum strength. Remember the main factor in how far an implement travels is velocity of release. I believe these changes would have been enough of a new stimulus for Kylan to reach a higher level this season.

Better Luck Next Time

In closing: what I got out of this season is that an athlete should change his training up every couple years in order to keep growing. There comes a point where the same system stops having a stimulus and I am sure that it is different for each individual. The trick is knowing when to do so and how to change. It is clear to me that using the systems I use we must change after three seasons and rather than small changes we need wholesale change. Now that I’ve learned my lesson we can do better next time around.

Too long in the same system & even talented athletes need something new. @nick_g_garcia Click To Tweet
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