You haven’t taught until they’ve learned

In my post yesterday about Jean-Pierre Egger I wrote about the importance of having a technical philosophy and how that can look in practice. As important as that is, having a philosophy isn’t much use unless the athlete understands it. Teaching isn’t necessarily about what you say, it’s about what is heard. Or, as John Wooden used to put it, you haven’t taught until they’ve learned.

Teaching and learning

Back in December I brought Sergej Litvinov to Zurich. Litvinov brings with him a different perspective, as I wrote about earlier this month when discussing his approach to technical drills. I wanted to share his viewpoint with the Swiss hammer throw community. Agree with him or not, learning a new perspective can only help throwers and coaches refine their own approach.

We spent the weekend working with going through his coaching philosophy, and he stayed a few more days to work extra with my training group. After all that training, did my throwers really understand what he was talking about? Sometimes when an idea is too different, it can be hard to wrap your head around it. And Litvinov’s approach is very different than the German-influenced approach most Swiss are used to. Not once during his visit did we talk about footwork or angles or force measurements. We talked about rhythm and balance and orbit.

» Learn more: Litvinov joined the September 2018 member hangout to discuss how he thinks about hammer throw technique and orbit.

One way to see if throwers get it is to simply watch their throw. If they are catching on you will see it in their technique. I saw that with some athletes. After Litvinov’s visit I took an extra step: I assigned homework to my throwers. I asked them to write me a little synopsis of what they’ve learned.

Only Litvinov can judge if they truly learned what he wanted them to. But I’m sharing some of their feedback for everyone since it might also help you in developing your technical philosophy.

Lessons from Litvinov

Here are a few quotes from my throwers’ homework assignment:

  • The hammer is our friend. Work with him, not against him.
  • The hammer moves the best if we don’t do anything to it. It wants its orbit and it wants to be accelerated slowly but steadily.
  • You need to feel the hammer with the fingers. That is our single contact point with the hammer.
  • Hammer throw is a dance between tension and acceleration in the active phase, and relaxation and letting it run in the passive phase.
  • The hammer’s orbit has to be balanced . . . in other words it is about more than just the high and low point, at 90º and 270º the hammer should be at an equal level.
  • Take joy in experimenting and adding variation to training if you want to improve. Always doing the same thing means always the same results.

If they missed the point, you can blame it on my translation skills. But seriously, the first thing I noticed was that every point was about the hammer, not the athlete. That is the core message I take from Litvinov’s philosophy: the hammer throw is not primarily about what we do, it is about what the implement does. That alone shows me that the athletes “got it.” Let’s see how that translates into results this season.

» Related content: Martin Bingisser explains his approach to hammer throw technique in HMMR Classroom Video Lesson 10.