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Identifying Talent

Four years ago Taylor Bush was a walk-on sprinter at the University of Arizona. Now the 22-year-old is one of the top hammer throwers in the NCAA with a personal best of 63.78 meters. In short, she is every coach’s dream. Every coach I know is looking for a way to spot the next talented athlete. But finding and measuring talent can be difficult, especially when it is hard to define. Perhaps the most highly analyzed athletes in the world are college quarterbacks. Yet as Malcolm Gladwell thoughtfully discussed several years ago, even highly trained NFL scouts spending countless hours doing tests and analyses still have a poor success rate in recognizing the next star quarterback. The book Moneyball showed other high profile sports have the same problem no matter how much they invest in the problem. Read more

US Youth Hammer Throw Survey

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We all know that the American hammer throwing has grown tremendously at the youth level over the past decade. While some countries and some events here in America see participation declining, the number of throwers over 50 meters has doubled in the States. America was once a country that had trouble qualifying athletes for international championships, but now it has produced junior world champions and has young throwers regularly in the finals at age-group championships. There are many reasons for this surge and I have put together this survey in order to help identify what cause Read more

Training on Sundays

For most people in Switzerland, Sunday is a day of rest. The labor laws generally prevent anyone from working on Sunday. Therefore, with a few exceptions, all stores are closed. Residents are expected to keep loud noises to a minimum, meaning that even things like laundry and vacuuming can be frowned upon in certain apartment buildings.

But since I work all week, Sunday is the one day where I have lots of free time. It is my biggest training day of the week, yet the only place to lift weights is in the basement fitness studio of a hotel half way across town. Furthermore, I have to go out of my way to pick up an access card from my club on Friday. And the equipment doesn’t always fit my needs. This is a stark contrast to America where you can almost always find a gym open and when you can’t you know the guy who has the key.
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UK Hammer Workshop

The Loughborough, England national training center.

This last weekend I was invited to present about training methods at the National Coach Development Programme Hammer Workshop in Loughborough, England. With the 2012 Olympics coming up in London, the country has been infused with cash and done a great job of using the resources wisely to develop coaching and facilities. Events like last weekend’s are commonplace, and Loughborough is putting the finishing touches on a beautiful covered throwing facility that will complement the indoor throwing facility they already have.
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USATF Foundation Youth Hammer Throw Grants

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The USATF Foundation helps support the Youth Hammer Throw Grants.

Harold Connolly dedicated his last decades to the youth hammer throw. After encouraging athletes such as myself to pick up the event, he began to see that it wasn’t just the lack of throwers that was hurting America’s prospects in the event, it was also their isolation from one another. This isolation meant that talented kids were not getting the resources they needed to become world class throwers. So, in addition to all of his other projects, Harold began raising money in 2005 to give grants to the top youth throwers. He would email hundreds of people, plea on the internet, and hand out coaching DVDs in order to encourage donations. It started as a grassroots project every year and the money started to trickle in. He received a few larger donations, but the bulk of the funds came from $5 and $10 donations from people who believed in what he was doing. Read more

Nature vs. Nurture

“Talent is something that is not only for Africans … For me, there are talented athletes like Africans in both [Italy and America]. The problem is, it’s difficult to find them. In Africa everybody goes running. Because if you become good, it is something for your life. And here everybody goes to do something else. But it is not that there is no talent.” -Renato Canova

I enjoy reading about the best athletes and coaches in every event and sport. Even though the marathon and the hammer throw are worlds apart, you’d be surprised at how much they have in common. Last month I stumbled upon a great Running Times profile of legendarian Italian coach Renato Canova from several years ago. The above quote comes from that article, where he discussed a range of topics including why Western runners can’t seem to keep up with Africans. His words immediately made me think of the throwing events too.

Coach Renato Canova courtesy of runningexpert.blogspot.com

We all know that American and European distance runners have been pushed off the podium by Africans over the past few decades. Coach Canova knows this first hand, having been on both sides of the change while coaching some of the top Italian and Kenyan runners. But after coaching both groups of athletes, he concludes that the main reason Africans are better is because everybody runs in Africa. When a culture creates a large talent pool and a greater incentive to succeed, then they will develop more stars. It’s a simple formula: east Africans dominate the running events because running is central to their culture. Jamaicans outperform other nations in the sprints for similar reasons. And the former Soviet nations lead the hammer throw because they learn the event younger and in greater numbers.
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Introducing The New Hammerthrow.org

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Olympic champion Harold Connolly, the founder of Hammerthrow.org

Back in 2002, Harold Connolly asked me to help him maintain his website, Hammerthrow.org. Harold’s son had started the site for him as a birthday gift, but Harold didn’t have the know-how to keep it up to date. I, on the other hand, had already started HSHammer.com and CollegeHammer.com and clearly loved doing that type of work. As a college freshman with too much time on my hands, I was secretly hoping he’d ask for my help with his site too. I was actually already planning on asking him to take over this role and had begun drafting a redesign to help make my case for my abilities.

Harold’s vision for the site was to create an online resource for information about the hammer throw. My vision for the site was to create a one-stop resource for everything about the hammer throw. While I was able to experiment with some new ideas, my vision was too big and I eventually ran out of time to give the site. Over the past few years, the only updates to Hammerthrow.org have been to post information about Harold’s annual youth hammer throw grants. The site looked dated and its organizational structure hid the loads of information it contained. Read more