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In the last issue of Track Coach, my training partner Ryan Jensen and I published a short article about learning to throw the hammer. Our approach is simple: get kids throwing as fast as possible and then start to refine their technique. The article is built on our experiences in coaching, watching Dr. Bondarchuk coach, and learning to throw ourselves.
I actually learned to throw the hammer twice and the first time I was unsuccessful. I first threw the hammer at at age 15 and began to coach myself. Even after three years of training once a month, I was still just using one or two turns in competition and had no concept of what the event is about.
When I was 18, I met Harold Connolly and began learning all over again. This time, I had a plan. For weeks I did drill after drill, but not one throw. Harold’s theory was to perfect the basics of technique before ever entering the ring. Even after I began throwing, drills took up a significant part of my training for the next four years. My footwork was great, but in hindsight that isn’t where my focus should have been. My footwork has never been a problem, but I still have issue with my balance and rhythm. Drills can’t replicate the true rhythm of a throw. Only a throw can, and that should have been my focus from the beginning.
This is why our approach focuses on getting an athlete to throw as quickly as possible. My longtime friend and current throws coach at Pacific Lutheran University Dan Haakeson provided the best summary of this approach on the popular forum The Ring last autumn. One user suggested that a thrower cannot learn the event without first perfect all of the individual parts and then learning how to put them together. Dan replied by saying “I would venture to say exactly the opposite. Only after someone has begun to understand what a good throw feels like can they grasp the concept of the importance of winding and footwork.” When working with young children, our approach also has the added benefit of keeping their interest in the event. Convincing a young kid to try an event for weeks without throwing is a bit unrealistic. Even if you can maintain their attention for that long, the process makes it harder for them to fall in love with the event. The faster you get them to throw, the faster they’ll become addicted.
A copy of the article is below. The article is very short and is written for beginning coaches. With youth hammer throw growing across the country, more and more coaches are being asked to coach an event they know nothing about. This is controversial topic, so we look forward to your feedback. We have also finished a follow up that will discuss how to start refining technique. That will be published in the June issue. [Note: the follow-up article has since been published and can be viewed here.]