Why a technical philosophy is more important than a technical model

Earlier this week Nick Garcia wrote about how we think too much about good technique rather than what style will fit an individual athlete. Looking at the final technique is trying to reverse engineer the problem. What we should be looking at is the philosophy that it all started with. One thing that top coaches have in common is that they understand the throw and have an idea of what forces they want to create. How that looks and what the athlete needs to do to achieve it might result in different technique, but the core idea is front and center.

In our most most recent video lesson Nick Garcia explained the philosophy behind his approach to the rotational throws and how that translates into teaching progressions. Several years ago Nick and I hosted a training conference together with Jean-Pierre Egger after the World Indoor Championships. There he explained his own philosophy and how that translated into his coaching. It was a great cases study in the importance of a technical philosophy.

» Learn more: Nick Garcia shares and demonstrates his teaching progressions for the shot put and discus in our latest video lesson.

The glide whisperer

Egger is currently retired from coaching and might not have the same name recognition as Art Venegas, but he is to the glide what Art is to the spin. Egger coached two of the most successful gliders of all time in Werner Günthör and Valerie Adams. Combined they won seven world titles under his watch.

Günthör came to Egger as a young thrower and he had a blank slate to work with. Adams, on the other hand, came to Egger mid-career. She visited him for a training camp shortly before the 2010 Continental Cup. At that point she had already won an Olympic title and thrown 21 meters, but she was stuck in a rut and could barely get over 20 meters all season. After working with Egger for the next six years she quickly found her form and eventually surpassed her own Oceania record.

» Related content: Our 2011 interview Jean-Pierre Egger takes a deep dive into his approach to training, technique, and compiles some of the best resources on his work.

Defining Egger’s philosophy

If you have watched the famous Werner Günthör’s training video you will likely recognize the photo below. In just one image Egger simply summarizes his philosophy of the glide. The video is in French and German, but it needs no translation.

In an interview I did with Egger in 2011 he explained it in more detail:

“With the glide the biggest problem is that the athlete must understand exactly what they are trying to do with their body.

Let me give you an example. Look at the pole vault. The pole vaulter takes the pole in his hands and he runs flat until he puts the pole in the box. The pole vaulter doesn’t jump up; he runs forward and that creates tension in the pole that pushes him up.

What does the shot putter do? They move flat through the ring, and then forcefully put their left leg in the “box” (the toeboard). Their left side is like the pole and the right side is like the athlete. Then they push their right side into the left side. Everything is horizontal. The whole system tenses like the pole vault, and then the shot putter can jump.

Most athletes are too late with their left side and then dump the throw. That’s my philosophy. Build up this tension. When you have this you can jump. This is what is happening with Valerie. That is the big focus with Valerie and important with everyone.”

At our conference, Egger expanded on the idea even more with an example of how he applied that approach with Adams. You cannot build up that tension until the left foot lands and Adams was landing late in 2010. Furthermore, she would jump before she blocked, thereby releasing all the tension before it had a chance to build up. They focused on this at a short camp before the 2010 Continental Cup. They had just 10 days and five technical sessions together, but by focusing intensely on the concept she started to get it. After the camp, Adams asked him what she should do in the competition. His response: “Just do the same thing, but with your All Blacks power behind it.”

It is hard to imagine that you can reinvent your throw in a few weeks, but that is basically what happened. A little change in technical philosophy helped Adams take a giant step forward and throw 20.86 meters at the Continental Cup. She not only crushed her competition, but at that time it was the second best throw of her career and nearly a meter over what she had been throwing earlier in the summer.

Coming full circle

I mentioned that technique starts with the technical philosophy. But when listening to Egger, it was interesting to hear that it also ends with the philosophy. If you have a sound philosophy, you don’t need to lose yourself in all the minute details in between. As he explained at our conference:

“I tried to give her this strategy since it focuses on the global coordination rather than being too analytic. If I tell an athlete to finish balanced, they will organize themselves to do that. But if I tell an athlete to pay attention to the right foot and bring it under five centimeters more, then they will forget the left foot.”

Simply having a sound technical idea in your head can often be enough for coaches and athletes to get the job done. It sounds simple enough, but how often do we sit down and try to articulate our approach like Egger did.