Go to your typical track meet and I bet you can identify which throwers are coached by which coach. Maybe it is a signature start, or how they move across the ring. They have a technical model and they’ve applied that successfully to their athletes. That is the sign of a good coach, right?
I used to think that too, but my experiences with Dr. Anatoli Bondarchuk changed my mind. Throughout his long career he has coached and mentored more than a dozen hammer throwers over 80 meters. As a day-to-day coach he worked with eight that broke the barrier, more than any other coach in the world. That makes him the most successful coach ever in our sport.
The unique thing is that each one had a very unique throw, myself included. None of Dr. Bondarchuk’s athletes looked the same, we don’t have the same strength numbers, some are taller, some are shorter, some have long arms and others have a long torso or faster foot speed. Just watch Yuri Sedykh compared to Jüri Tamm or even me. We all look worlds apart. But we had a few things in common: we had the same coach, and we were solving the same movement riddle.
Same but different
On the outside it might look like all hammer throwers are facing the same demands: we throw the same implement out of the same ring and same cage. Therefore our technique should be the same. This is why so many coaches have a strong belief that there is one way to throw far. But the fact that every thrower is physically and psychologically different means we have to do different things to achieve the same result.
And I don’t just mean anatomical differences. Our training history, coordination, how we were raised, and other factors change the situation as well. Some throwers might not have the flexibility to get into certain positions. Others might have more strength. Even others might have a predisposition to move their feet a certain way.
The end goal is the same: throw far. This requires fast speed of release and an optimum orbit to reach that. As mentioned above, the starting point is different. Therefore the path between the start and end points is by necessity unique for each thrower. No two will look the same. We are all facing a different movement riddle that we have to solve, finding our own path to the end point. Embrace the differences along your technical journey.
Riddle me this
I call this a movement riddle. Some people call it this solving a movement problem or puzzle. For me, those terms don’t fully capture the challenge. Solving a problem sounds like math. But math isn’t fun and the technical answer is not always as objectively clear as it is in math. A puzzle is better description, but it also assumes the pieces just fit together. However movement isn’t just static positions we are trying to stitch together. It is more complex and nuanced.
A riddle, on the other hand, isn’t just challenging, it is fun. That’s how coaching should be. Embrace the athlete’s differences, solve the riddle, and you’ll find efficiency. Ignore the differences and you’ll likely just find frustration.