We watch champion’s win all the time, but rarely do we get a chance to see what is going on inside their head. On this week’s episode we get to talk to two Olympic champions and see what their thought process is in competition, how they prepare, and how they’ve overcome some of the most difficult situations imaginable in sport. Tune in to hear shot putter Adam Nelson and hammer throw Szymon Ziolkowski share their experiences. Read more
This week’s episode Nick and I are together for the first time and recording from the floor of the Oregon Convention Center at the World Indoor Track and Field Championships. We give some feedback on the meet and our observations on coaching during competitions. Then special guest Olympic gold medalist Adam Nelson joins us to give us his thoughts on the competition. Read more
A good question for all coaches is “How much is too much?” We should ask this about all forms of programming, but it is perhaps most important in regards to strength as that is where many people overdo it. The tendancy is to think more is always better. But eventually we all learn that it isn’t the case. Read more
In part one of my interview with throwing coach Don Babbitt, he discussed how he indizidualizes the training plans of his athletes like Adam Nelson and Reese Hoffa. Coach Babbitt continued the discussion by talking about what factors he looks at when tailoring a plan to an athlete how he came about this approach after learning under a quite different system as a thrower at UCLA.
Martin: When you mention what factors you look at before individualizing something and what you adjust, it sounds like most of the adjustments are made to fit an athletes schedule and prevent overtraining. Is that the focus of the individualization, or is it also adjusted to address shortcomings or other aspects of training?
Don: The answer is yes to both. When setting up a training plan, I try to look at the overall situation, and then prescribe a plan. The base of the plan will be to address the basic needs of the event from both a physical standpoint and a technical standpoint. There is not a preset plan that I could say is “my system.” If the athlete is new to the program, or a new athlete that I am working with the has been training for some years, I take a look at what they have done in the past as the “base” and then modify it to the situation at hand. Koji had expressed this to me in the past as if you have a training footprint or path is one direction. You have to continue to work down that path or deviate it slightly if this is the case, you cannot just pickup and go a completely different direction. This is the foundation of my training philosophy. Each athlete will also have a plan based upon addressing certain weaknesses and body balance issues, and with regard to technique, the technical model will be based around their strength and weaknesses too. It takes a lot of thought and time preparing, but it seems to be the only way to get the most out of someone in each case. A one size fits all system just does not meet the specific needs of every individual.
One of the most successful throwing coaches in the world over the past decade without a doubt is Don Babbitt. Coach Babbitt has been at the University of Georgia for sixteen years in which his athletes captured 11 NCAA titles, and 55 All-American certificates. Chris Hill (javelin) and Jenny Dahlgren (hammer) also set NCAA records under his guidance. In addition, he has worked with athletes like Adam Nelson (shot put), Reese Hoffa (shot put), Breaux Greer (javelin), Jason Tunks (discus), Brad Snyder (shot put), Andras Haklits (hammer) and many other international champions.
In addition to his success across all the throwing events, what sets Coach Babbitt apart from other elite coaches is the way he individualizes training. Many successful programs have a system which they apply to all their athletes. Coach Babbitt, on the other hand, adapts his system to the individual athletes’ needs. Just listen to Reese Hoffa and Adam Nelson describe their training and you’ll immediately notice major differences even though they are training partners and produce similar results. Despite his recent trip to Japan for a seminar, Coach Babbitt found time to exchange some thoughts on how he fits individualization into the training of his athletes.
Martin: For starters, could you give us a quick overview of what are the major differences in the training of Reese Hoffa and Adam Nelson and why that is the case?
Don: Adam and Reese are quite different in a number of ways, and this may actually be a reason why they can train together so well. In terms of mentality, Adam is a gambler by nature, and sets very high goals for himself. In a way it is manifested in his technique, high risk, high reward. It is challenge for him to stay on a certain course for more than about 3-4 months without a change. He needs and likes change. The key for him in this regard is to change things up to make it fresh without changing too much and getting of task. His training varies from year to year, and it may cycle back around to the same thing over a 2-3 year cycle.
Reese is much more steady and methodical, which again is manifested in his performance and results (very steady). Reese does not like change, he likes to keep homeostasis, so to speak, and do the same schedule and train the same way each year. Sure, there will me minor variations because of schedule, injury, etc., but he tries to replicate the same high level results each year. When things go a little off for Reese, he does not respond too well, and likes to keep things in a controlled situation. He does not like experiments.
Perhaps no athlete has had the high level consistency that Adam Nelson has demonstrated over the past 15 years. Since winning the NCAA title in 1997, Nelson went on to win a world championship and take second at three more. He has also captured two Olympic silver medals. Throughout this whole period many other shot putters come and went. Sydney Olympic champion Arsi Harju exited the international scene as quickly as he entered. Athens champion Yuriy Bilonog had a longer career but still failed to maintain form years later. Young talents like Janus Robberts never were able to make it on a podium, while others like CJ Hunter and Kevin Toth were sidelined by positive drug tests. But Nelson has continued to thrill crowds and with his win at last year’s US Championships he showed the world he will still be a contender in London at age 37.
I’ve always looked forward to watching him since I first saw him throw on TV at the 2000 Olympic Trials. His come from behind victory with a final attempt personal best was clutch, and his reaction was even better. He is known for the intensity he brings to the ring, but many people don’t know he brings that same intensity and success to all parts of his life. For example, he was an Ivy League graduate and holds an MBA from Virginia. He has also sought out and trained with the best coaches and was more than willing to share his thoughts with me. If you want to hear more from him, I suggest listening to the recent interview he gave on the Thrower’s Podcast. And be sure to support his sponsor Saucony, who plans to release its first throwing shoe this year.
Martin: Before we get to talk about training and throwing, I am very interested to hear what you are up to in your non-throwing life. In the past I’ve seen you involved with the Workout Source, a frozen yogurt venture, in addition to being a father. Have you been working on any new projects this year?
Adam: Yes, I recently accepted a position as Director of Sports Performance for a new training center in Athens, Georgia. The facility is part of an expansion by team of surgeons, physical therapists, physician assistants, and athletic trainers. The sports performance center will offer elite athletes a complete offering of performance enhancing services and access to world class coaches like Don Babbitt at the University of Georgia. The Athens Orthopedic Sports Performance Center will open in the fall of this year.