4 Things I Wish I Understood As An Athlete
After coaching for 3 years, I have learned a significant number of things that I wish I knew while I was still competing. Most of my problems came back to the fact that I thought I knew everything about training when I was a foolish college student. So when I came across new ideas, I usually brushed them off because I was already doing everything perfectly. Fast forward 3 years I’d like to say I’m more open minded, but here are some things I would have liked to get through to my bull headed college mind.
A comprehensive understanding of technique
Understanding technique is certainly a process that takes a long time and effort to develop. Like everything though, the more time you spend around it, the more familiar things get. Piece by piece, as new tidbits of knowledge or a new perspective is exposed to you, a framework starts to construct in your mind making up the full technique. I can remember in high school when everything was just a giant fog. My body would just do things on its own, and I would have no link between what I felt in the circle and what my mind thought. I would take one cue at a time and try to manipulate it into the throw, but it was never in the context of the entire throw.
By the end of college, after tens of thousands of throws, I got pretty good at feeling what my body was doing in the circle. I could tell if my left leg was late getting off out of the back or if I was blocked off at the front, but I was still working in pieces. When I critiqued my throw, I knew of certain things that should happen or shouldn’t happen, but I didn’t know why or how one part affected another. I had all of these separate pieces and ideas, but never learned how they all fit together to form the puzzle. One reason for this is that I didn’t watch enough throwing video. Another is because I didn’t have a coach or online resource to present a zoomed out version of the throw to me. The throw has a very basic foundation to it. Once that is discovered, every other piece of information you receive can be build onto that foundation. That way you will never be juggling all of these little pieces in your head, but have a solid ground from which you can add one specific piece of your technique at a time.
Bad feeling is not always bad
Like I said, almost all of my throwing was based off of the feeling I had in the circle. I would make technical corrections based on how the throw felt and how far the implement went. The most destructive part of this type of throwing is that when I would try to make a technical correction and the throw felt bad, I would almost immediately discard it. Sometimes I would at least have some short term vision and would try to stick out a technical change for a whole session in hopes that it would feel better after a couple tries. However, I never had a true long term technical plan.
There are a couple reasons why I struggled at this. First was that I didn’t have a coach day to day at my practices to keep me accountable. Secondly I was never really confident enough in any technical change to be willing to sacrifice a number of low distance practices to really integrate it into my throw. Thirdly I could not mentally handle having bad feeling and poor distance practices. All of my motivation came strictly from distance improvements. If I would have had a more technical mind, I would have been able to see the long term advantage of fixing my technique, and be satisfied and motivated with that even though my distances were lower, improving my technique would eventually yield further throws.
My back pain was from throwing not from lifting
For my last three years of college I struggled with pretty severe ongoing back pain. It basically prevented me from going heavy on any lower body lifts. Through my junior and senior year, I never put more than more than 200lbs on my back. Even though my bench got pretty strong over this time, I can only imagine how developing a stronger lower body would have improved my throw. I went to see multiple physical therapists and doctors about it, and almost everyone diagnosed my with something different. None of them had a true understanding of lifting, and especially the olympic lifts. When I explained some of the things I would do in training, those unfamiliar ballistic lifts where usually blamed for the source of my pain.
The biggest oversight in this whole ordeal is that I never truly considered that my technique could be the source of my pain. As you can see in the picture, an incredible amount of force is crunching down on my back, which should not happen if I had better technique. I also never took any time off throwing where I was also lifting. It wasn’t until after college that I took some time off that I realized I didn’t have any more pain when lifting. However I soon started throwing again and the pain returned. That’s when I realized the pain was completely throwing based and my glaring technical flaw was most certainly the cause. Eventually I fixed my technique at the finish and my back pain went away. This is just another example about how poor technique can drastically impact your throwing career!
The importance of mobility
Part of the reason I never realized how tight I was is that the majority of other throwers I was around were significantly tighter than I was. I am convinced that tightness is a plague that is stunting the growth of the throwing world! I also thought that because I could touch my toes I was flexible. Meanwhile my hip flexors were ridiculously tight. This tightness not only contributed to my back pain and a couple of pulled muscles across my career, but also inhibited me from reaching deeper positions in the throw. Every now and then I would roll out or do some hurdle mobility, however it was rare and very inconsistent. I can only imagine the amount of headaches I would have avoided if I would have stuck to a consistent mobility regimen!