Competition Mentality Q&A

I am blown away by this number of questions! Thank you so much. Questions are bolded so if you asked one, you can easily scroll and find it. As always, feel free to inquire more in the comments!

“How do you approach a big meet or ‘need to throw further’ 3rd throw to get into a finals of a competition?”

               See my main blog for the answer to Part A! I like the “need to throw further” 3rd throw part of this question. It’s a bit of a Hail Mary, right? You’re desperate. I hate that I have felt this way at so many major championships, but I have overcome the feeling before!

               Thinking about what has gone wrong on throws 1 and 2 isn’t the move. Concentrate on what you came into the competition focused on technically, and do that. I always find that really locking in my posture and core before one of these last-ditch attempts is really important. Relax your upper body and make your legs fire! It’s so easy to approach a third throw like this with a “relax and let it happen” attitude, and I find that that just sends the tip of the javelin straight up into the air, because I’ve forgotten about my legs.

A) Breathe. But not in a relaxed way necessarily, in an empowering, positive-in-negative-out kind of way.

B) Do a little bit of core. Some push-ups maybe. A handstand. Lock in the source of your power!

C) Focus on the cues you came into the day focused on.

D) Lead with your legs.

Breathe!

Breathe!

“What helps you the most to stay out of your own head before a meet?”

               Sleep in if I can, go for a walk and listen to something completely unrelated to javelin, watch funny shows or movies, and nap. I’m pretty solitary on meet day. I know some people like to talk to others to distract themselves but I need to be mostly horizontal to feel like I’m saving up my energy. Once it’s time to get ready to head to the track, though, I’m fine with focusing on the job at hand. I love the process of packing my bag with everything I know I’ll need: Water bottle, snacks, shoes and extra spikes, foam roller, extra clothes, bib number and safety pins. It calms me to know I’m prepared. And I pack and start getting ready fairly early so I know I’ll have time to remember everything.

“How not to be nervous when people are watching; parents and teammates.”

               See my previous blog for another touch on this! I used to be so nervous about crowds, too, until I realized that they were only there because they believed in me. A crowd really wants everyone to succeed. They want to see a fantastic competition, even if they’re just a bleachers section full of parents! So recognize their attention for what it is: Encouragement. Be honest with yourself that there is some tiny part of you that wants to show off all of the hard work that you’ve done in sport, and tap into that to give the crowd a show. They’re there because they want to witness something fantastic. Don’t you want that for yourself, too? Everyone is on the same page. I found that this mental shift was fairly slight for me (attention is still being directed your way, negative or positive, in front of a crowd), but so huge for my mentality. It takes practice to soak up that energy as a positive, but you can do it!

“How to stay calm all day so you don’t burn out but ramp up the energy come competition time.”

               I have come to love walks. It’s probably all due to my Maddie Lion! They truly calm me, and I actually started that practice just after my left shoulder surgery at the end of 2015, about 6 months before we got Madeline. I was training for her and I didn’t even know it! I take some sort of walk every competition day now, limited to about 20 minutes. Bonus if I’m listening to some sort of podcast that makes me laugh or think about something unrelated to what will happen later in the day. Sometimes after the walk I’ll do a tiny bit of balance work.

               After that, getting horizontal, not drinking too much coffee too early in the day, watching shows or movies that are easy on the brain, and napping keep me calm. I like to set a time for myself that it’s okay to start getting excited, and like I said above, that’s usually when I start getting ready for the competition itself. If you know subconsciously that you’re reserving excitement for that specific time, hopefully your body will cooperate and relax all day, then build when you say it’s okay!

               Starting to get ready to leave is actually phase one of excitement. Phase two is the bus. Phase three is the warm-up area, and phase four is walking into the stadium itself. Practice this in training. Think about cues in your car on the way to training, but keep the music calm. Crank the tunes during general warm-up or just allow yourself to be a little more excitable (laughing with teammates, etc.). Then as you approach the ring/runway/what have you, don whatever your game face is.

A game face.

A game face.

“How do you keep your head clear during competition? I get unfocused and in my own head.”

               Print out photos of things that make you happy (see below for two that make my heart explode) or motivate you. Physically write your cues on a sheet of paper or index cards to have with you during the competition to keep you focused. Practice your strategy for the meet in training or just at home in your own mind (Do you want to open the competition with a super far first throw? What will you do on attempt four to start finals strong? Break the meet down into scenarios and operate within those as you’ve thought through them.).

               I do a couple really simple things to shake myself back into the moment during a competition if I start to feel tired or unfocused (that sometimes happens when competing jet-lagged!). The first is to simply drink water. I always have a water bottle with me, and the plain act of sipping water from my own sticker-riddled Nalgene water vessel snaps me back into every day life and a headspace that I’m used to occupying. The second is to remove myself from the competition area a bit! Get away from semi-awkward smiles or chit-chat if you need to and do some stretching or breathing or a stride. Just take a second.

Just doing some levitation off by myself on a very cold Drake Relays day!

Just doing some levitation off by myself on a very cold Drake Relays day!

               Another thing you might try is some kind of meditation. It doesn’t have to be long or intense or involve anything more than just sitting quietly and breathing for five or ten minutes. Controlling your own need to fidget or move or be stimulated helps retain focus in competition.

“How do you overcome your own thoughts before practices and competition? I’ve always struggled with being very negative and never being happy with my performances and it’s definitely affected my throws during meets since I’m constantly beating myself down.”

               Try hyper-focusing on very few objective technical cues. You should do this in practice as well! If you have maybe two (maybe even just one) physical things that you’re attempting to accomplish in a competition and those are your absolute only goals, it’s very easy to tell if you succeeded or not! Then, if you don’t accomplish those goals, it’s okay to be frustrated for a bit. You’re nervous and upset because you care about how you’re doing, but you also need to learn how to channel that negative energy into positive work and then results. Take your next competition and establish two technical components that you must execute in order to consider the day successful. If you do those two things, you’ve won. For this meet, it does not matter ONE BIT if you throw far or not. It only matters if you hit your positions. I bet both will happen.

               My sophomore year of college, I had this terrible practice at which I hit myself in the back of the head with the javelin like eight times. It was supposed to be a really chill day with not a lot of effort, but I can feel my tears of embarrassment and frustration welling up in my memory! The next day was a competition day, and I threw a 4-meter PR. Something about feeling like I had hit rock bottom (which was an over-reaction) and then getting a little angry in a competition made me relax.

“Was it hard to adjust to ‘big meets’ and keep a solid mindset? How did you learn?”

               Um, yeah. I think my track record (ha!) at really big meets speaks for itself as far as my very slow learning curve and performing when it counts. See Part 1 of this series for some stories on that!

               I’ve learned by trying to figure out how to make the big meets normal for me. I’m actually really excited as we approach Tokyo 2020, because I’m hoping to make the experience much more like the three-week training trips I go on to Germany and Europe in general sometimes than a big, grandiose Olympic Games. That’s normal for me (my own AirBnB, Russ along, paddle-boarding at night in the city). Something as simple as a walk (again, see Part 1) keeps a big competition day consistent with a not-as-big competition day.

SUP?

SUP?

               After ACL surgery, I spent a long time in my re-introduction to international competition trying to remain really calm. I was super nervous to compete again because throwing the javelin at a high level of intensity in one slightly wrong position is how I hurt my knee. So to return to that arena was scary. I needed to practice managing my energy and nervousness going into meets. After a while though, I just felt tired heading into the stadium. My psyche adjusted to the regular competition goings-on as I got further away from my injury and I needed to ramp it up again, but in normal ways. So I started watching the YouTube video that always gets me fired up, listening to high-energy songs, and drinking more coffee before getting on the bus and during my warm-up routine. Keeping things normal is important, but sometimes the slightest jolt in that normal routine creates magic as well (for the third time, read Part 1).

               I’ve struggled with jet lag at Diamond League events, comparing myself to others during the warm-up process, and worrying that I’ll have to pee in the middle of the event. But when it comes down to it, whether I’m on American soil or in the Bird’s Nest, the constant is that I’m throwing the javelin. Recognizing that that can be the same all over the world is powerful.

“What’s your diet look like pre and post meet?”

               I eat pretty darn simply on meet days! The night before, I usually have some kind of sweet. Something small. And the dinner that precedes that is typically some sort of red meat and vegetables. Breakfast day-of is eggs, maybe some oatmeal and banana if it’s available, and some coffee because that’s a normal thing. Sometimes orange juice. For lunch I like a sandwich. I’m a big fan of a Jimmy John’s Italian sub. Maybe an Arnold Palmer. Water all day in sips, and more coffee before or on the bus. I often compete in the late afternoon or evening so eating before a competition is sometimes the hardest part! If it’s late enough that a bar won’t cut it before competition time, I might eat another half a sandwich. Then, a protein bar of some kind (Zone bars and Balance bars are great, but I’ve been loving Larabars recently as well), some Propel usually, and fruit snacks for right before/during the meet! Then dinner, whatever it may be, as soon as possible post-competition. Great question!

“I often feel guilty with rest, I would love to hear you talk about this.”

               Rest is best! I love it love it. Read my Recovery blog!

               As far as rest on competition days, I used to do too much of it. I would preserve ALL of my energy for meet time, but then find it really difficult to get up and go when I needed to, especially overseas. Now, I eat breakfast, usually take a walk from there (20 minutes or so, listening to something completely unrelated to javelin), then do a little bit of balance and core work before going to lie down for the rest of the day before competition! My favorite is to get my lunch on the walk and keep it in a hotel mini-fridge if available so I don’t have to leave my room again until it’s time to hit the track! I used to just lay down all day, and my back would hurt and it would take so much more effort to warm up once I started. Lethargy. Now, keeping that bit of movement isolated to the morning and then resting all midday keeps me alert but relaxed as well. A bonus competition-day nap is my favorite!

               Allowing yourself to rest on meet day lets your mind and body prepare for putting everything into competition. It’s this slow burn, like the question above about ramping up energy when it’s actually time rather than burning out with excitement during the day. The important work to your performance that day has already been done! Any fidgeting, extra mobility work, or drills you might do on meet day a) should have already been done and b) probably will just make you tired. Your coach has prepared you for competition in a specific way, and messing with your central nervous system with extra work the day of a meet doesn’t help that process!

“I am interested as a jav girl about the 80%=PRs. How do u stay 80% at big meets?”

               I’m not completely familiar with this concept! It’s not something I’m conscious of during a meet so I’m not totally sure how to answer, but here we go.

               If I were to apply a “stay at 80% effort” mentality to competition, I would imagine that would mean I’d lead with my legs and try to keep my upper body relaxed. That is what I try to do anyway! Attempting to throw really far with not all of your effort is going to be really difficult. One of the worst feelings ever is walking away from a runway with the idea that you haven’t put everything you’ve got into the competition. People do that at the biggest meets in the world. They go in thinking, “Stay relaxed, just easyfar out there in qualifying and go home to prepare for finals.” Then before you know it, your third attempt is here and so far you’ve performed worse than the rest of the season. (I’m speaking from experience, guys.) Six throws (three in a qualifying situation) feels like a lot, but it can go by SO quickly. Put everything you’ve got into attempt number 1, then relax the upper body more and more from there (keep the legs turning over!).

               If you’re firing on all leg cylinders, but your upper body is relaxed, hopefully that equals the 80% effort you’re talking about. But trying to actually throw at 80% mentally means to me that you’ll be hesitant at release, and likely that means you lose the tip and just try to poke the javelin out there last-minute without proper sequencing. That’s what happens to me when I try to back off! There is a recklessness to this javelin throw, but leading it with your legs means that it happens in the right order. I hope this helps!

Please enjoy this collage of times I’ve tried to relax too much and been frustrated and baffled by the result.

“How do you keep your head in the right place if in a competition and it’s going bad?”

               All you can do is stick to your technical goals! Again, I try to remove myself a bit from the rest of the competition and put my head back on straight. I do some leg swings or just lay there face up, looking at the beautiful blue sky and reassuring myself that regardless of how it’s going right now, this is fun and I am awesome. I have, in the past, been pretty great at clutch sixth-round victory throws! And almost every time, this little reassurance moment off by myself in the grass or on a secluded spot of track surface is the precursor to that last-minute performance.

“How do you stay out of your own head after a bad meet or bad week of practice.”

               It is absolutely okay to sulk a little bit. Staying relentlessly positive is exhausting and not real! I’ve had extreme over-reaction moments when practice has gone terribly, I’m training super hard in an effort to just improve on SOMEthing, and then my back spasms and I collapse into a dramatic mess of tears. Once, I basically crawled to Russ’s room in Chula Vista, sobbing. I can be a disaster. But in short spurts! Then, pull yourself up, recognize little tiny victories every day, and move forward.

               Slumps suck. It’s true. And they can be due just to training, or injury, or stuff going on in your life that has nothing to do with javelin. In any case, and whatever is throwing you off your game, make a plan to fix it. Figure out exactly what’s wrong with some self-reflection. Have you just been continuing to train through back pain, hoping it will go away? Talk to a physical therapist and develop a plan, then prepare to put the hard work in to make it better. Confused about technique? Request more film-watching sessions with your coach, or do that on your own (YouTube started my freshman year of college and was finally mainstream when I graduated! You have SO many resources for visual learning.). Having a hard time focusing on training because something else is bothering you? Buckle down and finish that paper, break out of your toxic relationship, or volunteer somewhere to feel better. Deal with stress in a healthy way so that it doesn’t leak into your athletic performance. Bottom line, you’re in control of your life. Change what isn’t serving you.

               One bad meet? No problem. I threw 55 meters in Italy last summer, by FAR my worst meet of the season. It was my last competition before the Diamond League Final: The Most Important Competition For Me Of The Year. I was a little freaked out. Barbora and I had lunch in Prague just after the Italy meet, and I told her, embarrassed, about my showing in Rovereto. She shrugged and said, “You must have one.” Oh! One meet does not the athlete make. My worries instantly dissipated and I focused on the future, then threw well. I know it’s hard to shake it off, but practice it! One bad throw does not a practice make either. Get better at moving on from bad technique in the day-to-day, and that will make it easier to focus on a good next performance.

“What has been/is your mindset competing against people with much bigger PRs than you?”

               “Why not me?” It took me a long time to get there, though, especially after knee surgery. Watch this video for a little touch on that.

               One of the coolest things about traveling the world throwing the javelin and meeting women from everywhere who do exactly that is becoming their friends. Once you know them and know that they also have hobbies and significant others and dogs and lives outside of the stadium, they (and their PRs) get less scary. You can make that shift in your own mind as well. Everyone is just a person. Everyone has amazing abilities, including you.

               Also, I WOULD LOVE TO PR. I’m proud of my personal best, but it feels like I threw it at a time that I didn’t necessarily understand quite what I was doing yet, and that was NINE YEARS AGO. It’s comparable to many women’s PRs around the world, but as the world gets better at javelin, my personal best gets less impressive. These days, it drives me more than ever to hone in on the technique that I know will get me there. My best is what I’m thinking about in competition, not other peoples’. I’m fully aware that they’ve thrown further than me, but I believe I’ll catch them. Focus on what you can control, not other people. You have nothing to do with their results. See my previous blog for more information on how to think about PRs!

One of my favorite practices ever as far as mentality goes. Birmingham, 2017.

One of my favorite practices ever as far as mentality goes. Birmingham, 2017.

“How to stay calm when one of your competitors just threw farther than you.”

               When I’m on my game, this fires me up like nothing else. I love the charge it gives me! If this happens in a weird part of the rotation of athletes, like I’m not the next person up, I try to replay that moment over and over in my head until it’s my turn, then focus hard on relaxing my right arm, great posture, and aggressive feet. Once again, you can’t just hope for far throws when the pressure is on, you must rely on your training. Focusing on technique lets you channel the adrenaline you feel in knowing someone passed you into making the javelin fly! It’s okay to let someone passing you create energy within you, as long as you remain locked into HOW you will put that energy into the javelin. That focus should keep you calm.

               Like I’ve mentioned, you can imitate responding to this in practice with scenarios! Ask your coach to come up with specific instances that might happen in a meet, have him or her tell them to you throughout training, and see how you respond. Competition is FUN, but sometimes we have to teach ourselves how to respond appropriately to challenges (channeling them into good performance rather than letting them lock us up).

“What do you go back to after missing the point on your first two competition throws?”

               Legs! Legs legs legs. The feet must get down quickly in order to control the tip of the javelin. Dana and I talk about this a little in our most recent Javelin Chat! If I’m nervous and forgetting about how I should be using my legs, that’s when I miss the point of the javelin and put no power into the implement. Keep the legs firing, stable and out in front of you, leading the throw! Patience with the upper body translates to stretch reflex, catching the javelin in the correct position, and much more arm speed and energy into the implement. Legs.

Competition Mentality

I know that outdoor season has now begun for many collegiate programs in the U.S., so I wanted to touch on the mentality of an athlete going into competition as I know it! Also Lara Boman of University of South Dakota suggested this topic, and she was right. 😊

I want to be totally straightforward and tell you that I am not yet the master of this art. My sophomore year of college, I absolutely wet the bed at NCAA Championships. All of the end of sophomore year actually was a total disaster. I never won NCAA Championships. Every. Single. Major. Championship of my career so far (save one) has been incredibly disappointing, but we’ll get into the successful one and how my brain was different in a bit. Not until 2018 did I feel like I truly performed when I was supposed to, and a new, happier, more relaxed training and coaching situation is a huge enormous reason why.

The only differences between training and competition are the uniform, venue and the number of people watching! The implement weighs the same. You’re competing with the same teammates if you’re in a team sport. The play book doesn’t suddenly change. You are usually wearing the same shoes. You might do your hair differently or drink a little extra coffee before heading to the stadium, but you’re focused on executing the same positions that you’ve practiced over and over and over again. The X factor in a competition that I used to get hung up on is the fact that people are watching. Expecting. But once I figured out that those spectators weren’t waiting for me to fail, but instead were there for the same reason I was (to experience something amazing), their attention instantly turned positive.

There are other X factors. Maybe your own expectations are the ones that get you all nervous. Perhaps there’s that one competitor that always just edges you, and it drives you crazy. You could be hoping to perform well enough that you get to travel with your team for the next weekend. All completely valid worries, and all things you can practice overcoming.

How to Approach a Big Competition Mentally

Keep everything as normal as possible. There is so much that goes on around big competitions that elevates you anyway. You don’t need to do anything extra at the last minute. You are enough!

So many times, I have overthought and overstimulated myself going into an important meet. Some of my very, very best performances have come when I’m jarred out of my own head by something unexpected, and forced to just rely on the tools I have. At NCAAs in 2008 I was SO nervous that I just barely made the final, and then ended up 5th even though I led not only the collegiate system, but the country. In 2009, I tried SO hard in the qualifying round of World Championships in Berlin and put so much pressure on my first professional Team USA performance that I only threw 52 meters. My 2011 season was absolutely riddled with sub-par results from a crippling lack of confidence. That terrible season had some other causation, but the mind can be very powerful in both directions.

In 2008 at Big Ten Championships, I fell hard on one of my last warm-up attempts. I sprained my left wrist in the process, plus I was pretty darn embarrassed. I was not leading the Big Ten at the time, Ruby was, so I had been super serious and too focused during my warm-up process and in my whole approach to the meet. After I fell, all I could think about was how much my wrist hurt and all I could focus on was the careful and deliberate placement of my feet so that I wouldn’t fall. Turns out, that careful focus meant I got my left down quickly, and that plus adrenaline (and great preparation by Coach Zuyderwyk) meant I threw 61.56m, the Olympic A standard. I just needed something to shake me loose.

I missed the bus to the track at USATF National Championships in 2010. I caught a ride to Drake Stadium with some strangers I met in the parking lot who had also missed the shuttle bus. Kurt and Sylvia came to watch me throw after we scored a sweet parking spot. That slight change in plans and thinking on the fly meant I was just happy to be there that day! I stayed completely relaxed and broke the American Record.

Your body already knows that you are approaching a big meet when it’s coming. Drink lots of water, get lots of sleep, and if you need to visualize throws, keep it very simple. Stick to the cues you’ve used in practice recently that have worked rather than thinking up something new before the big show. Trust yourself, your coach and your process. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to perform on big stages, and messed it up many times. I’ve just been lucky a few times to have things happen that get me out of my own head and let fun performances happen.

There are two times I feel I approached competitions correctly and on purpose from a mental standpoint: World Championships in 2015 and the Zurich Diamond League Final in 2018.

Russ and I were both on the World Championships team in 2015. We were roommates at training camp in Tokyo and got to go on sushi dates and tourism adventures and practice together like normal. We were roommates in Beijing as well, where we were completely at ease with each other, like every training day of my life. I was in the middle of my MBA program, and took an academic final the day between the qualifying and finals rounds. Before qualifying, we were able to watch funny shows and play cards together in our own space. Things were so much more normal than they ever had been or have been since at that Worlds, and I ended up 8th, the best an American has been for a long long time.

After months of a new training program, new technique, and a season of fabulous European experiences in 2018, I spent four days alone in Prague before traveling to Zurich for the Diamond League final. I love being alone actually (to an extent), and I simply drank water, slept, read books, trained, and visualized my perfect javelin throw at that point. I didn’t let myself think about it ALL day. I didn’t have access to the internet where I was staying, which was perfect. I hibernated and focused on my goals, but also just chilled, like normal. Arriving in Zurich meant reuniting with my long-time friend and short-time coach, Dana. This was the first time a coach had accompanied me to a Diamond League Final. Her companionship, humor, and just plain NORMAL presence in my life was the perfect recipe for success. We joked around throughout my warm-up process, I stayed loose, and then I got third and threw further than I ever have before in Europe.

What do you normally do? How can you combine your regular life and optimal performances? Maybe you have this experience too: You’re at practice, maybe you don’t feel great physically (you’re tired, you didn’t sleep well, you have a lot to do later, etc.), so mentally you know just to focus on technique that day. You’re relaxed because you’re tired and not expecting a whole lot, and then a throw or component of technique surprises and thrills you early in the training session! I absolutely love that. So you try harder, and it falls apart. That’s the lesson. The other lesson is not to panic. You can get it back!

Tools to Hone Mental Toughness

Since it is darn early in the outdoor season, you still have time to build mental tools for the end of the year when you want your best performances to come! Here are some ideas for specific problems that you might feel hold you back in competition.

Worrying about Spectators

               I did this a lot. I saw their attention as pressure. It’s not. It’s encouragement.

               A fix: Practice pretending that there are spectators! Invite people to practice who aren’t usually at practice. Even have them heckle you if you think it’ll help! Give yourself a scenario that involves visualizing a giant stadium and lots of noise, or a super intimate venue with people close to the runway if that’s what’s intimidating. Exercise your mind so you’re practicing putting up with that attention until it’s second nature.

TrueSport.jpg

Your Own Demons

               Maybe you have a hard time leaving your past failures there. It might haunt you that you didn’t throw far enough that one time, or multiple times! I’ve been there.

               A fix: Change something. It could be as simple as your breakfast routine, or some positive self-talk right when you wake up in the morning. Let yourself believe that that simple shift in your habits will permeate your life and lift you to success when you want it. One of mine is extra recovery and rolling-out stuff. Mobility work makes me feel fluid and relaxed and prepared, so keeping that habit going at big, important competitions reinforces that feeling, and success follows.

Getting Really Serious

               I watched other people get their game faces on and be celebrated for it, so I thought I needed to do that, too. Maybe that’s you (the serious person), but it’s not me. I need to relax and have a great time to throw far.

               A fix: Funny shows, hilarious podcasts on the bus to the competition, a book you love (but can put down in order to sleep haha). Bring a relaxed attitude to practice and then carry that over to competition! In 2015 (my first season after ACL surgery and without my knee brace), I knew I would be an absolute nervous wreck, so my former sports psychologist suggested I bring photos with me that made me really happy. I printed a bunch of pictures of Russ (this was pre-Madeline) that make me laugh, and they were perfect to flip through between throws to keep me relaxed.

A Particular Foe Vexes You

               There’s just that one person that either gets under your skin or seems to find some little extra gear to clip you at the end, repeatedly. It feels unfair and out of your control!

               A fix: Visualize your victory over this particular competitor in practice. Come up with detailed scenarios involving that one person that you can overcome in training, and lean on that practiced confidence in competition. “Sally is ahead of you by 15cm going into the fifth round. You haven’t executed X cue so far. Go.” “You improved by 20cm, but she passed you again by half a meter. Last chance.” Reinforce your technical cues within that framework instead of just relying on emotional energy (you can do both).

You Want to PR

               I GET IT. Unfortunately we can’t force these things. Focusing on distance alone tightens me up!

               A fix: Watch video of your PR if you have it. Identify the technical things that you did correctly. Remember in detail what happened and how you felt that day. What other things in life cause you to feel the same ways? What kinds of emotions run through you and how do you channel them when you throw far? Try to do things that illicit those emotions and that energy on the days of your competition. Pinpointing the technical stuff that went well allows you to focus on an actual technical goal in the midst of a meet instead of getting caught up in hoping for numbers. Then when everything comes together it’ll happen! I believe!!!!

Calm, positive, focused confidence. Practice it! Photo by  Jenny Mann  and  Above Ground Level Studios .

Calm, positive, focused confidence. Practice it! Photo by Jenny Mann and Above Ground Level Studios.

This has been blog one of this week, and both will cover your mindset going into competition. Blog two on the same subject will be a simple Q&A from Instagram questions I’ve gotten! So submit those or drop a comment below if there’s something you’re wondering about after reading above. Thanks!

How to Have Hard Conversations

Maybe you’re breaking up with a significant other. Perhaps you need to establish some kind of better boundaries for a person’s role in your life. You could be letting college coaches who have recruited you down easy or be asking them for things you want. Maybe your athlete’s grades are slipping and you need to confront them with hard realities. Possibly, you just need to say something difficult to somebody so that you can move on. I’ve had some weird practice at having hard conversations, and I want to tell you what I’ve learned.

We were actually laughing a lot together this day, but our awkward faces feel appropriate for this blog!

We were actually laughing a lot together this day, but our awkward faces feel appropriate for this blog!

Here are four steps to take if you’re facing a challenging interpersonal interaction. As an introvert, I actually get a lot of satisfaction out of these conversations, because they’re genuine and raw and (hopefully) actually accomplish something. It took me a long time, though, to recognize how much relief ripping the proverbial bandaid off brings: Just get on with talking to the person you need to talk to.

1.       Recognize the actual problem.

               Take your time to figure out why you’re really upset. Talk to your people.

What in particular is bothering you about your situation? Who knows you best that you can discuss your feelings with to sort them out? How long do you need to not only do that, but to take hold of your emotions so that you can exchange ideas in a respectful manner?

For five years, I threw javelins mostly by myself here in Colorado Springs. Just me and my music at USAFA, focusing on and loving my job. When I trained at the Olympic Training Center for those five years, an individual was very often there observing and making conversation throughout my practices.

When Dana became my coach, I was thrilled and loved having her excellent eye at javelin throwing sessions! She is my good friend so we laugh a lot, too! But suddenly I had another human at every single practice I had, no matter which physical location I was at. As an introvert, I started to go insane. I had lost my focused alone time, but it wasn’t until I snapped at the individual at the OTC that I realized what the problem actually was. I love my job and I WANT to focus on it, but I wasn’t forced to truly figure out why I was so bothered until I finally lost my temper. It wasn’t that I didn’t like this person necessarily, it was just that I craved time to myself during every training week, and I needed to calm down, talk to Russ, and express my need for boundaries respectfully.

Figure out your needs, and then be confident in them! Photo by:  Aaron Anderson .

Figure out your needs, and then be confident in them! Photo by: Aaron Anderson.

2.       Prepare.

What you’re going to say and why.

How will you present your point of view to another human in a respectful manner? How can you ensure that you don’t get riled up by a counterpoint they might make? Knowing what you want to say and knowing what you need to say are two different things sometimes. Think about what you actually NEED to get out of the conversation to be satisfied. It’s basically a negotiation: What are your minimum requirements for success? Do you have solutions or just complaints? What might the other person’s point of view be? How will that change (or not change) the way you think about your needs? Knowing what you’ll say is important, but knowing WHY you need to say those things is even more important. How will this conversation, ideally, make your life better moving forward? Understanding your why will help you be firm in your requests, and if your why is rooted in you getting better, whoever you’re talking to will understand that more than just, “because I said so,” or “because that’s just how it’s gonna be.”

The day after my emotional reaction, I apologized to this person, said that I recognized the individual’s interest in my training as support and enthusiasm and was grateful for that, but that I needed time to myself on specific days to get everything out of training that I wanted to. It was well-received because I took the time to think about what I know about this person and how to package my important points in a difficult conversation with them, plus what my ideal outcome was.

Prepare for disappointment.

Sometimes, because we’re human and we have egos, among other reasons, a conversation won’t have the outcome you think you need. If you’re aware of that possibility, recognize that even saying the things you need to say without any kind of acknowledgement or apology from the other side can be therapeutic.

I’m not a bitter person. But I believe that anyone can develop bitterness if they don’t take the initiative to at least say what’s on their mind to whoever they need to confront. I’ve waited too long to have two different difficult conversations that I knew wouldn’t have great outcomes for me. It’s not about belittling another person or getting your rage out, it’s about clearing your own head in order to move forward. You can still be respectful. You can call it taking the high road if you want. Not getting mad that you’re not getting your way, but still saying what you need to say, is really powerful. Don’t let someone else’s stubbornness trick you into bearing a burden that should be shared.

3.       Be courteous.

Meet on neutral ground.

Especially if you know that you’re the one with the biggest problem in the relationship, request to meet in a place that’s either neutral or the other person’s “territory.” If you’ve done something to indicate that you have a problem or the other person might feel blindsided, it can be respectful to give them home field advantage.

Obviously a private, quiet location is important in order to not make your conversation other peoples’ eavesdrop fodder and therefore more stressful. Stick to the points you’ve thought of before and remember your whys in order to not get emotional within the conversation. Let the other person finish sentences. Keep your voice down and calm.

Listen. Don’t gossip.

Allow it to be a conversation, not a monologue. Recognize that any anger coming from the other party might just be surprise and not genuine emotion. You’re the one who has prepared for this, not them necessarily, so be understanding and not reactionary. Take your time responding to statements if you need to to stay calm. Again, stick to your points, but hear the other side and respond to it respectfully as well.

Once you have a conversation, or while you’re preparing for it, keep your sounding boards to a minimum. Don’t solicit every opinion you can on your interpersonal issues. That’s rude.

4.       Move on.

If all goes as you need it to, move on. You’ve had the difficult conversation for a reason, and if you prepare well enough for it, take your time to cover all your points, and are respectful and productive enough together to find a solution, move forward. Again, don’t gossip. Give life some time after a difficult conversation to equilibrate again, and if you still haven’t solved the issue or something is still wrong, go back to step 1. Either the conversation worked or it didn’t, so be mature and either move on or go back to the drawing board. I could do better at this. Ripping the bandaid off should be easier the second time around, but it’s not worse, it’s just in a slightly different area.

Since I mentioned preparing for disappointment, I’ll mention this: I had a difficult conversation with someone once that I knew would likely not result in an apology or admission of responsibility of any kind, so I was prepared for that outcome, and felt a lot better just by saying my peace. The conversation was over the phone, and when I saw this person again in person a few years later, they seemed not to think it was weird to try jumping back into a chummy interaction with me. I really do think that difficult conversations can be effective over the phone, but clearly there are cases when in-person clarification is necessary, and if you find yourself surprised that phone convos don’t carry over to real life, be prepared to either have another hard talk, or deal with the discomfort of that inconsistency in whatever way you can. It’s tough when you think you’ve dealt with a problem only to have it show up again later, but that’s just more opportunity to practice being a darn adult. (Which no one does perfectly.)

This is  Katharina  having a “difficult” conversation with me on neutral ground (next to the runway in Lausanne) about how I lost the tip AGAIN, hahaha. I’ll sure miss this gem this season (the 2015 World Champion retired in 2018).

This is Katharina having a “difficult” conversation with me on neutral ground (next to the runway in Lausanne) about how I lost the tip AGAIN, hahaha. I’ll sure miss this gem this season (the 2015 World Champion retired in 2018).

Unfortunately there are situations across all walks of life in which difficult conversations are necessary! I hope I’ve helped you be braver in navigating them by sharing my experiences and advice. Comments and questions always welcome!

The Coach/Athlete Dynamic

I was going to approach this from an “as you move through life, your needs as an athlete change” standpoint, but as I outlined and freewrote and thought about it, there are just a few really important things to take care of on either side of the coach/athlete interaction. It’s a dynamic that can be just fantastic, but it also has the potential to be stressful if the two parties are not on the same page.

I’ve been really lucky to have mostly excellent coaches throughout my entire athletic career, across all sports that I’ve played, at all ages. There have been a few that taught me what to avoid though, and in some instances I really wish that I’d learned those lessons before I had to do it the hard way. A really good follow-up to this blog is going to be one on how to have difficult conversations, I think!

Mr. Steve Hook, my basketball coach all four years of high school (JV and then we both got promoted to Varsity). His daughter was a senior my freshman year, and watching him treat everyone fairly even with his daughter on the team was a really cool lesson in professionalism. Mr. Hook was the first coach who I felt like really noticed my hard work, and encouraged it in a way that just fed my drive to get better.

Mr. Steve Hook, my basketball coach all four years of high school (JV and then we both got promoted to Varsity). His daughter was a senior my freshman year, and watching him treat everyone fairly even with his daughter on the team was a really cool lesson in professionalism. Mr. Hook was the first coach who I felt like really noticed my hard work, and encouraged it in a way that just fed my drive to get better.

Mr. Ron Wargo, my high school swimming coach of four years and AP English teacher senior year. A motivating, tough coach who pushed us exactly right and made us laugh when we hurt a lot from his workouts. He was the special needs teacher at Skyview and therefore the team was really inclusive and so fun as a result. RIP to a great man.

Mr. Ron Wargo, my high school swimming coach of four years and AP English teacher senior year. A motivating, tough coach who pushed us exactly right and made us laugh when we hurt a lot from his workouts. He was the special needs teacher at Skyview and therefore the team was really inclusive and so fun as a result. RIP to a great man.

As you move through your life as an athlete, you become more autonomous, right? When you’re a little kid, you’re just having fun and getting exposed to sport. In middle school, you might be acquiring more expertise and developing technique in your given favorite athletic ability. Once you hit high school, you’re changing a lot as a person and an athlete (ohhhh, gangly basketball days. I blame growth spurts for so many missed layups.), and dealing with a lot of external pressure you didn’t see coming. A coach is just trying to direct angst toward results, and do his or her best to guide you into a successful future. College continues to throw change at you, but suddenly you’re an “adult.” So now you get to provide a bit more feedback to your coach on your athletic journey, because maybe you’ve acquired some knowhow by now! But you’re still such a block of clay to be molded, so also fully commit to the program you’ve committed to and trust that coach. Then, if you continue on to post-collegiate athletics, you’re kind of the boss??? And learning how to navigate relationships you thought you understood when you’re not sure where the power lies gets even more weird. That’s when figuring out how to have difficult conversations is paramount.

So, as you read this short list, think about where you’re at in your athletic journey. Should you feel like you are the boss yet? Be honest with yourself. Do you have more to learn? Are you patient enough (with yourself and your coach and the process you’re going through together)?

These are things that both of you need to do:

1.       Believe in your abilities (as an athlete).

Seems obvious. Why would you be working together at all if either one of you had doubts that you could succeed? But if both of you aren’t all-in in your beliefs that you can accomplish goals, one of you is wasting the others’ time. There will be moments in practices when you doubt yourself for a minute, and your coach can say, “Come on, I know you can do this!” And other moments when your coach might say, “Okay, we’re done for the day, we’ll try again tomorrow,” but you know you’re on the verge of finally nailing that one position, so you want one more attempt, and it’s glorious. Without that consistent hunger to improve from both of you, you’ll have a hard time being your best.

I put the second part of this point in parentheses because I think it’s important to trust a whole person, be it athlete or coach. The best coaches I’ve ever had showed me that they were also fantastic people in one way or another and expected the same from me. Of course you can make mistakes as a human! But being held to a high standard doesn’t apply to just athletics. When I drank underage with some teammates at Purdue and got caught, Coach Zuyderwyk didn’t yell or berate me, but the disappointment was so, so palpable, and it crushed me. When you know you’re representing a good person, being a good person is the only choice you have! And that should go both ways.

Jamie Myers has told me for years that he will be thrilled to be my strength coach for as long as I am a javelin thrower, regardless of my training situation. In 2017, when it became apparent that I needed a new technical coach and to shake things up a bit, it was so fun to talk to Jamie about our plans for my future: Even though we hadn’t discussed it yet, we had the same ideas about how to move forward together with new challenges for each of us! Each of our excitement about those challenges told me that we both believed in not just me, but us as a team.

Jamie! In Sacramento in 2017. We had only worked together for 8 years at that point, ha!

Jamie! In Sacramento in 2017. We had only worked together for 8 years at that point, ha!

If you have questions about your coach’s or your athlete’s belief in what you’re doing together, ask. It’s harder having question marks floating around in your mind than knowing for sure, believe me. Which brings us to…

2.       Communicate.

So cliché. But so important.

Talk about your goals. If you as a coach/athlete team aren’t aware of what the other person is trying to get out of you, you’ll probably be frustrated. A formal exchanging of thoughts on how you think your progress is going can happen as often as you need it to, but I try to keep that kind of unloading to a weekly thing (or even less) rather than letting serious overarching analysis creep into every day of my life (that’s a heavy burden and, IMO, impossible). Daily reports are for how sore you are, what you’re thinking about technique, how you slept, and things like that. And jokes and lightheartedness.

Be open about your concerns if you have them. As a coach, maybe you’re worried about a recurring injury your athlete has had and you can work on a new approach to it together. As an athlete, perhaps you’ve always struggled with a certain technical aspect of your sport that you need help with: A good coach will search for ways to help you, even if that specific thing isn’t in his or her wheelhouse. Learn together.

Another part of the communication puzzle is timeliness. If you’re expecting to hear from your coach before a certain week (maybe you work together long-distance and are receiving your programs via email, for example) and that doesn’t happen, you’re left scrambling. That doesn’t inspire confidence. If your coach is home while you’re traveling for competition and you don’t send results updates, sure coach can look them up, but what does that silence say about your ability to express what you might have learned with the person who likely cares the most? Be accountable by communicating in a timely manner.

Talk about your interaction if you need to:

When I asked Dana to be my technical coach in the fall of 2017, she was floored. She wasn’t sure for a few months if it would work, and I wanted it to be completely her decision to step on board. When she agreed, of course I was thrilled, but I also did my best to be really honest with myself about how I should approach this new dynamic of our close-to-fifteen-year friendship. I talked to my former sports psychologist about it, and she suggested I set goals for us as coach and athlete. I had never thought about such a thing before! So I brought my journaled goals for this new chapter of our friendship to Dana’s and my first coach/athlete dinner (we have them often), and we went through them together. I knew that I needed to check my ego completely if I was going to ask my friend to teach me all new technique, and I told her that. One of my goals for us was to have a blast, and while that was probably a given, the fact that we’ve been able to change so much of how I throw, travel together, and both believe 100% in where we’re going means that it’s SO FUN to succeed as a team. The key is that we talk about all that. Often.

3.       Respect each other.

There are so many nuances to this.

Respect each other verbally.

Here again is foreshadowing for a blog on how to have hard conversations. If you both do believe wholeheartedly in what you’re doing, depending on your personalities and how they mesh, tempers may flare in times of frustration. You’re going to work together again tomorrow, so keep the yelling at each other to a minimum, please! It’s better to walk away and regroup later than to damage the future of your partnership with hurtful words.

The ability to be frustrated and either contain that (channel it into positive effort) or explain why in a rational manner is a life lesson; one that I think is perhaps the real MVP from throwing or any sport! Being in a competitive mindset, getting those rage hormones going, and then turning around and being respectful and articulate is actually super fun. Amping it up in practice sometimes is important, but if the wheels come off, that’s not your coach’s fault, and from the other side, your athlete is trying their best. No one wins the blame game. Same goes for disappointing performances. They happen and you work through them together.

Respect each other’s time.

Be on time for practice. Both of you. Be focused within that practice on the task at hand. Of course you can talk about other things, but you’re there for a reason, and focusing mostly on that reason will yield the best results. This one practice per day is not the only thing that is going on in either one of your lives, so do the work on time and efficiently, and go your separate ways happy with how much you got done.

Those magical practices when I’m done with my warm-up right when Dana arrives to watch me throw, the iHeartRadio station I chose is perfect for the day, we laugh during picking time and then every throw’s technique just builds on the last are just so, so satisfying. It’s easy to stay focused, too, because we both LOVE what’s happening and want to keep it going. It’s FUN to work hard and see results, and a good coach/athlete dynamic makes that kind of practice a natural and regular thing.

Respect each other’s intelligence.

This is more in reference to everybody leaving their egos at home than actual intelligence. The best coaches know exactly why they’re having you do certain things at different times of year, so if you have questions as an athlete about that process, asking them should be totally fine. In the same way, if you’re an athlete recovering from injury, let’s say, and are supposed to be doing x amount of rehabilitation per week but aren’t, getting defensive when a coach asks about your progress is 100% your fault. Understand that people are smarter than you give them credit for, and will be able to tell if you’re not doing your job. If you ARE doing your job, there is no reason to have an ego on either side of this process.

There’s also no reason to hide anything from your coach as an athlete: The only way you can get better is to give your coach all the information he or she needs to operate at full capacity. If you have limitations, express your concerns, and a great coach will be able to work around or help you address them.

There really is so much to say about coach and athlete interaction at every stage, and I’ve had a lot of experiences along the spectrum of negative to positive. I’m happy to answer more specific questions in the comments! These three things were just kind of the biggest that I could think of this week.

I do believe that many different kinds of people can work together effectively. I’ve had coaches with lots of different personality types and been successful in various ways with each one. Learning how each person communicates most effectively takes a bit of time, but I believe it’s possible to figure out most interpersonal interactions, and it’s another life lesson that comes from sport to be able to do so!

This is Paul Merca’s photo of me attempting to “coach” Russ at World Championships in 2015. Not everyone has the coaching, gift!! Hold on to the good ones.

This is Paul Merca’s photo of me attempting to “coach” Russ at World Championships in 2015. Not everyone has the coaching, gift!! Hold on to the good ones.

Instagram questions:

“good coach that matches personality/training style vs great coach that might not”

As above, I see a lot of value in both. Obviously, if you’re enjoying the process with a coach you get along great with, you’re probably going to be excited to go to practice and get better as a result. On the other hand, being pushed out of your comfort zone personality-wise might result in learning a ton more. My advice here would be to ask yourself what you need to reach your goals. Do you need to just enjoy the process more in order to do the work? Option A. Do you have glaring holes in your training that a more advanced/knowledgeable/”great” coach might fill, but it will be uncomfortable? Prepare your mind to endure some discomfort and dive right into Option B. It’s a very personal thing.

My subsection to almost every question like this is to have something else in your life as well. My former coach and I didn’t not get along, but it was never truly comfortable, you know? But that never bothered me because a) he taught me a lot, b) we saw some success together and c) I had other things in my life that brought me a lot of joy. A coach won’t solve all of your problems, even if you get along great with them. Be happy in life in general, and that will bolster your training, promise.

“How important is it to have a good dynamic with your coach, specifically on the college level.”

Again, I’m a firm believer that many different kinds of people can work together successfully. Even if your coach/athlete dynamic isn’t great, that doesn’t mean that your coach isn’t a good coach or that you aren’t a good athlete! I do think a good coach/athlete dynamic in college is important, and I think there are a lot of ways to improve it, you just have to put in the effort. I was really grateful for mine, but a big part of that (and I was considering this even before I got your question) is also your teammates. I had fantastic teammates at Purdue who also adored Coach Zuyderwyk, and the confidence we all talked about having in him just grew as we all agreed. If maybe your team has taken on a more negative tone and that’s influencing your opinion of your coach, try being brave enough to put a stop to that downward spiral. Try something new that your coach suggests, be open to how it helps you, and then talk to your teammates about it. Change the tide and create positivity not only in your own life, but on your team.

Super Important Stuff (Javelin Edition)

To start off, I am not a coach. I’m not your coach! I have coached. I’m pretty good at it if I do say so myself, haha, but I’ve only ever done it in short bursts or at camps. Your coach knows you best, and is aware of the problems that you have. Or maybe you’re aware of the problems that you have, and you just need to work on how to communicate your concerns to your coach in a respectful and constructive way. More on the athlete/coach dynamic next week!

That disclaimer stated, let me put another one out there: We all have different struggles. Each body works slightly differently than the other, and things that have been important for me might not be for you. I can only tell you my experience though, and maybe you’ll learn from it! I’ll tell you about the injuries I have had and the javelin lessons I’ve learned from them, and then some basic super important (in my opinion) javelin technical things.

Injuries I’ve had and the lessons they’ve taught me:

1.       Injury: L5 (lumbar/low back) stress fracture.
Lesson: Core stability/lumbar stability/thoracic mobility/rotational fluidity and strength are important.
               I’ve written about this injury before, and how rehabbing after it helped put me on the 2008 Olympic team. I used to try and get all of my flexibility from my back! I simply didn’t know any better, and honestly it can look similar for someone to be using their shoulder and engaging their core vs. getting flexibility from their lumbar spine. Simply activating those core muscles in a little bit different way than I was doing it can protect the low back. I had to learn through injury, but maybe you can learn to do lots of core stuff now!
               Your core is a cylinder. From about diaphragm height down to your hips, all the way around your middle, is a circular tank of muscles you can train to connect your feet and legs to your throwing arm and hand. Do that. Your lumbar area can rotate, but shouldn’t flex or extend too extremely. Rotational strength is crucial in the uncoiling of the javelin throw, so oblique, twisting stuff is helpful, and best if done in a nice, fluid motion like you want the javelin throw to be. Balance training really helped me after my back injury. The movement you want in your back is in the thoracic area (shoulder blades/between your shoulders). Train thoracic mobility (flexion (bending forward), extension (bending backward), and rotation (turning either direction)). Do that with a javelin in your hand or across your back.
               Train your core in ways that make sense for how you know you need to move in an optimal javelin throw, but also train your core in normal ways! There is a crazy plethora of options out there.

2.       Injury: Left Anterior Cruciate Ligament tear (in the course of blocking)
Lesson: Healthy knee movement patterns are important, but dorsiflexion, hip mobility, and glute stability are hacks!
               I had never been taught how my knees should move before I tore my ACL. I obviously didn’t do anything intentionally to put my knee in a valgus position and experience a non-contact rupture of the ligament, but I also hadn’t trained my nervous system and musculature NOT to be in that position. Try your best not to tear your ACL in order to learn this lesson, please!
               Since my bone-patella-bone, ipsilateral autograft reconstruction in 2012, I’ve been amazed at the response the body can have to smart, intense rehabilitation (and now that I’m fully healed, prehabilitation) exercises. I had no idea how important glute stability was to knee health, and perhaps the misfiring of my left glute was a piece of my injury puzzle in the first place. Keeping an eye on the dorsiflexion (toes up) of your ankles is a good idea for knee health as well. Hip mobility is huge for getting your legs into the correct positions without asking too much of your vulnerable knees.
               There are so many supporting factors to knee health that I was unaware of, and those factors can enhance your javelin throwing anyway. Train healthy knee movement patterns (good squat mechanics, proper patella tracking and mobility, VMO function), and enhance those patterns with dorsiflexion for good reaction to the ground among other things, hip mobility for dynamic and efficient crossovers, and glute stability so that your block transfers energy into that solid core you built, above.

3.       Injury: Right shoulder impingement.
Lesson: Prioritize flexibility in the shoulders (duh).
               I had a left shoulder repair surgery in 2015, but I actually had a lot of issues with my right (throwing) shoulder afterward. I think the repaired rotator cuff tendons on the left side just played tug-of-war with my right shoulder across my back throughout the healing process, and I had a lot of pain in the throwing motion as a result. I should’ve prioritized throwing shoulder flexibility throughout that surgery and recovery process, because it’s my bread and butter!! Yours too.
               We get dynamic flexibility from the actual act of throwing the javelin, in gymnastics movements, and in some lifts. But there is a TON you can do to retain that flexibility in static ways as well. Sit on the ground and reach your arms long behind you for minutes at a time. Do a bunch of supine (face up) hand and elbow planks and kill two birds with one stone (shoulder flexibility and core/glute function). Add javelin stretches in even on non-throwing days. Put your hand flat on a wall and turn your body away from it to stretch the front of your shoulder in a sort-of throwing position.
               If you’re naturally flexible like me, it can be easy to take it for granted. Keep any flexibility you have for as long as you can by being proactive about stretching. I love my nightly rolling and stretching sessions with Maddie the Dog!

She “helps” me stretch like any good pet would.

She “helps” me stretch like any good pet would.

Important Technical Stuff:

1.       Right to Left touchdown time (if you’re right-handed).

Decrease it. Get your left foot down as fast as possible after your impulse/penultimate/whatever you want to call it. For me, this means learning how to let the ground come to me, not paw down and back at the ground as I’m moving into my block, because that action just pitches my upper body forward and actually extends my left leg rather than letting it snap down and become a block leg. Driving my right knee down to the ground and turning my right ankle over also helps me get my block down faster. Forcing yourself to need the stability of your block leg (by turning over your right) means it will usually show up for you!

Whatever you need to do to figure out how to have a faster right-to-left touchdown is what you need to do. Get creative. Only focus on that cue for an entire throwing session/week/month of training. Do some sprinting accelerations and listen to the sound of your feet striking the ground in faster succession with each phase of speed. Learn how to make your feet hit the ground faster at the end of your approach.

2.       Acceleration.

What a nice segue! The point of your approach is to build speed to put into the implement to make it fly further. Therefore you must find a way to transfer that speed into said implement. That is what all of your technique is for (sequencing of body parts and positioning), but putting speed into the implement starts with accelerating down the runway.

Is your approach long, but you go the same speed the whole time? Maybe shorten it and speed up gradually. Do you have a short approach, but you sprint out of the back and are then out of control when trying to hit a block? Slow down at the back. Accelerate as you go.

You want to accelerate ALLLLL the way through the throw. I watch a lot of people (and I’m guilty of this as well and am focusing on relearning it right now) accelerate TO their block and not through the throw. Hit that block and then KEEP accelerating the rest of your body around and over it until you finally release the javelin. Block hits first, then the chest can drive through like crazy. Accelerate all body parts into the javelin!

3.       Strong posture and javelin control.

Going back to a nice core! This doesn’t mean you need a six pack to throw far. Also please see my post on controlling the position of your hand. You can accelerate nicely, then have a fast right-to-left transition, but if the javelin is pointed ninety degrees to your right, your throwing hand is by your hip, and your upper body is pitched forward, the implement will land pretty close to you.

Stand up nice and tall. You can lean back a little bit if you have that control. Do TONS of practice crossovers so that your upper body stays quiet while your legs are strong and powerful and fluid in a lateral plane. Dana likes to equate javelin throwers to icebergs: Beautiful and impressively still above the water (hips), dangerously busy and powerful and strong below.

Hold heavy stuff up behind you to train arm and hand control. Maybe play some javelin golf. Get creative to learn how to move around in explosive ways, but keep your core and arm in control of the javelin. You have to throw it right to throw it far, and that starts with holding it in the right place (tip by your eye and fairly parallel to the ground).

4.       Keep the shoulders closed as long as possible.

“Closed” means perpendicular to the foul line at the end of the runway. The javelin has rotational components, even though we run in a straight line! You want your shoulders to stay closed as long as you can keep them that way, because that means that your throwing shoulder and hand will be pointed backwards and away from the sector, and you’ll be building stretch reflex across your left hip/core/right shoulder/entire right arm for a long long time. That stretch translates to distance.

Hit your block as fast as you can, maybe by driving your right knee down to the ground like me. Driving that right knee down means your right hip will drive through, solidifying your left block leg even more than it already is. As your right hip drives through, energy is transferred to your core. Then, your left arm can start to swing open, initiating the uncoiling and sling of your right shoulder/elbow/hand, followed by the javelin soaring away from you in a gorgeous little undetectable dot.

If your shoulders open to the sector early, you shorten your pull. Keep those shoulders closed and give your entire body a chance to help you throw far. Being open with the shoulders not only decreases your distance, but likely hurts your back. Or elbow. Or pec. Or more.

5.       Keep your feet on the ground.

Seems simple, but I struggle with this sometimes, especially post-knee injury. People want to follow through so badly (or just relieve pressure from that block leg), but you get the energy you put into the javelin from applying force to the ground. Keep the block leg firmly planted and turn turn turn turn the right leg and hip for as long as you have that javelin in your hand. Watch Johannes Vetter!!

 So. Move gradually faster down the runway. Control your upper body and javelin position. Get your block down as fast as possible after your impulse. Keep those feet on the ground, and keep your shoulders closed to keep the javelin back as looooong as you can.

Talk to your coach. He or she knows you and can likely help.

Little efforts every day add up to big changes. If I skip a day of stretching my hip internal rotation lately, I’m sorry during my next training session. Neglecting core work for a few days means my back is sore after my next throwing session. If I don’t get in the pool once a week, my elbow misses the slight distraction it experiences when I pull on the water, and I don’t feel quite as fluid when I pick up the javelin again. Take the time to notice what your body needs and give it that. Journaling is a good way to pick up on both patterns that make you feel good and not so good. Pay attention to what is helpful, and do those things! Be intentional.

Dating a Fellow Athlete

Russ Winger, my husband, is the coolest. We dated for about 7 years before we got engaged, and were engaged for a year before we were married. We’ve been married almost 4.5 years. That’s 12.5 years of relationship, and 10 of them happened when we were both athletes! He retired from throwing the discus (PR 66.04m) after the 2016 Olympic Trials, has lost about 50 pounds so far, and is thrilled to be pursuing other interests. I love doing life with him!

We met at NACAC U-23 Championships in 2006, on a developing elite team, but both of us had bigger goals than that level of competition. Russ threw the shotput back then, and continued to do so until I think 2014 (overall PR 21.29m). For multiple years, he doubled at USATF National Championships and made the final in both events. He is a phenomenal athlete and even better person. The highest highs of my career all have something to do with him, including both of us medaling at PanAm Games in 2015 and going to Worlds together in the same year, when I finally cracked a major championship final and got eighth.

2006 NACAC U-23 Championships, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

2006 NACAC U-23 Championships, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

I love my relationship. I am such a huge fan of Russ, and maybe vice-versa. I realize that every relationship is different, but I want to talk about what it’s like to date a fellow athlete! Perhaps you’re wondering, or are having problems that we might have had.

I’m gonna go at this from a pros and cons perspective!

Pros

1.       Shared fitness and health values.

You’re both athletes. Regardless of what sport you do, if you have lofty goals and a good understanding that disciplined, smart training and supporting nutrition and recovery practices make you better, hopefully those lessons will translate to the rest of life! For the last approximately five years of his athletic career, Russ was consistently 300 pounds, which is pretty typical for a male thrower. In his first year of retirement, he lost 30 pounds simply by not eating as much as he had during training. In his second year, he has lost an additional 20 with diet and somewhat inconsistent exercise, and has plans to lose more. I love him so much at every weight, because regardless of training, he has always been a super active person. Losing weight just helps him be that person in a happier fashion.

I’m a somewhat bigger javelin thrower. I’ve learned through experience that a lean body does not mean far throws for me, so I operate with a little bit more of a cushion while I continue in this career. I look forward to the day, though, that meals will be a little smaller, workouts will be a little more outdoor-focused, and weight falls off of me like it has Russ (and I’m confident that it will, because it did when we got married!).

Something to keep in mind is that different athletes require different approaches to the “fitness” required for their sport. It can be difficult to adjust to a different lifestyle and stay healthy (eat like a football player but no longer play football, for example), but it’s my hope for every athlete that shifting focus to a more generally healthy lifestyle after sport is possible. Focus on goal-oriented behavior rather than doing things that made you feel good while you were an athlete. Dating an athlete means that hopefully he or she can shift that positive trait of goal-setting to other areas in life.

2.       Individualism and the ability to understand each others’ priorities.

I grew up with parents who were very much in love and had a great partnership (still do), but were also really independent people within their relationship (still are). My Dad traveled a lot, and my Mom held down the home while also pursuing her own interests and driving me to every sports practice and game. I never thought the amount of time they spent apart was weird, and loved seeing them happy to be reunited.

Dating a fellow athlete is a little like that. You care about each other and each other’s outcomes, sure, but you also have your own stuff to worry about. It’s easier not to get offended when your partner focuses on his or her own goals, because you have your own. Having time to be together and focus on that is important, too, but that’s the next section.

When Russ and I were both athletes, we could train together, and I absolutely loved that. We never had the same training programs though, even though we had the same coaches over the years, so often we would each drive to the Air Force Academy, perhaps warm up near each other, and then split up to throw. If he got done before me, he would come down and film, and vice-versa. We often lifted near each other at the Olympic Training Center, and were each others’ spotters if needed, but would always be focused on different lifts and different technique, and were probably in different phases of training. We each had different priorities, but could sort of orbit around each other in support.

2015.

2015.

Dating someone who is really good at different stuff than you is cool, too. I’ve said one million times that Russ is twice the athlete I am, and I learned a lot from him in the weight room and on the track. Learning from fellow athletes is fun, and can be even easier when that person is your significant other.

3.       Built-in shared interests.

Common ground is not only the basis of friendship, like I mentioned in my last blog, but a really great place to start a romantic relationship. As fellow athletes, shared interest is built right in!

When Russ first visited me at home in Washington at the end of summer in 2006, we went in search of waterfalls to hike, I caught my first tiny fish on the fly, and we played with my childhood dogs nonstop. Over time, we’ve learned to play bridge with my parents, and now we play with Russ’s grandparents as well. We met through Track and Field, and we continued to have that in common for a long time, but we also very quickly recognized other things that we both enjoy. Again, like I mentioned in my previous blog, if you’ve both chosen to pursue sport, you might have other stuff in common, too.

Athletics will fade. It has been so amazing to watch Russ gain momentum in other areas of his life in the past two years. He is truly my leader in that process, and I can only hope to make the transition to regular adulthood as well as he has. Having sport in common is great, but it was merely a starting point for us, and I love how our relationship grew in so many different directions from that. I would hope the same for you.

Cons

1.       Different approaches to the same thing.

Personalities differ. Learning processes aren’t the same across humans. Work ethics run the gamut. Tempers either flare and the wheels come off in moments of frustration, or people buckle down and try harder.

It can be beneficial to date someone who thinks differently than you (see the last section). Sometimes, though, those differences can result in conflict. I’ve always been really good at compartmentalizing and doing what my coach tells me to. Russ is more of an independent thinker. Once, in Germany in 2010, we had rented a car to drive to meets, and were going to drive to our last practice before that trip instead of taking the familiar train route we knew. We, of course, got lost on the way, Ty and Mike were waiting for us, and we were both upset with each other for various reasons. I had a great practice once we arrived, which made Russ even more mad at me when we talked about it later.

I’m really good at being lazy when I need to be. Rest is important, and I love it so. Russ is an incredibly active person. He gets restless and bored with an entire rest day, and there have been times that I’ve agreed to an adventure and then regretted it because I’m tired. We’ve come a very long way in our ability to clearly communicate our needs to each other, and the joy we experience on those adventures together far outweighs any lingering tiredness I might feel in practice the next day, plus he lets me sleep as much as I want in the car!

Dating someone different than you is really fun, you just have to learn how to communicate your approach or needs to that person. The only way to discover those differences is to do life together, too, and realize that it’s not the other person’s fault that you’re wired differently. After that Germany practice, I just had to explain to Russ that throwing in my mind was totally and completely separate from our relationship: I forgot the fight to focus on throwing the javelin, and could then revisit it later. My focus didn’t at all mean that I wasn’t still mad or didn’t care! I just have a weird ability to turn off parts of my brain, and I think Russ learned from me how to do that a bit over the years. In the same way, his questions about technique that used to drive me crazy are now helpful ways for me to objectively watch practice video and not be complacent. It’s difficult to learn how to navigate a different personality, but really worth it to learn something new about the person you love and the different, effective ways to approach sport.

2.       Varying levels of success: Navigating the peaks and valleys together.

The shotput and discus in the United States are stronger events than the javelin. These are facts for men and women alike. It is objectively easier for me to make teams than it was for Russ. We were in the same sport, but had very different paths to travel to be “successful.”

I had a major back injury in 2007, and was in a really bad place right at the beginning of our relationship. Russ moved to Purdue in 2008-2009 to be with me in my fifth year, and was miserable for a lot of reasons (working 3 jobs, training without a coach, and simply being in the Midwest, among others). He had a sports hernia all of the 2010 season (our first in Chula Vista), when I was doing super well. He had surgery to fix it, healed for 2011 and threw big PRs, but then we both struggled through the European season and also never saw each other. I tore my ACL in 2012, but made the Olympic team anyway, and he had done really well all year but missed the team by two spots. I had surgery and then we moved to Colorado. We finally both made the PanAm, NACAC, and World Championships teams in 2015! He did well most of 2016 and then old and new injuries flared right before the Olympic Trials, but came to Rio with me as my coach, as none of my other ones were making the trip.

If you’re in the same sport, the direct comparisons of how successful you are can be really difficult to manage in a relationship. I can imagine that different sports might be a little bit easier? If only because learning about the others’ sport would seem more educational than competitive. This is, again, a lesson in communication! Every athlete is competitive, but eventually you learn that constant competition within a relationship is no good. Our friends Rich and Jackie say that when one member of the team is winning, the team is winning. And if it feels like no one is winning, you can climb out of that hole together! It’s okay to voice frustration, and it’s even okay to say out loud that you’re jealous of the other person’s success, as long as you can separate that from your romantic relationship (and SAY that).

3.       Conflicting travel schedules.

Russ and I were so lucky to have some incredible track trips together. We spent two weeks enjoying Australia and competing in 2012. We lived in Germany during the 2010 and 2011 seasons together, with friends around as well. The championship season in 2015 was amazing: We went on sushi dates at training camp and were then roommates at World Championships in Beijing. After that we went on vacation in Austria with the Kuehls and I went to Paris with Russ for the Decanation meet. Fantastic memories and experiences that solidified our relationship at each stage, for sure!

NACAC Senior Championships 2015 as husband and wife, nine years after we met at NACAC U-23 Championships! We both won in 2015. :)

NACAC Senior Championships 2015 as husband and wife, nine years after we met at NACAC U-23 Championships! We both won in 2015. :)

Those were the very rare times that we were actually together, though. Russ was in Australia for three weeks by himself before I joined him that year. In 2011, we constantly missed each other at the apartment we shared in Köln, as our meet schedules exactly countered each other for two months. He went to Europe right after the 2012 Olympic Trials, and I stayed home to rehab my ACL as well as I could. In 2016, while I was home with our brand-new Madeline and injuries, Russ traveled a lot for competition. Staying home is easier for both of us now that Maddie the Dog is in our lives. 😊

Our epic 2016 road trip!

Our epic 2016 road trip!

Dating a fellow athlete is often like a long-distance relationship. Luckily, we have practice in that field, and many people I know do too! Again, communication is key. Being willing to shave a day off of the front or back sides of a trip for the sake of your relationship is important, too, and taking advantage of the time that you do have together is key. Sometimes I pick fights before I leave for a trip, but we both know it’s just because I’ll miss him and our home!

Questions from Instagram:

“tricks to avoid constantly talking/venting about your sports to each other!!!”

               Ooooooh, good one. This can be an easy trap to fall into when you find someone who you feel truly understands you. I’m guilty of complaining a lot to Russ about one specific thing that I can’t really change in my training life, but I try to always say, “I know you’re sick of hearing about this, but I just need to vent for a second!”

               There are a few things you can do to try and avoid a complainy pattern. A) Set a timer for the complaining. Give it a limit so it doesn’t consume you. B) Always, always have other stuff to do! Take part in your other common interests instead when you feel overloaded by sport. If you don’t have something, start something new together! C) Be really honest. If your partner just doesn’t seem happy and that’s why he or she is constantly unloading on you, let them know that you appreciate their trust in your judgement and the fact that you’re a safe zone, but that you want them to be happy, and it doesn’t seem like they are. On the flip side, if you are the one complaining a lot and it’s weighing you down, do some self-evaluation and see if you need to seek other help (sports psychology) or just do something to change your situation and make it better. I’ll be writing a blog on how to have difficult conversations sometime soon!

“Yes it’s wonderful 😊 😊 “

               Agree!

“Is it hard to keep frustrations in training and competition separate from your relationship”

               It can be? But it has never been difficult for me. I really think (and again, I think Russ got better at this over the years as well) that practice is your opportunity to just focus on you, and your relationship is the time you can either talk about it in constructive ways (or a little bit of complaining if you need to), or do other stuff that you enjoy together. My relationship has mostly felt like a refuge from the difficulties I face on the javelin runway, and one of the reasons for that is that I can be completely vulnerable and open about why I’m frustrated and work through it with the person who knows me best if I need to. But mostly I just love doing other things and laughing about other stuff together. I hope that you can find such solace in another human!

               I have struggled the most to separate career and relationship when I’m injured, and I think that’s because I suddenly don’t have the outlet that I’m used to in athletics, so I’m more difficult to be around. That’s kind of a real-life thing though, and Russ has always taken care of me incredibly well, so those experiences have turned into bonding ones. I hope he feels as taken care of when he’s injured, but he’s more stubborn about it. 😊

Overall recommendation:

Go for it if you’re drawn to someone. I’m so incredibly happy with the person I picked, and continue to choose every day. We met through sport and enjoyed it together for a long time, but also like a lot more stuff about each other than the fact that we are athletes! In the same way that you grow and change as an athlete, your relationship grows and changes, and you have to keep programming good stuff to keep it healthy. Finding a partner that is motivated by goals is pretty easy in the athletic realm. Translating that to every day life and a happy partnership is a little bit different, but very worth it to do together!

 

Be a Good (Individual) Sport

Good sportsmanship is important, regardless of what specific activity you have chosen to compete in. Child or adult, male or female, team sport or individual, shaking hands and saying, “Good job” should always be part of the experience. Some people compete differently than others, and respecting another person’s process is part of sportsmanship as well, but when the match concludes, being able to treat others how you would like to be treated is just as much a part of sport as throwing far, jumping high, or scoring lots of points.

This year, 2019, will be my 18th overall season as a javelin thrower. I’ve competed with all kinds of individuals. I can’t pretend that I’m the perfect competitor, and likely that doesn’t exist, as I’m sure any behavior can be subjectively perceived by somebody as not ideal. But I’m here to tell you that athletes in individual sports can and should be friends! Especially in the field events within track and field.

Mostly, I think throwers already have this down. I have formed wonderful friendships through teammates and competitors alike, but the negative experiences have also been pretty darn negative, so I think it’s a worthwhile conversation. If you can strike the balance of doing what you need to do to perform well and also support your fellow athlete, you’re succeeding! I promise it’s possible to do both.

Two big reasons you can be friends in field events, and if you’re not friends, you should at least be sportsmanlike:

1.       You have no effect on someone else’s performance.

2.       You’ve all chosen to do this niche, weird thing. You probably have stuff in common.

Let’s start with the first one. Individual sports are either combative or not. Wrestlers, fencers, judo athletes and boxers literally fight each other to see who wins. Divers, gymnasts, jumpers and throwers take turns performing, and scores or distances decide the victor. In an individual, non-combative sport, there is nothing you can do to change someone else’s outcome: You only control your own destiny. Knowing that, focusing on it, and relying on your own strengths and talents is how you win. Then, having enough confidence in your own process that you can genuinely support others’ efforts can be really empowering.

At a basic level, yes, you have no effect on someone else’s outcome. If you aren’t nice, though, just know that a strong competitor will beat you anyway. Almost nothing fires me up more than someone being unnecessarily rude within a competition, and my track record in rising above that behavior with far throws is almost flawless (and luckily, it doesn’t happen that often). In the other, happier direction, cheering others on can make a big difference in certain situations.

Barbora Špotáková told me a really neat story a few years ago about the Beijing 2008 Olympic Final. A Russian, who has since been stripped of her silver medal, was leading the competition. It came down to the sixth and final round, and Barbora was in silver medal position. The last two people to throw would be Barbora and that current Russian leader. She was nervous, she said she didn’t know if she could do it (pass the leader), and suddenly a few other women who had been her top competitors for years and years encouraged her. They told her that they believed, and Barbora threw 71.42m to win her first Olympic Gold. I’ve sung my friend Barbora’s praises many times, but this story of many other competitors lifting her up when she needed it (and, I would argue, when the sport needed it) speaks volumes of her as a sportsmanlike, strong competitor. Those other women had done their best and focused on their own outcome to that point, but also saw the role that they could play in empowering Barbora, who had it within her to win, in that moment.

Cheering people on within competition isn’t something that really has to happen. Because in the same way that you’re in charge of your performance, so is everyone else! It’s not your responsibility to cheer others on, it just can be your privilege. Another way to be a supportive presence in the course of a meet is simply staying in your own lane. Everyone has their own process, whether that’s blasting metal through headphones, napping in the warm-up area, being chatty, or appearing moody but maybe just being focused on the task at hand. Respect others’ processes. Don’t bound up to a quiet person and demand conversation. Put your own headphones or earplugs in if someone’s loud music starts to bother you. Find your own quiet corner to lay down between throws if you need to. Let others do as they will, and focus on your own job while they do the same. Everyone is different, and there isn’t one right way to be.

It's true that everyone is different, but you also are all doing the same thing. Point number 2 is that perhaps you have more in common with your competitors than you think! And common ground is a basis for friendship.

It would be difficult to forge a full-fledged Friendship on the javelin runway in the midst of competition, but hints of one might begin there. Being a respectful competitor can open the door for conversation and camaraderie off the runway, though, and you might be surprised by just how much you have in common with and like your fellow throwers.

I first (very briefly) met Dana at the 2004 Olympic Trials, where she did well and I was 19th out of 21 competitors. We threw against each other again in April of the next year at Cal Berkeley, where I threw 52 meters for the first time, in large part due to inspiration by Dana (who won). We met again at NACAC U-23 Championships in July of 2006 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, where she won in dominating fashion and I was seventh. We had an absolute blast with Britney Henry, Russ, Adam Kuehl, and everyone else amazing on that trip. Would I have become life-long friends with and a happy wife to these people if I had sulked about my performance? No. They’re some of the most important ones in my life, and now Dana is my fantastic, fun coach. I love that we became friends through our competitive years and are now making dreams come true together.

Photos above are 12 years apart: Dominican Republic to Vail, CO! <3

OT 2012.JPG

In 2012, during warm-ups for the final of the Olympic Trials, Dana had everyone get together for a group photo (it was her last Olympic Trials). In this photo, Ari and I stood right next to each other. We didn’t really speak again for five years. Then, at a meet at IMG Academy in 2017, she, Maggie Malone and I were roommates and the only elite javelin throwers in attendance. We decided to help each other out in competition as no one’s coach had come, Ari PRed and made her first world team later that summer, we swam in the ocean, and it became clear really quickly that we were meant to be Friends! I’m visiting her in Houston this week, training together and watching Kimmy Schmidt. If we took ourselves too seriously as javelin throwers, we would have missed out on a friendship that I treasure dearly. We met throwing the javelin, but we’ve bonded over a lot of other things! And friendship will last longer than javelin.

Maybe you have friendship potential with competitors that you haven’t recognized yet. Friendship will last longer than any sport, not just specifically javelin. Sportsmanlike behavior, in my opinion, is much easier than the opposite. In my experience, being closed off, nervous, and protective of your own space is more difficult than just relaxing within a competition. Trying to take myself really seriously has always resulted in tightness and disappointment, and that’s a trap I’m trying my hardest not to fall into anymore at the biggest meets each season. Dana accompanying me to Zurich in 2018 was huge for keeping me relaxed and having fun when it mattered the most.

Post-2018 Diamond League Final, happy in the stands!

Post-2018 Diamond League Final, happy in the stands!

That last idea leads me to answering a question I got on Instagram:

Q: In high school I always felt judged and nervous at a meet, how do I fix that for college?

A: You’re nervous because you care about the outcome! I still get nervous, because I want to do well, and represent those who believe in me to the best of my ability. Being able to handle nerves, though, comes down to knowing that you did everything in your power to be ready for the opportunity that you’re facing. Focus in on a few cues that have worked really well for you leading into competition, and only worry about executing those. Having objective goals and knowing you have developed the tools to achieve them through hard work helps relax you, and then far throws can happen!

Perceived judgement is a little bit of a different thing. 1) If you think competitors are judging you, stop that right now. It’s not your job to worry about what they’re thinking, and likely they’re too worried about their own job to give you a second thought! Only worry about what you can control, and others’ thoughts don’t belong in that category. This takes practice but is such a valuable mental tool! 2) I used to get really worked up about the crowd watching too, so if spectators’ attention is what makes you feel judged, I get you! The thing that I came to realize, though, is that people are watching because they want to be wowed. Spectators are there because they want to see something amazing happen!! So their attention is always positive. Focus on that and hopefully you’ll grow to feel their presence and cheers as support rather than pressure. I’d love to hear how it goes!

A High Hand-Drills and Clarifications

I remember Mike mentioning at some point leading into 2012 that my hand *used* to be nice and high. There is a big part of me that thinks the perception of a high hand has more to do with the posture of an athlete who is confident vs. the cowering of an athlete who isn’t than the actual height of a hand, but that’s possibly a sports psychology discussion. For our purposes here, since I was asked to describe some drills for a high hand, how to get maximum flexibility in the throwing shoulder, or mental notes to “leave your arm behind,” I want to cover a few broad topics and then leave you with a list of some drills and video of one!

A high hand is kind of a misnomer. You want a BACK hand. If your throwing hand is too low, sure, it won’t go back as far as it can, but the same is true if your hand is too high. The goal should be to keep the arm parallel to the ground and the javelin almost the same, not some arbitrary definition of “high.” If your arm and hand are back as far as they can go, likely that arm will be “flat,” or “straight,” or “level,” not “high.” Watch Cyrus’s video of my American Record. I don’t think my arm is “high,” I think it’s back. As it was often in 2010!

Compared to 2018, it doesn’t look so different to me:

Those things being said, a nicely-controlled, level and stable arm can FEEL “high,” and there is some specific strength associated with getting into that position. Gaining the specific strength and mobility to get into a good carrying position is a feat in itself, but the second piece of that puzzle is learning to pull on the javelin from that flexible position. Acquiring the discipline and sequencing needed to use an excellent long arm requires its own kind of strength, patience, and mental fortitude. I really think the fear of what might happen when you pull from way back there behind your head is what halts most athletes’ progress in this weird event. There are drills for that, too!

Mental cues that have really helped me leave my arm back as long as possible are twofold:

1.       Dana and I talk a lot about pronation and supination of the left and right hands, respectively. Your left thumb points down and your right thumb points up (if you’re right-handed). Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so if you pronate your left hand/arm as long as possible, you’ll supinate (and leave long and “high”) your right hand/arm as long as possible back behind you. You can see this in the way Barbora throws as well. We try to couple that concept with the rotation of my right leg and hips and then core, but that’s getting too complicated for this blog.

2.       One of the longest-lasting things Ty ever told me was to “hide the javelin behind your head.” I know which direction I’m heading, so putting my hand and the grip of the javelin right behind my head for as long as absolutely possible means it’s back behind me, and still within the frame of my body as I initiate the throw. Part of keeping the longest arm possible in the javelin throw is staying closed (meaning that your shoulders are perpendicular to the foul line as long as possible). If you get open (turn your shoulders too soon to face the sector), you shorten your throwing arm! So “hiding the javelin” helps me stay long, keep my hand “high” (because my head is pretty far off the ground, haha) and stay closed.

Three kinds of drills (that I can think of right now. I’m sure there are more and that people categorize them differently.):

1.       Lateral raise/external rotation strengthening.

Help you develop the strength to simply hold your arm up with a javelin in your hand in a very stable position. This isn’t a normal thing for most people! Even the relatively light weight of our implement gets heavy in the course of a high-volume practice, so doing some strength work outside of throwing is helpful.

  • Hose drags across a field. We did this in high school and it was brutal. A literal garden hose that you hold in your hand in a solid javelin position and then do crossovers. Keep your arm as long and high as possible, and connect your core and lats to holding that position. The quality of the crossovers is not as important as your posture and the straightness of your arm behind you. Elbow bending will likely happen, but do your best to not let it! Do NOT shrug your shoulders. A relaxed shoulder gets more length.

  • Simple lateral dumbbell raises. Hands at waist up to external rotation and holding the dumbbell like a javelin. Start very light. Do not shrug your shoulders at any time in this movement. You could start with palms facing your body and then rotating up toward the ceiling as you raise your arms or start with palms facing out and go straight up. Maybe try both and see what feels best to you!

  • This drill I thought I made up last year but apparently other people do, too:

2.       Decelerators.

Training the throw in the opposite direction that it normally happens keeps your decelerators (mostly some of your rotator cuff tendons and generally the back of your shoulder) healthy. It can also help you really feel strong in the end range of motion if you’re actively trying to get there under load instead of initiating a pull from there. The backs of your shoulders (your entire upper back) not only slow your arm down after you throw, but help you maintain posture and position while you’re approaching the throw and within it.

  • Reverse cable throws. A Jamie Myers special in my programming. Start light. Stand facing the cable machine with the handle where you would normally carry the javelin in your first approach steps (running straight forward). Pull it backwards, turning your shoulders as you go and turning your hand towards the sky like you would if you were holding a javelin. Standard instructions: Do NOT shrug your shoulder. Reach back as far as you possibly can against the load with good posture (point at the wall behind you). Return to start under control.

  • Any kind of pull-apart. Grab a little band at waist-height with bent arms and pull it apart. Put your arms straight out in front of you, palms up, and pull the band apart. Pull it apart diagonally.

3.       Specific strength through extreme range of motion.

Javelin, as we know, involves putting your body into some intense positions. That’s what everyone is after when they ask about how to train this high hand, maximum shoulder flexibility, leave-your-arm-behind thing. And while you can put yourself into that position with some concentrated work, you also need to be able to get yourself out of it in an instant without tearing everything in your shoulder! Cue this section of drills.

  • Put a stick or javelin across your shoulders (like you might squat it). Hold it in your throwing hand like a javelin, and grasp it firmly with the other hand. Push with that other hand so you’re forcing the throwing hand backward another inch. Push back carefully with that throwing hand (initiate the movement from your lat/shoulder rather than your hand/elbow). Repeat. Really small range of motion, but at the very end of the overall picture.

  • Skin-the-cats.

  • Pullovers, sure, but with good core control. Only go as heavy as you can to still keep your butt and entire back on the bench. Get the strength in your flexible shoulders, not your shouldn’t-be-flexible lumbar spine.

  • Banded “standing throw.”

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’m happy to answer questions and am always interested to see what other people come up with for drills, too!

Recovery

Recovering from workouts and physically taxing events is really important to a long career. You can get away with not doing it for short periods of time, but that will catch up to you! I am always surprised to learn that people aren’t aware of how important recovery is (especially professionally), but I also forget sometimes that I’m 32 and have been at this a while. I guess I didn’t prioritize recovery until I became a professional for the simple reason that there didn’t seem to be time in college. Now, I love recovery activities of all kinds! There are lots of facets to this idea. Here are some simple categorizations of the different forms, and then answers to Instagram questions at the bottom.

Physical vs. Mental

I’m not sure I believe in burnout necessarily. I think I’m too tough for that, but I’m likely being an idiot. It’s obviously a real thing that many have experienced, but perhaps people who get burnt out just haven’t recognized their own need for a break until it’s too late. And one major contributor to burnout is if an individual doesn’t have support from family or coworkers in his or her pursuits! Mental recovery and mental training are just as important as physical. Luckily or unluckily, my breaks have been forced upon me, but I’ve learned the importance of mental recovery through them.

Knowing yourself and knowing what it takes for you to recharge mentally is really important to not only performance, but training. I find that if I haven’t had enough alone time (see last blog), I sit in my car doing nothing for like a half hour before I have the energy to get out and practice. That’s wasting my own time I guess, but I just can’t bear physical activity if I haven’t had enough mental rest! And if I don’t take that moment to reset and refocus, my practice isn’t as successful as if I’m mentally prepared for it. If I have the mental energy to put my best effort into each throw, drill, or sprint, I’m getting way more out of it than if I was only half checked-in.

The way I see it, there are two seasons in the year, and physical and mental components to recovery within each of those. Let’s tackle all of them.

Off-Season vs. In-Season

I am not shy about loving the off-season. No structured javelin practice, no place I really need to be, all the fun. It’s a really important time of year, and I respect it and its necessity. Regardless of the season’s outcome, letting your body heal from the really specific and difficult things you asked of it for months is important, and letting your mind wander about the possibilities of the future and what can be gleaned from the past is essential.

Off-season physical recovery sometimes means nothing, depending on what happened at the end of the season. In 2018, I strained intercostals and obliques in my last competition, so physical activity wasn’t advised for a while. Sometimes it means just doing something different than your sport though. After my side healed, I did Pure Barre for a month (3-4 times/week), and swam as well. In 2017, I wanted to run Emma Coburn’s inaugural 5K, so I did an endurance experiment that consisted of a couch-to-5K program, lots of planks, and swimming as cross training. I ended up running an all-time mile PR of 7:41 before I started official 2018 training! Doing more balanced training than my fairly violent, unilateral sport during the off-season resets my body in a really important way.

Outdoor time is important all year round, and better together.

Outdoor time is important all year round, and better together.

Russ taught me almost everything I know about the outdoors, and he definitely taught me the value of spending time outside from a recovery perspective. There are so many backpacks I want to do when big chunks of time are available to us in the summers of the future. For now short ones in the off-season of the fall will hold me over.

Off-season mental recovery is also very enjoyable and important. This Fall, I traveled to the PNW, Hawaii, Ohio, Texas, Florida, Bermuda, Idaho, Iowa, NYC, and New Orleans. I spent a lot of time wandering around outside with Madeline. I read books and did new things in other parts of my life that were really rewarding. I actually spent time with friends. Having a moment when I can feel a little less external pressure is really nice.

In-season! I consider this to be any time I’m actually training for javelin again, not just when I’m actually competing, as my recovery strategies are basically the same for training and competition. Physically, there’s a lot to cover from both active and passive standpoints. I will get into that below.

Mentally, there’s a lot that I do to stay sharp, well-rounded, and happy during the season:

I often go to lunch on my own after practice. I’ll watch throwing film or write in my training journal, and reflect on the day’s work. Letting the physical lessons I learned manifest mentally during moments of quiet helps me prepare for the next session, even right after the last one.

Your brain is amazing. It is moldable and foldable. It can do lots of different stuff at once! Sometimes focusing on a problem directly doesn’t work: We have all felt like we are beating our heads against a wall at some point. Do something else. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Read a book. Do a puzzle. Play the piano. Take a class. Teach your pet a new trick. Learn a language. Take photos, then actually edit and organize them. Go fishing. While you’re doing something else with your brain, it will still be processing what you learned at practice the day before. Pursue other interests and let it! Then when you focus back on your athletic passion, that background absorption will burst forth into performance. I started announcing at USAs two years ago, and the mental challenge of keeping track of everything and being somewhat entertaining is fun, plus I’m serving my fellow athlete!

I’ve gotten really good at personal-item travel. I became an Aunt in 2018, and flew home for multiple weekends with just a backpack on the cheapest Frontier flights I could find. These little jaunts back to my family make me SO happy, and random yoga sessions with my Mom are all the exercise I need on such short mental health trips.

Active vs. Passive Physical Recovery

Active recovery is pretty much anything that you feel puts your body back together. I used to have two dedicated active recovery days per week (Wednesdays and Saturdays) when I still did two-a-day training. Now, my Saturdays are basically my only scheduled active recovery days, but I have a lot more time every other day to throw active recovery stuff in if I feel like I need it. Some examples for me are swimming, hiking, yoga (my new favorite is hot yoga, especially in Colorado winter), interval jogs, multi-planar medball circuits, core work, stretching and foam rolling, and paddleboarding. Russ will teach me to fly fish here in the next year! Walking my Maddie Dog is my favorite warm-up activity as well as the best easy active recovery event. Similar to the idea of doing other sports or activities to put yourself back together in the off-season, reminding your body of how good it feels to move in different ways during the season is really healing, too.

These active recovery things aren’t super taxing. Huge efforts are reserved for actual training. If you go too hard on the recovery stuff, you’ll be spent when it comes time to do the real work. An example from last summer of recovery in Europe: I swam competitively in high school, so my pool work is recovery during the season (I’m getting cardiovascular benefit, sure, but I’m mostly just trying to dynamically stretch my shoulders with each stroke.). I was taking the bus that day in Offenburg in May, managed to find a public pool, but didn’t quite know the hours, layout of the pool, how the locker room worked, and what exactly the bus schedule was. I didn’t have much time and almost walked out, but paid my very reasonable 2 Euros after all, wandered around and creepily watched others to figure out the locker system, and had just enough time for a straight 500m swim and hustle back to the bus. I felt way better doing a little bit of something different than I had the whole time I had been in Germany.

Passive physical recovery is just being lazy! It’s the best! Sometimes you have to do nothing! Also in this category is body work, though, and that does take some effort. Sweating through a sports massage that addresses very specific muscular issues is necessary sometimes. Naps belong in the passive recovery realm, and they’re better if you have a pet to snuggle. I love my NormaTec air pressure system while watching documentaries. I’m not a big fan of ice tubs, but I’ll sit in the river on a hot summer day while I watch Russ fish. I could read in bed all afternoon. Sleep is super important. Naps are great, but I also try to get 9 hours of sleep per night.

Kind of in between passive and active recovery is nutrition and hydration. You have to make an effort to eat and drink well, but your body does the work after you put stuff in your mouth! Planning meals and snacks around training is important, as is drinking enough water, but I might give you some different advice than others when it comes to food. I blame a portion of my ACL tear on my diet for the two years prior to that event. I was ill-advised to get leaner, so I did, at the expense of performance, strength, recovery, and ultimately (I believe) soft tissue integrity. Eat what you love and until you feel physically satisfied. Try to make it balanced. Get enough protein, preferably just after workouts. Do research and experiment with your diet to find what makes you feel the best. I love chocolate chip cookies from either Qdoba or Jimmy John’s. If I go to either place for my lunch (a mini burrito bowl or lettuce-wrap #12 with extra avo), I also have a cookie, but not every day. Russ makes me amazing balanced dinners and often breakfasts, and I’m so grateful for his support of my career in this way. I eat a Larabar or Dutch Bros. granola bar on the way home from practice if it’s in the afternoon. Food is fuel.

yum yum yum

yum yum yum

Water is boring. It’s my favorite during workouts, for simplicity reasons, but I find it really tough to drink just water all day. I like tea with some honey, Emergen-C packets (although I reserve those for potential-sickness times), Propel, and LaCroix (we actually DO like it at the Wingers’). I’ve tried infusing water with stuff before like I’m a fancy hotel owner, but I never actually drink it. Maybe I’ll try again. Figure out how you can get yourself to actually be hydrated. Try new stuff!

Questions from Instagram:

1.       As a Javelin Thrower, what are the most important things to have in mind when talking about recovery?

               I would say that you should take stock of which parts of your body hurt the most after throwing sessions, and make an effort to recover those specific areas, even on non-throwing days. After my knee surgery, I would game-ready and NormaTec after every therapy session, which sometimes meant twice (each) per day. Core work will ALWAYS be important as a javelin thrower, and will make your low back feel better if you have issues there. My infraspinatus and serratus on my right side are always tight, so I’m constantly laying on my Hypersphere or a lacrosse ball at night at home. I go to the gym sometimes just to sit in the hot tub with jets pointed directly at the back of my right shoulder or my low back, and then stretch my hips in the steam room. So this is really an individual question, but being proactive about fixing your own specific issues will prepare you for your next throws.

2.       Opinion on ice vs heat immediately after a workout.

               I have never liked ice baths. Russ and I were discussing recently that taking them immediately post-lift can actually hinder your adaptation to the work you just did, too! Inflammation is a natural response to work, and necessary to heal the muscle fibers that get broken down in the training process. I use heat either to warm up (a specific area if it’s hurting in the training room with a heating pad) or as a recovery method (hot tub/steam room) fairly unrelated to any specific training session.

               I tend to use ice in a concentrated way: A Game Ready session on my knee or shoulder, ice massage for my forearm or elbow, or maybe sticking an ankle into the ice tub. My much-preferred method of flushing my system is the NormaTec.

3.       Which aspects of recovery do you put the most time/energy into? Sleep, nutrition, physiology, stretch, etc.?

               I think sleep and stretching/mobility! Much of what I do to warm up is mobility-oriented, and I foam roll and stretch almost every night. Sleep is my favorite. If I have like two days in a row of less than 8 hours per night, I start to go a little bit crazy.

4.       What are your go to recovery foods?

               I love smoothies but I don’t make them enough! One of my favorite snacks is cottage cheese with apple, pistachios, and cinnamon. I also love fruit dipped in equal parts nut butter and plain Greek yogurt! Charcuterie plates give me life like the old millennial I am. Larabars have become my favorite bar. I consider coffee to be a recovery food (I know it’s actually not), but I’ve cut back a lot in the last few years as well. Any dinner leftovers do the trick. Noodles and Company Wisconsin Mac n’ Cheese with grilled chicken is my guilty pleasure.

5.       Why can I not recover like I did 10 years ago?!

I KNOW RIGHT! But our bodies are wiser!

 

I hope you enjoyed this description of how I recover and the many different ways it’s possible!

Introversion in a Competitive World

I consider myself to be introverted. At MOST, I’m an ambivert! I can turn on the charm sometimes, but in order to truly enjoy social functions in big groups of people, parties are few and far between. At those parties, a stranger I meet surprises me with meaningful conversation (this isn’t that rare actually. Yay, humans!), or I have a few very good friends in attendance who I can easily connect with in the crowd. I’m not necessarily shy, but it took me a long time to realize that I could live my life in a way that brought me life, rather than trying to navigate the world how I saw other people doing it.

Interviews have always been a challenge for me. I get nervous and say dumb things. So far they haven’t been TOO dumb, but the same phenomenon happens socially if a conversation goes on for too long. It’s not quite overwhelming, but right on the edge. The best comebacks appear in my head hours later.

Mall trips in groups of teenage girls were torture for me, and as a result happened only a few times. I had no idea what we were supposed to be doing, not really buying anything but also talking about nothing! I hated seeing the drama in the team sports I played, but always preferred to lead by example. If asked for my input though, I could see both sides and be fair. Friend groups for me were fluid: I flitted between them during school hours and had my few really close, still life-long friends that I spent time with outside of those walls.

I get attached. When I used to be in the dating game (thank goodness that was so long ago), I think I was fairly creepy. If I found someone I liked, I latched on! Mostly just friendships were successful with my awkward methods, haha. I’ve been known to offer a sincere apology with a mismatched, super nervous grin facial expression. When I met Russ, I had honed my social skills a bit, but was also emboldened by my good friend Dana and my instant friend, Britney. And all of our friends, Rum!

I know that I’m not alone as an introvert. I’m currently reading Susan Cain’s 2013 book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. One third to one half of the world finds energy and creativity in being alone rather than with other people! Navigating a world dominated by extroverts as a fairly quiet athlete can be difficult and force you out of your comfort zone, therefore out of your optimal mindset for competition. Learning to say no thank you to spending excess time with people or remove myself from long, crowded conversations around meals took a long time. I am social, just not as much as a lot of others seem to be at big meets or major championships, and walking the line between forming relationships that I do enjoy vs. getting as much alone time as I want is always a challenge. It has become obvious to me that quieter celebrations in victory aren’t as photogenic as the boisterous ones, and can therefore go unnoticed. Take my 2010 Prefontaine win that didn’t make the TV coverage that my parents DVRed at home. It takes quite a bit of practice for me to have a good interview I think. Here are some photos of me not knowing what to do with my hands and/or face!

Understanding certain things about my personality and what this world of athletics can be like brings me here, to explain how introversion can be an advantage as an athlete!

1.       Ability to focus.

I know that extroverts can also focus. But I think my preference for alone time also makes me acutely aware that I have limited amounts of it. Wanting to be alone provides me a sense of urgency. I want to get the hard work done while I’m able to focus wholly on it. I work best and hardest either by myself, or with someone that I know really well. Mike Hazle and I were fantastic training partners: While I would absolutely label him an extrovert, we balanced each other very well. There were still a lot of times in our three years together that I was by myself, though, and during those practices, I relished the quiet both outside and in my mind. I’ve grown to like loud encouragement from others (like when everyone is maxing in the weight room), but really and truly improve when I recognize my own quiet strength in the midst of a difficult workout, or in the way I think carefully through a new technical challenge and then implement it successfully. Working through difficulties on my own fuels me in ways that I find invaluable. I practice quiet focus every day, glean strength from it, and take it with me to competition, because when it comes time to perform, everyone is on their own in track and field.

With enough practice, an introvert can reach down inside themselves and find the focus they need to perform at their best, even in the chaos of an Olympic Stadium.

Focus.

Focus.

2.       Independence.

This idea is similar to above, but has to do with the way collegiate programs work sometimes, too. I really hit my stride in college, working with an incredible coach who also was responsible for the pole vaulters, hurdlers, and multi-event athletes. If you’re a collegiate javelin thrower working with a typical throws coach who also oversees shotput, discus, and hammer, I’m sure you have a similar experience to what I did: There simply aren’t enough hours to watch everybody, every day. Coach Zuyderwyk carefully crafted his schedule so that he saw everyone’s technical practices, but auxiliary work was often on our own, and there were very few times he was able to coach me in competition (although those turned out to be some key ones!). I loved being trusted to do work on my own, and the confidence that came from being able to perform solo. I took those lessons straight into the potentially lonely world of professional athletics.

For five years, I lived in Colorado Springs while my technical coach was in a different state. I truly loved my independent practices for most of that time period, and I believe that athletes in general are willing to be hard on themselves when no one else is around. I see introversion mostly as a big plus in this way, but after 2017, I was forced into some reflection on how I could change my input to hopefully change my output in the short rest of my career, and I knew I needed eyes on me regularly again. It was an adjustment to interact with another human at practice! But that process is made easier because Dana knew me well already: Our rapport is easy because we have been good friends for 14 years, and inherently understand important things about each other. A challenge in that transition was to retain some of my alone time. I want to have independent practices, because that is where technical stuff sinks in, and I, plain and simple, love the grind and focus. I have ball days on my own, and recovery work is either in the white noise of the pool or in the quiet wilderness somewhere. Knowing yourself is important: I love being alone and I’m good at it, but I had to let people in in order to grow, too. Independence in realizing those lessons is also powerful.

The independence of introversion serves you to get the hard work done even when you’re completely on your own, whether that’s early in the morning in your family’s basement doing core work in high school, or across the world at javelin practice.

Wandering around by myself in Chula Vista.

Wandering around by myself in Chula Vista.

3.       Solo travel is fun!

I used to judge people who wore their noise-cancelling headphones in the boarding area of airports. Turns out, I was just jealous. I finally bought some in 2015, and those babies are lifesavers on a long solo travel day! I absolutely love zoning out in my artificial quiet, reading books, watching movies, snacking on my delicious snacks that I bring specially for the plane. Layover time means a fantastic nap in a quiet corner somewhere, surrounded by my luggage and as removed from other people as I can get. There’s a really great service-elevator hallway in the Frankfurt Airport. It is entirely more stressful for me to interact with someone throughout a day like this than it is to do it by myself.

The act of traveling alone is something I enjoy, but I also started going on more training trips when we moved to Colorado so that I could be warm, and then later, to learn new things and adjust to time zones before competition. I LOVE solo training trips. The focus is great, the training is usually great, I get TONS of sleep, and I truly enjoy sightseeing on my own timeline. Maddie the Dog came with me to Austin in 2017, and I did hardly anything social for two weeks without her, which suited me (and her) great. In the summer of 2017, while in Leuven, Belgium, I took a day trip to Ghent alone and had one of my more emotional reactions ever to art in front of the Altarpiece. I spent 2+ weeks in Offenburg alone last year, and it was fabulous.

I’ve had some really great experiences with other people while traveling. Things like the Delirium Brewery Tour in Melle, paddleboarding with Barbora and Dana in Prague, and a beer garden with lots of good friends in Cologne are irreplaceable memories. I just know about myself that I have to get amped up for group experiences, while solo stuff re-energizes me! And in this sports world (at least the way I navigate it), there is a lot of opportunity to be alone and abroad. So that “loneliness” actually helps me get ready to compete at my best!

Introversion means you can come up with brilliant ideas on your quiet commute, whether that’s down the street or across the world. Maybe you think up a business idea between classes or go to dinner by yourself with your favorite book. Perhaps your personality means that you reflect deeply on what a group experience in a far-away land means to you, and keep that in mind moving forward. You do you!

A quiet moment wondering how to interact with children during a kids’ clinic in Zurich in 2010.

A quiet moment wondering how to interact with children during a kids’ clinic in Zurich in 2010.

Tools for success as an introvert in a competitive world (especially while traveling):

1.       Good headphones. Hide from the world when you need to.

2.       Interesting conversation points at-the-ready. When you’re confronted with talking to people you don’t know or a group situation you want to participate in without feeling drained, have some stuff to bring up. I like to stay current on my podcasts and some news so I can jump in and be excited about the conversation.

3.       Set roommate expectations early. This can be truly difficult. But being friendly sometimes and brave enough to stay quiet others can be such a relief. I like to take naps or a shower to introduce quiet if my roommate is a talker. Again, a truly tricky subject.

4.       Find a quiet place if it’s not your room. If you can’t manage to strike a balance that feels good to you in your room, find a comfortable, quiet place elsewhere. I sit in Starbucks and write or read sometimes. There are sometimes lobby lounges with comfortable chairs. I’ll opt for the hotel gym rather than a practice facility if it means I can get some solitude. Carve out your space.

5.       Go for walks. Similar to above. Get away from it all, and you’ll see sights as well!

Are you also introverted? How can you carve out a bit more recharging time in your day, so that you’re presenting your best self to the world? There are a lot of ways to be. Don’t be shy about embracing your own.