On Sunday morning I was at our local high school for a track meet. While I spent a lot of time at the Homestead High School track in Mequon, Wisconsin this year as the throwing coach for the Highlander girl’s track team, Sunday morning was different.
I was a volunteer official for the Wisconsin Senior Olympics track meet. Which means that I marked the discus for senior competitors who ranged in age from 50 up to 93. It was inspirational to see all of the athletes in the second half of their athletic careers.
It was clear they were having a lot of fun, and the community was very supportive. It was also clear that the brighter the spandex the better for the senior crowd. And there was a lot more talk about the medical procedures scheduled or recently performed than at your average high school meet.
However, after the men and women threw I noticed that many of them came out to pick up their discuses and made a point of telling me how poorly they were throwing. They were self-deprecating, and good-natured about it. But I noted how prevalent the today’s-not-my-day response was. I also figured that one of the challenges of being a senior competitor is comparing your 70-year old skills to when you were a 60-year old whippersnapper.
I responded with encouragement. I told them all to make the next one count. And that it only takes one good throw to have a good meet.
Today is my day!
However, there was one woman who stood out. She was the last and oldest woman discus thrower of the day. She was 77 year-old Susan Morris from Sheboygan. During her warmups she told me she was training to break the state age-group record. Which is impressive at an age when many of her contemporaries are just trying not to break a hip.
When Susan threw I was surprised how far the discus flew. Unlike many of the other competitors, she never served up any modesty, and never said the day wasn’t her day. I knew she had the right mindset when she came out to the field to retrieve her discus after her 3rd of 4 throws. I told her she was doing a great job. She took me by surprise when she announced, ‘I’m gonna throw the shit out of my last throw!‘
The 77-year old returned to the ring for her last throw and unleashed her best throw of the day. A personal record. Her best throw ever. Just 4 feet from the state record she’s hunting.
When I talked to Susan after the meet she said that she trains without a coach, and learns how to throw, the way most of the seniors do –by watching discus videos on YouTube.
She asked me if I thought I could help her add 5 more feet to her throw. And I said I expected I could help her add another 10 feet. She jumped up and down, pumped her fists, and eagerly asked how much I charge. I said it depends on how far you throw.
Attitude Is Everything
I know I could help Susan because anyone who says I am going to throw the shit out of my last throw has the right attitude to be successful at whatever she takes on.
We all write our own stories in our heads first. Then we bring that story to life. And if the story you tell is that today is not your day, I am 100% sure today is not your day. But if the story is about how much effort you will put in, and about the great outcome you will make happen, sooner or later, your story will end just the way you scripted it.
Tell a great story about yourself. Then make it come true. Believe in your ability to work hard and perform at your highest level. And when you throw yourself into your work, throw the shit out of it. Just like Susan Morris of Sheboygan, the future Wisconsin state record holder in the discus.
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This spring I took on a fun new challenge. My daughter Ava was a freshman in high school and was very interested in competing in track and field. She is a good runner and jumper, but she was most interested in throwing the discus and the shot put. I expect that had something to do with the fact that I used to throw the disc and shot myself. And that we have a few of each at home.
When Ava was in 7th grade she competed in the sprints and the throws for her middle school team. And because it was a minimal time commitment, I volunteered to help teach the kids some throwing techniques a couple of days a week after work.
But as Ava entered high school I reflected on my own high school experience and recognized that the only reason I was successful was because I had a great high school coach named Jude Dutille. Jude guided me to 2 school records in the shot and discus, 2 New Hampshire state titles, 2 New England championship titles in the discus, and a state record in the discus. What Jude taught me created the amazing opportunity to throw for the University of Wisconsin’s track team. Which was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
I debated whether or not I could commit to the demands of coaching at the high school level while leading my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. Ultimately, as with entrepreneurship, I decided that I would rather fail at my attempt than regret not trying. So in April I officially became the throwing coach for the girl’s track team at Homestead High School in Mequon, Wisconsin.
I immediately recognized how little I knew. Because participating in a sport as an athlete and coaching are very different. I tried to learn as much as I could about coaching the throws by reading and watching videos on YouTube. I followed great throwers and coaches on Instagram. And I sought out insights and advice from experts, including my great high school coach, Jude Dutille, and Dave Astrauskas, the throws coach at the University of Wisconsin, who is one of the elite throwing coaches in America.
I enjoyed the experience very much. I had 9 girls on my team. Thanks to Covid-19, only one of them had ever thrown a shot or discus in high school before. So we had a lot to learn in a short amount of time. And while I would love to talk about all of my athletes here I don’t want to violate any coach/athlete confidentiality/anonymity issues. So I will only talk specifically about the athlete I sign the waivers for.
We started the season strong, and Ava won the discus in her very first high school meet. Which I thought was crazy, because I don’t think I won my first meet until my junior year of high school. Then, she went on to win her second meet in the discus too, throwing 12 feet farther than the first meet. And no, I didn’t set up a series of 1-person meets so that she would win, although that sounds like a great idea. (There were 20 throwers in both of the first 2 meets. And I was as surprised she won as anyone.)
The third meet of the season was our conference relay meet. In a relay meet you total the distances of your top 3 throwers’ best throw for a team score. Homestead won the discus and took 3rd in the shot put. And Ava had the second farthest throw in the meet.
But then we began to struggle. And we couldn’t hit the same distances again. The low point was at the conference championships when Ava fouled all 3 of her throws and had no mark at all.
I felt the frustration of being a new and inexperienced coach. I was frequently disappointed that I wasn’t able to help Ava or the other girls more. I saw all of their challenges as my failures to help them with the guidance, feedback, and input they needed. While I have never experienced imposter syndrome as an entrepreneur, I felt it big time as a small-time coach. I felt like I was a phony baloney coach who didn’t have the answers my girls really needed to improve.
But we kept working and things began to improve again for Ava and her teammates. In the last meet that all 9 of my girls competed in, I think that we set 7 personal records in the discus and 7 in the shot to end the season on a high note, like Mariah Carey.
After that, we had a final regular-season varsity meet with all of the teams from our conference again. I had 4 girls competing. And all 4 of them threw their personal best. It was capped off by Ava’s last throw in the discus that not only won the event, but was the farthest throw in the conference all year as we wrapped the regular season. In Ava’s 3 meets with all the teams in our conference she came in 2nd, then dead last, and then first. Which was a great sign of resilience that will serve her well in the future.
The Post (Malone) Season
Last Monday we had our state regional meet, which was a mix of success and disappointment for my girls. The top 4 finishers in the meet move on to sectionals. But in the shot put, my 2 best throwers came in 5th, (just 3 inches shy of qualifying and moving on), and 6th, less than a foot from qualifying. We were close, like Glenn. But just short of our goals.
In the discus, my 2 great senior throwers both threw their best ever, one throwing her personal record by 4 feet! But they finished 6th and 7th, just shy of moving on. Ava was in 3rd place going into the finals. But then got bumped down to 5th when 2 other girls hit big throws in the finals. She then hit the distance she needed on her 5th throw to move back up to 4th place and qualify for the sectional meet.
The Sectional Meet
Thursday night was the sectional meet. Despite starting the season with 9 girls and having 4 in the regional meet, I only had one athlete left. A freshman named Ava, who also happened to be my daughter.
A.C. (short for Ava Claire) was now competing for a chance to go to the Wisconsin State Championship meet. Only the top 3 make it through. And it was obvious that all of the competitors were feeling the pressure. A.C. opened up with a decent throw, but then fouled her next throw. In fact, I saw more fouls per competitor in this competition than I had seen all season as the girls pushed to try to qualify for the state meet.
The finals were intense. Each throw had the potential to re-shuffle the girls. But after the final throws were made and the results were announced, my athlete, my daughter, the reason I got involved in coaching, was in 3rd place. She qualified for the Wisconsin Division 1 state meet as one of only 2 freshmen in the state to make it.
I am looking forward to the state meet next Saturday in La Crosse. A.C. But the win was simply getting to the meet this year. Anything else is a bonus.
At the end of every practice, and after every meet this track season, Ava has come up to me and said, ‘Dad, thank you for coaching.’ She recognizes the commitment of time and energy it takes. And all that I had to do to work my day job at The Weaponry around the coaching by going into the office early and working late into the night.
I have told Ava there is only one reason I am coaching. And that is to steal time with her. Because as a freshman in high school I recognize that I only have 4 years left with her at home. So I am stealing 2 hours of her life every day that was supposed to go to someone else. And while this season she may have won medals, taken first-place finishes, and qualified for the state meet, I was the big winner. Because I took home the most valuable prize of all: irreplaceable time with my daughter.
Remember to volunteer your time and talents to help others whenever you can. Pass along your knowledge. And spend as much time with your kids as you can, while you can.
Happy Father’s Day from one very happy and thankful dad.