The stud walks in the door, he is an absolute monster, moves well, jacked beyond belief, bright and has lofty goals. Every coach dreams of this situation. The freak of nature is here and he’s ready to get to work. It’ll be easy, it’ll be fun. Then reality hits.
These situations aren’t so simple. In the coaching world, we love to talk trash on other coaches who aren’t developing their “freaks.” We love to hate, we love to be naysayers, we all know more than everyone else. That’s the way the throwing world works, that’s the way the strength world works. However, when it’s all said and done, everything has to be held in perspective. Athletes take time to mold into a system, the coach takes time to understand the athlete and how they fit into the system, the personalities need to match and a big-picture plan needs to be communicated positively on a regular basis.
Starting with Sam
When Sam Mattis told me he wanted to train with me permanently instead of working at the Olympic Training Center, I viewed it as a breakthrough. My work with Alex Rose had paid off, Sam saw that we added 7 meters to Alex’s PR and it was time to get to work with Sam. I worked with him a bit toward the end of his collegiate career and by the end of that summer, he committed to moving to Garage Strength. By December of 2016, he moved on-site and we started to work. The grumblings in the coaching world were fun to hear:
“What a mistake.” “Who is that guy?” “That dude is an idiot!” “What has he done??!?!”
I started to feel pressure but quickly recognized it’s important to ignore the outside world. Sam and I took our time to get to know one another. We built a solid foundation for our relationship, it wasn’t always about throwing. We argued politics, religion, we discussed losing our dogs, losing loved ones, we shared our stories about doing dumb shit like partying and even realized we both had a weird connection of being born on the same day, a decade apart. That first year, my goal was to get Sam to buy into my entire training system, to buy into my technical model and most importantly to trust me. I think it’s very important to share personality in coaching. Coaching isn’t about being a best friend but it is closer to friendship than it is to a dictatorship.
Sam’s meet average had increased by nearly 2 meters. His PR did not move. We went to USA’s in Sacramento and Sam fouled out. I was a failure. I was a loser. I didn’t know shit about training. I failed Sam, I failed the US in discus and I was a clown of a coach. It didn’t matter that Tim Nedow and Nik Arrhenius and Alex Rose had all qualified for World Champs that year, what mattered was that I ruined Sam and he fouled out at nationals. I feared Sam would leave Garage Strength and I would lose the stud. As a coach, the long term process is what is most important to me. The long term plan. The technical plan, the strength plan, the mental outlook, these are the most important aspects of developing an elite athlete.
We regrouped after 2017, we discussed failures on my end as the coach and where we could have improved the system in general. I laid out a plan, we focused on further technical development for more consistent growth of the competition average. My long term goal has always been to make Sam more consistent meet to meet. I believe he can compete overseas and consistently throw 64-66+ meters, if he was able to do so, that would help him financially and eventually a big bomb would come. We continued to focus on his strength gains and over 2018 I started to study his adaptation curves. I began to understand his movement issues, his peculiar positions in the middle, I began to truly identify his best finishes vs. his mediocre finish. We began to make headway with his left leg, his speed improved and he bought more into the entire system of training. He began to work on his mobility, even more, he started to comprehend long term recovery and daily/micro recovery.
Throughout 2018, Sam’s average result began to climb even further. Climbing into the 63-64 meter range. He became extremely consistent, even having multiple throws over 66 meters. Sam started to move more in line with our technical model. He still was one of the biggest meatheads in the weight room but he consistently pushed the technical process in the circle. I began to truly understand how to set him up for a peak and really understood how his body adapted to various stimuli. He finished 2018 extremely consistent, his average meet result grew even further and he placed third at US Nationals in one of the strongest years ever in the history of American discus. Unfortunately, this was an off-year and there was no team to be made. Onto preparation for the 2019 season.
The fall of 2018, we focused even more on technical gains with the left leg, more focus on a grounded finish that could generate a longer period of force production. This was all while trying to fix Sam’s positions out of the back. I believe Sam has one of the most peculiar positions coming off the left leg. He is extremely posterior chain dominant, he has a weird lean around his left and when his right grounds in the middle, his chest dumps oddly. This is something we discussed and worked on for quite some time. I believe this stems almost entirely from low bar back squatting, a position that forced him to optim