Last weekend I got a frantic text from some of my throwers that there were minimum marks at their meet and that they didn’t know what to do. I knew that some of them would easily get the marks and some would probably not. I quickly told them everything was going to be okay, and that they should treat it as any other meet. My first thought was why this had to be that big of a deal, just throw! But with some sympathy I realized that in the same way they are learning technique and getting stronger, they need to develop and mature to be able to handle situations like this mentally without having it affect their performance. However, the root of a problem such as minimum marks affects throwers from every level and is not easy to overcome. It is the throwers identity crisis.
One good and bad aspect of throwing, and track and field in general, is that everyone can be ranked by a number assigned to them. Whereas it can be motivating to see how you stack up to the rest of the country or state, often times a throwers PR can become their identity or even determine their self worth. Walking into a meet, it’s incredible how much impact someone’s PR can make in determining how they carry themselves. The same person who might strut into a small invitational as the highest rank and feel like the king of the world might go to nationals and feel inconsequential or a nobody. When I was at Toledo, I had some walk on throwers that could have very easily made the decision to go to a division 3 school instead. Although they were young and still developing, some of them would feel inferior or like they didn’t belong in Division 1 meets. I always encouraged them that they belong and that if they worked hard they would be competitive at big meets, but I wondered what impact being a small fish in a big pond would have on their self worth before the develop further. This is especially true since they could have went to a Division 3 school and won most meets they went to. In fact I was in the same position of choosing between walking onto a big school or going D3, and I chose D3. I can say first hand that I felt like a big shot walking into many small meets, but felt inferior or didn’t feel like I belonged at some D1 or national meets.
Whenever these situations come up I always remind my throwers that they are much better than plenty of throwers out there, and that there are many better than them, and that this will always be the case. It is all relative! Even the best throwers in the world cannot sit comfortably and still struggle with their identity based on how well they perform. Here’s the hokey part, but it is the absolute truth: how far you throw does not determine your worth as a person! I try to encourage my throwers to value the work and effort they put into throwing as well as other endeavors as more important than the result of their performance. Even if they work very hard and still do not reach their goals, there are always ways to improve. Don’t only make the competition about beating other throwers, but improving upon your former self.