December 16, 2023 6 min read 6 Comments
Photo courtesy Sierra Gold Track Club: You can't see Mike Collins' face, but you sure can see his technique in this photo. This is a coach throwing, after all. Learn more about what good coaching looks like for senior athletes by reading below.
*Photos at the end of the story show the PVC pipe drill and witches broom toss.
*Did you know there are 29 "sequences" to the javelin throw?
*Every Masters athlete can benefit from this story and the lessons from a coach who strives for fun.
By Ray Glier
It is not just track & field practice. It is track & field practice as a carnival of fun. The only thing missing are the stilts.
Mike Collins, the 64-year old coach with the Sierra Gold Track Club, has his athletes toss the “witches broom”, which teaches them to slow down and sequence throws properly, as if the broom is a discus in their hand (see picture below).
He puts a PVC pipe on a rope affixed to a high post and has them grip the foot-long plastic and launch it with a throwing motion on an arc along the rope line to simulate the javelin toss (see another picture). It keeps their arm on an even plane.
Mike’s athletes toss arrows, the ones that typically go with bows, to improve hand speed. They also use the dog-ball throwers, those plastic wands with a cup on the end for a tennis ball, except they are not allowed to flip their wrist. Tail wags not included.
Collins’ fun-filled lessons in the javelin and discus are all in the name of not being hurried. Athletes hurry themselves and then they fail.
Don't hurry, breathe, Mike says. Then crush it, the kids say.
The fun is so present at Sierra Gold you trip over it, but there is plenty of wisdom to go with the laughs.
"When you rush the throw you don't use the full body and you end up throwing with your arm, Collins said. "This causes injuries to the shoulder, back and, or, elbow. It also teaches you to stay long and create speed via a longer throwing radius."
How's that for coaching?
Mike The Ringmaster is a former college football player at the University of California, Davis. He coaches Masters athletes four days a week and he has done it for free for four years. Collins puts a lot more into it than free suggests, always with safety as the priority.
The community of athletes that make up the Sierra Gold team come from northern California above Sacramento. Mike, a retired high tech engineer, lives in Redding and the workouts vary in location to get everyone a chance up close with Collins, and the other expert throws coaches, Steve Adelman and Brian Masterson.
The throwers have to keep Mike close. How else do they learn the 29 sequences that make up the javelin throw? That's right. 29!
“It is so complex that we break it down super slow,” Collins said. “And then they start building this kinetic and visual awareness.
“One of the things I learned from all these years of different sports is teaching the visual awareness of their event. Slowing it down, stretching it out, and being aware of each one of the movements helps them tremendously.”
The javelin is not a linear activity of running in straight line and rearing back and heaving. It is rotating, too, and staying in motion, and Collins teaches it as a 3-dimensional process.
Coaching helped Sierra Gold’s Durelle Schimek break a 16-year old American record in the javelin in 2022 (W50-54) and then break Linda Cohn’s 15-year old American record in the javelin in the 55-59 age cohort in the World Masters meet in Torun, Poland last March.
If the drills seem a little eccentric, as in radical, for you old-schoolers, Mike believes in the traditional “eccentric” training, which are reverse workouts.
Some of you are familiar, of course, with “eccentric”. You start with the weight bar high, and lower it slowly, instead of lifting it off the ground in one, 0-to-60 mph, violent action. Or you get on a stool, or big box, and stand on it and you start high on the pull-up bar and lower yourself slowly, instead of the classic pull-up.
Eccentric training is scientific and effective and Collins really believes in it for Masters athletes.
“It is taking a weight that's already been lifted essentially, and lowering it down and letting gravity be a friend,” Mike said. “And with that particular motion we actually can hold more weight. So instead of 100 pounds, maybe you're doing 110 pounds.
“Lowering that weight allows your body to go into a repair mode since you are breaking down your muscles a little bit and then your body repairs them. It's kind of the natural steroid in your body that does that. And so you actually get a little performance increase."
I didn't know.
Many Geezer Jocks already do Yoga, but how many have coaches that have gone to India and studied? Collins is a certified Yoga instructor.
Mike teaches his athletes not to scoreboard-watch and to practice the Yoga mindset “this is your time.” Do not allow another competitor to intrude on your time, he says.
“It's all about staying present using breathing techniques and it helps them relax when they get to the back of the runway," Collins said of the javelin approach. "We want to remind them to pretend like you're setting them up for your yoga, your space, and trigger your breathing techniques, relax the mind.”
Here is what I really like about Collins. Many coaches want to coach and over-coach technique and spend time just practicing.
Mike’s thrill is turning his athletes loose for events and actual competition. If there is not a competition, Sierra Gold will just create a meet among members and sometimes the competition is yourself and your PR. His athletes are stuck on fast forward and want to play, like kids.
They want to take the training out in the world of competition and discover that the arrow throw really does teach calm under pressure as you aim your throw toward a small hole in the ground.
“It's just a lot of fun, it's one of the hardest things I've done, and they’ve all learned to do it,” Mike said. “They wanted to take the arrows to Finland one year so they could practice, but I told them I don’t think they are going to get them on the plane.”
Collins likes to compete himself. In 2022, when he was 62, he won the gold medal at The National Senior Games in the discus in the 60-64 cohort (142’10.57). He is just four years into a return to the discus ring and this fun-filled coaching stint. A back flare-up is threatening his progress in the ring, but not keeping him from helping outside the discus circle.
One last thing about Mike's coaching cleverness:
Mike learned how to coach, and how to be coached, in his 20s and 30s. He trained his brother for the USA Olympic team trials in the Decathlon. Most important, 14-year old Mike learned the 3 Ds from Hoot Moore.
These 50 years of practicing the 3 Ds are turned toward the Masters athletes he coaches, like Schimek, and multiple gold medalist Lynne Hurrell, and Patti Baker, who was once ranked No. 1 in the U.S. in the hammer.
“As you get older you start to lose distance, but your technique stays with you and that's what I do, technique," Collins said. "They want to throw and they want to get out there and have social interactions. These older athletes, the Geezer Jocks as you call them, want to keep moving and have fun."
And what a job Mike has done filling in that moat between drills and fun.
This is the drill with the rope-guided PVC piece used for the javelin drills.
Here is the broom toss to train for the discus.
Here is Mike in the witches broom toss.
Durelle surrounded by USATF officials after breaking the U.S record in 2022.
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