Long & Strong is pleased to bring you an interview with Joe Donahue, former throws coach at Northeastern University in Boston. Joe has some very interesting views on training, coaching, etc. Enjoy!
L&S: How long have you coached?
JD: About 25 years, formerly, most at Northeastern University in Boston. I actually did some 'unofficial' coaching both as a high school and college upper classman. I guess I could not stop 'telling people' what to do and how to do it better. I studied the shot first as much as I could and then moved to the hammer, discus and javelin, with weight training along the way. At some point I either worked out with, threw with, trained with; olympians, world record holders or coached with them. I had a chance to 'test' my theories with various athlete/coaches. I did not, covet them for their notoriety, but for their ideas and suggestions, which they appreciated.
L&S: Did this experience help you and how?
JD: It allowed me to construct a personal theory of coaching, by comparing what I could learn from research visa vis what I actually observed. In short, I became an Aristotelian, without 'knowing' it and when I reread my college philosophy books I recognized some of myself in Aristotle. So, I got some readings and interpretations of his works by others ( Mortimer Adler for one ) and began to organize my coaching approach. In actuality I was constructing a pedagogy within which I would conduct my own research into what actually works in athletics, why it does work and when I could use it. In addition I asked for the help of my college throwers, many of whom took majors, in depth, in areas of expertise that I would not have time to completely know.
L&S: How would you describe your 'coaching theory'?
JD: I would describe it as 'Practical Goal Oriented Idealism' It consists of prudent and practical workout regimes based on what each individual needs and not what some champion has used. This regime is benchmarked by long term goals i.e. 'being an olympian', 'holding a world record', etc. These long term goals should be general in nature. The short term goals need to more specific, i.e. "this year I want to throw 50', 'this spring I will power clean 250'. These goals must be outside the current performance level of the athlete but achievable. This approach requires some testing at various points during the training year so as to gauge what the next levels should be. The constant flow of goals and readjustments should be upward in difficulty and increasing the training load. The segments should be slightly different but overlapping. At all times athleticism should be emphasized not how much you bench or squat! I never wanted to coach anyone who did not want to be 'great' or the 'best'.
L&S: What do you regret that did not work out for you as a coach?
JD: I relied too much on power lifting training and great strength. I recently have helped athletes get superior results with less emphasis on slow, heavy strength training. I still used heavy training but in cycles, and for a purpose. There in, is another 'truth' that I learned, that if it is not useful to your purpose do not use it. Let me give you an example; The effort and energy to increase your back squat from 500 to 600 lbs, for most male athletes, would be better served by more explosive training in the snatch and clean or pulls. I also found out that big jumps in strength and body weight did not necessarily result in concurrent 'distance' improvements. Some exercises actually inhibit movement, the bench press is guilty in some cases, too much 'curling' or arm work in others.
L&S: What exercise, if any, would be the 'best'?
JD: If I had to choose one ,it would be the power clean ( clean from floor/ hang position to shoulders, little or no dip ) and the snatch would be the next.
L&S: What would you recommend to a young coach?
First study one event for 1-2 years, then study another, then another, in depth, in detail, looking for common elements. Study physics with particular emphasis on mechanics. Remember that F=MA, and that you cannot increase or apply force while in the air. Also, for coaches and athletes I would recommend studying movement in other sports; skating, figure and hockey, tennis, baseball and of course the ballet.
L&S: Any final tip?
JD: Yes keep your dream alive. it's the dream that provides the engine for your success!
Thanks Joe for your insight and contribution to Long & Strong!