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Starting a New Throwing Program and Preparing for the Season

My name is Jim Aikens and this is my first year coaching the throws (shot put & discus) at Central High School in Burlington, IL. Even though this is my first year coaching throws at Central HS it is not my first year coaching throws. I was the head track coach and a throws coach at Fremd HS. In Palatine, IL. I was honored to have some great athletes come out for the track team at Fremd and as a result I had some pretty good throwers, 4 state champions and 16 other state medalists.

Burlington Central High School has never had an established throws program so my goal this season was to get the kids to buy in to the program. So, what do you do first? I think I need to establish an Identity. These throwers have had a number of different coaches over the years and no real identity or sense of history. So, to help them with an identity I purchased some T-Shirts for my throwers. Nothing fancy, just something to call their own.

I also started a twitter account @BCThrows to give them an online presence, which seems like the thing to do these days. In order for me to more easily communicate with my throws group I started a “Remind” throws group. For those of you who don’t know what Remind is, it is a texting app that you can use to communicate with a large number of people all at once and it’s free (https://www.remind.com). Finally, to help develop some sense of history I am currently developing a list of the top 15 performances in school history for both shot and discus for the indoor and outdoor seasons. As a result, I volunteered to do the same thing for all the events. This is going to take me awhile but I’ve got the time.

So, I think all the above mentioned things will help to start a solid program, but I think one of the biggest things will be to develop a rapport with the kids. The way you motivate athletes is individually--take time to get to know them. I have always tried to make a connection with all my athletes. I also need to develop a solid technical model for both the shot and discus throws and to be consistent in the teaching of these models. Finally, I wanted to develop a consistent practice plan so that the athletes know that there is a thought process and a plan that goes into practice and that every day is important. So, I came up with my basic weekly practice plan that appears below. This plan serves as the foundation for all of my future practices.

Track & Field Throws Weekly Schedule
Click for larger view.

The Active Warm Up

I feel this is an important part of the workout. The athletes have been sitting in class all day absorbing massive amounts of knowledge. I am sure by the time they get to me many of their muscles (glutes, quads, psoas and other important muscle stabilizers and drivers) have shut down. I want to get their muscles activated and ready to do some work. I use two types of active warm ups. The 2 X 20 meters is to help develop sprint mechanics and develop athleticism. The Hurdles 2 x’s is to help develop hip mobility and hip strength. Both of these warm ups will also help to develop athleticism.

Everyday Drills

These drills are key to developing the foundation for the techniques the athletes will be using to throw the Shot Put and Discus. These drills help to develop the balance needed in the back of the ring and train the proper positions used in the throws. I go over three different sets of drills with each set performed twice a week. By performing these drills over multiple weeks the athletes will hopefully develop the skills necessary in the ring. With the development of You Tube there are literally hundreds of drills on video available to you. You can choose the drills that you believe are essential for developing proper technique in your athletes.


This phase of the workout tries to develop the final explosive reaction of the athletes. Most of the time I am dealing with really large athletes, so I try not to have them drop down and land from anything over 12 inches. I know some coaches have athletes dropping from much higher, but I feel that is an accident waiting to happen.

Technique work

This is the time when kids will begin to develop their technique through drills and actual throws. (This is one of the most important parts of practice)

Strength Work

I use this part of the practice to develop overall body strength and core stability. I also use this portion to develop specific areas of body strength, such as wrist, fingers, core and forearms.

Medicine Ball Drills

Early in the season I will use heavier medicine balls to help develop specific throwing strength. When I get more into the competition phase, I will then use lighter weight to help the athletes develop speed.


This is the area of training I know the least about. I have been blessed in the past to work with another coach who handled the weight room duties for me, but this year it’s all on me. Essentially, I will be lifting weights 4 days a week employing the main lifts of squats, bench, cleans and snatch. We will lift each sequence twice a week, and I am focusing early on developing strength over power.


This is an often overlooked area of practices. The flexibility section helps to get some of the waste products out your blood stream and aid in your recovery for the next day’s work out. Also, stretching helps to increase range of motion, reduce injury, and improve athletic mobility.


In closing, I have some general thoughts about coaching the throws I would like to share with you.

1. Drills should be performed with both your dominant and non-dominant sides. This will assure that you don’t overdevelop one side, creating an imbalance. This also helps the learning process since you are forced to learn a skill with your non dominant side.

2. If you want to get good at throwing you need to throw--a lot!

3. If you are blessed to have a lot of throwers use the more experienced athletes to work with the younger athletes (divide them up in groups). I have found this to be the best method to work with large groups. It teaches leadership and forces the group leaders to really understand the technique.

4. If you do not have leaders and have a lot of throwers, below are two ways I have also worked with larger groups.

a. Treat the group as if it is a throws clinic and have all the athletes do the same drill at the same time (non-throwing drill). Throw the implements in waves, 4-5 at a time. (throwing drill)

b. Have the group perform a circuit of drills (for safety us med balls)

5. Do not coach your own insecurities. At a competition, most of the time what you say will give the athlete more to think about and mess them up. Do your coaching in practice not at the meet (unless you are using the meet more as a practice).

6. Be positive! Positive coaching is a powerful thing in life and on the field. I like how Coach Torsten Schmidt Lonnfors from Germany says it: “There are no mistakes, just potential”.

7. When working technical improvement of the throw, only focus on one technical aspect at a time. Do not confuse athletes with multiple technical aspects at one time. You as a coach will see many things during the throw that need correction, but if you focus on more than one technical aspect you will confuse and frustrate your athlete.

8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Both in your long term coaching (that’s how I learned) or in your day-to-day coaching. I often bring other coaches on the staff over to hear their opinion on my athlete’s technique. Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees.

I hope this article provides something that you can use. If you are interested I chronicled my entire first season at Burlington Central High School in Burlington, Illinois. You can find that series of blogs that include videos of some of the drills that I use click here and search for “Aikens on Throws”.

jimaikens_114x160Coach Aikens has been coaching the throws since 1984. Currently Coach Aikens is the throws coach at Burlington Central High School in Burlington, Illinois. He coached the throws at William Fremd High School in Palatine, Illinois since 1985 and has been the head boys coach since 1990. During this time Jim’s throwers have won four state championships and 16 other state medals. Jim has served as the director of Junior Athletics for USA Track & Field in the state of Illinois and holds USA Track & Field Level 1 and Level 2 certification. He is a Level One USATF Lead Instructor and is a USATF Nationally Certified Official in the throws. He has also served as President for the Illinois Track and Cross-Country Coaches Association and is a member of their Hall of Fame. Jim is currently the Illinois representative for the National Throws Coaches Association. Many of his throwers have earned conference, sectional, state, and national honors. Coach Aikens teams have won eight conference championships,  nine sectional championships, and four top 8 finishes at the Illinois state meet. Coach Aikens has published several articles about the Throws and training for the throws and is a much sought after speaking clinician. Jim is also the author of the Championship Video Throws series. Please feel free to contact him at coachaikens@gmail.com if you have any questions or would like some more insight on anything discussed in this article.