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Thrower's College Guide

Tony Dziepak, February 1998, last modified 30Apr02.

I get many e-mails from HS throwers asking me how to go about finding a good college throwing program and if they are good enough for a scholarship. So I am writing this article to cover these issues.

First, everyone should read the NCAA college-bound student athlete guide. Everyone should also register with the applicant clearinghouse, which, I think, can now be done online. Ask your high school athletic director or guidance counselor. If you are a foreign athlete or if your HS does not have these forms, you may request them by mail from the NCAA. I do not want to repeat the information that is on the CBSA guide; it is quite comprehensive. The following is just some brief additional information specific for throwers.

How do you determine if you're good enough for Div. I, or for a scholarship? First of all, in general, for everyone who enjoys throwing and wants to continue throwing past HS, there are opportunities to participate regardless of your current level of achievement or future potential. The highest level of immediate post-HS activity would be NCAA Division I. Within Div. I schools, the level of the track program varies greatly. There is also NCAA Div. II, NCAA Div. III, NAIA, and two-year (Junior/City/Community) Colleges. In the NCAA, Division I and Division II may offer scholarships based on athletic ability. The Ivy league, the US military academies, and all Div. III schools do not offer scholarships based on athletic ability. Your choice of college should be guided based upon a balanced consideration of the match between your athletic, career, and educational goals and the institution's offerings.

Eligibility: It is important maintain your eligibility. Many US and foreign track & field professional athletes complete their collegiate eligibility at a US Div. I college, although other paths are possible. There are academic standards, and professionalism issues. See the CBSA guide for more info. There are also academic standards that must be met. You have to have completed a core HS curriculum, and you must be a full-time college student.

If you are unable to meet the NCAA eligibility standards, your options are more limited. The two-year colleges may have easier academic standards. The NAIA may have different standards. Other options include a USATF club, a foreign club, or a shoe contract. The USATF and USOC have limited funds for olympic development athletes, but these usually go to postcollegiate sub-elites. Outside the US, development athletics are more club-based than college-based. Only the top elite athletes get shoe contracts, and these usually occur after college.

A few comments on professionalism: you can participate in track meets that award prize money as long as you don't accept the prize money. You may accept noncash prizes, such as trophies, medals, jackets, etc., but there is a limit on the cash value of these prizes, like $100 or something. Don't accept a car.

If a competition, federation, or organization has a pro division and an amateur division, you have to compete in the amateur division. For example, in highland games, compete in the amateur divisions. You can do an open or pro-am division (competing with pros and amateurs combined), as long as you don't take a cash prize for performance.

You can get cash for travel expense (actual and necessary expenses); for example, hotel reimbursement, gas money, airfare; for competitions, but no appearance fees beyond actual and necessary expenses. However, you can receive a fee for coaching at a clinic.

Size: A lot of throwers have hangups about size. For small boys, the concern is if they are big enough to be a thrower. Maybe large big boys are concerned that they are always getting beat by guys much smaller than them.

How does size affect recruiting? Most applications of interest to most Universities have height and weight listed as the first two items after your name. The impression might be to small throwers that height and weight are important in recruiting. Well they are a factor, but they are not the only factor.

Track recruiting is limited in budget so often height and weight are used to make an initial assessment of the throwers. In my opinion, the chronological order of assessment usually goes like this:

1: Junior (11th grade) Performances. The DyeStat lists the national and state top performances of each thrower. Constant performances (low variance) throughout the season indicates consistency, increasing performances indicate improvement.

2: Height, weight, lifting maxes, previous years' experience, and other events/sports, per the application of interest form. This information, along with the primary event 11th grade performances, gives an indication of potential. Height cannot increase much, but weight is more adjustable with strength training and conditioning. Potential means that someone with lousy technique, low strength levels, or coming from a HS program with lacking coaching or facilities, may have room for improvement.

So a small thrower with potential may be interesting. However, a small thrower who has lots of experience, from a HS with great facilities and coaching, with great technique and good strength, may not have as much potential.

3: Assessment of technique and body composition through a recruiting videotape, web page, or recruiters' direct observation at state meets. A thrower may be big, but may have high bodyfat. Also looking for desire to throw, good attitude, good sportsmanship.

4: Assessment of attitude, fit with university, team, other throwers and coaches through the campus visit. 5: Most importantly, your level of interest and enthusiasm about throwing and competing, your passion for throwing, and your coachability (ability to listen, understand, and learn new techniques), are all desirable traits of a good recruit.

Conclusion: yes size is a factor, but not as big a factor as some small throwers may fear. Good recruiters will look at the combination of factors to determine immediate impact on the team and long-term potential.

My experience as a relatively small thrower was that I could beat guys much larger than myself due to my better technique. So I prided myself in having good technique. This encouraged me to work on all aspects in training: my strength, my technique, and my competitive abilities: to bring out my best in competition.

Advice: if you are small/short, be willing and express eagerness to try new events, such as the hammer/weight throws. Especially if you are mainly a discus thrower under 6'0" (men) 5'7" (women). It is not necessarily impossible to throw far if short. Some short throwers off the top of my head: MSP: CJ Hunter (70'+) is under 6' tall (although he is also 6'wide). Adam Nelson is small. MDT: Luis Delis (Cuba, silver medal 1980 olympics) is 6'0". It helps to have long arms in DT, but if you have the desire, you can throw far in college even if you are under 6'0. MHT: Sergei Litvinov (2nd all-time) is 5'11. He has thrown over 80 meters while weighing under 200lbs. Javelin throwers can really be small. Jan Zelezny is tiny.

Women: Lisa Misipeka is not that tall, maybe 5'6. Shorter yet, at 5'4 is Michelle (Clayton) Boswell from ECU, now a strength coach at Virginia Tech, who qualified for NCAA indoors in the weight throw. She is also a very decent shot putter. Liz Pidgeon is another short hammer-weight thrower. The short hammer throwers make up for it by being incredibly fast. They are a blur in the ring; incredible to watch. Lacy Barnes-Mileham is a pretty short discus thrower. She has to be in the 5'5-5'7 range.

For small girls, the concern is often "Do I have to / am I willing to add weight?" There is no question that the woman thrower does not fit the current Hollywood ideal body composition for a woman. The societal pressure to conform to that ideal is all around you--even your closest friends and family.

Your friends may advise you not to pursue throwing in college because it will neccesitate nonconformity to the norms of society. To that I say what a foolish idea. Do you want to be normal or do you want to be exceptional? By definition, anyone who has achieved greatness is exceptional in their specialty. Einstein was an exceptional scientist, MLK Jr. was an exceptional speaker, etc. Maybe in HS the name of the game is to be normal in every way, but in college, you will find a new climate: a climate of tremendous freedom and nurturing. The opportunity to become exceptional in your interests without fear of ridicule.

A sad but often true fact in HS athletics is that there is a position in every sport reserved for those who are not quite athletic enough to play a "real" position. It may be the soccer goalie or the football long-snapper. In track, it may be shot put. This generates a damaging stereotype, that throwers are just big, unathletic people.

Well, this is far from the truth in college. Women throwers in college are very athletic. They are quick and explosive, and often have lower than average bodyfat. Yes they are big and they don't have the body of a supermodel or an Ally McBeal. But they really look like a heptathlete with an extra 20 pounds of muscle.

So my advice is to surround yourself with friends that are positive and support your pursuits. Anyone that discourages you are not really your friends. It is a little more difficult if they are your parents--you cannot drop them. Improve your communication with your parents; encourage them to come to your competitions. As they become more knowledgeable and "get more into it," hopefully, they will come around, and become more supportive.

You need to sit down with your throws coach as well as your strength and conditioning coach and determine realistic goals for improving strength and body composition. Ideal weight depends on your height, bodyframe, and event, so I am not even going to bother stating any ranges here.

Recruiting Process: I wouldn't worry about recruiting issues until the summer after your junior year (11th grade). Up to your junior year, your concerns should be primarily maintaining eligibility, learning as much as you can from your coach and other sources, perfroming well in your junior year, and having fun doing it.

The most important throwing performances are those of your junior year (11th grade); indoor season, and outdoor season. Senior-year marks in the outdoor season are too late for consideration. Senior indoor marks can make a difference in the end when final scholarship decisions are made, but the 11th grade outdoor performances are what determines your initial prospects.

If you decide that you might want to pursue throwing in college, you may want to broaden your knowledge base by attending a throws summer camp or clinic. The coaching on the HS level is highly variable. You may be lucky to have an excellent coach, but the typical HS coaches is the assistant lineman football coach who is assigned throws in the spring. At any rate, even if you do have a good coach, a clinic will give you alternative viewpoints on technique, drills, etc. You may also have an opportunity to try the javelin or hammer if your school does not offer these events. It is fun, and you might meet some famous throwers and coaches.

The best time to do a summer camp or clinic would be the summer BEFORE your junior year (11th grade), or earlier. This is because your 11th grade performances are more important than your 12th grade performances in recruiting. If you attend a summer camp after your junior year, place more emphasis on the shot because only the indoor marks of your senior year will be considered.

In your junior year, you should train through indoor and peak late outdoor. You should try to get good marks in May, and qualify for regional and state competitions. Many recruiters attend state meets. There are more recruiters at bigger states and higher school classifications. In your senior year, you should taper and peak for indoor.

The scholarship offers will also depend on the individual school's needs. One school may offer full scholarship to a (male) 180' jav thrower, while another won't offer even for 220'. There is also tremendous difference in the caliber of teams within Division I. Some schools are not fully funded (do not offer all the scholarship money they could) because track is not a priority at that school.

Note that women throw identical implements in HS and college, but men switch to a different implement. Girls can look at the NCAA div. I list. If you are already throwing in HS far enough to make the top 20 on this list, then you should be under consideration for some scholarship at some universities. Refer to the DyeStat HS list. If you are at the top 10 on this list, you will be under consideration for a full scholarship at the best programs. If you are in the top 50, you may still be able to secure a full scholarship at some universities. If you did not make the list as a junior, there is much less chance of getting a full ride at a Div. I college. It helps to be on more than one list.

Boys: hs shot and hammer are #12 in hs, #16 in college. HS disc is 1.6kg in HS and 2kg in college. Javelin: the old model (with the center of gravity further back, sails further than the college jav, but rubber tips impede distance. So these comparisons cannot be made.

Gender inequity: Generally, a girl thrower will be able to get more scholarship money and is more likely to get a full ride than than a boy of equal proficiency. This is due to the Office of Civil Rights' current interpretation of Title IX. The current interpretation is setting a ratio of athletes that reflect the college enrollment rather than the NCAA applicant pool. Also NCAA Div. I scholarship limits are 18 for women's track and 12.6 for men's track. In addition, many schools do not even allow their men's track team to have a full 12.6 scholarships. As a result, a much smaller percentage of male applicants get scholarships than women applicants.

In contrast, there are many more boy HS throwers than girl HS throwers. If you look at the DyeStat rankings (7/12/2000), you will see that there are 84 boy shot putters that are within 85% of the leader's distance vs. 47 girls. For discus, there are 34 boys within 85% of the leader versus only 16 girls. So boys are about twice as deep as girls in shot and disc. For javelin, it is a bit more inequitable: 48 boys are within 85% of the leader's distance vs. 16 girls, a 3:1 ratio. As a result, you have many more boys than girls vying for fewer scholarships.

Another consideration: many men's teams have roster limits in order to adjust the ratio of male vs. female athletic participants. The current interpretation by the OCR is that this ratio should match that of the student body. So men's coaches are forced to cut their rosters and discourage walk-ons. If you don't get a scholarship, make sure that the school you choose will be able to keep you on the roster. You need to be good enough to score points in the conference meet. This is generally not a problem for women. As long as you show some interest and put in some effort, you will usually have the opportunity to compete.

Also, because of the difference in scholarship limits and applicant pools, the best women throwers are more concentrated in the better Div. I schools, whereas the men are more distributed down through all Div. I and even Div. II schools.

I'm just telling it like it is; I am not expressing any opinion with respect to the current interpretation of Title IX. This is the current situation, but it may change in the near future. The OCR may change its interpretation on Title IX. Also, there is proposed legislation to give separate scholarships to cross country (5m, 6w) and not count them against track. This would in effect increase the limits to 16.6 for men and 24 for women. This would affect the distribution of talent across schools.

Senior year preparation: You should make a videotape of your best Junior outdoor throws in practice and/or meets. You should start to research colleges during the summer after your junior year. You may start to receive phone calls, media guides, and other information in the fall of your senior year. You should make initial inquiries to schools early in the fall. You want to narrow down your choices of interested schools and then send copies of your videotape to them. A recruiter will want to see you throw so they can assess your potential. You could also do a web page.

If you make any of the national lists on Track & Field News or DyeStat, this will generate some inquiries from recruiters. The top programs go after the top throwers in the nation. The lower Div. I programs don't even bother with the best; they may concentrate their recruiting efforts more regionally. They may also concentrate in-state, so the DyeStat state lists are also important. Some states are much stronger than others (California vs. Delaware).

In terms of the various divisions, take a look at the performance lists of Divisions I, II, and III. This gives you the idea of the distances that the various divisions are throwing. Not all throwers are expected to make the list, but a scholarship athlete should cartainly have the potential to throw this far in a few years. But there are nonscholarship athletes who never make the qualifying list, but still pick up conference points.

To identify the top programs, look for multiple NCAA qualifiers from the same school. Here are some examples of rankings of throwing schools.

You want to arrange official campus visits of your top choices during late fall and winter. You may also want to consider unofficial campus visits. Offers can come anytime in the winter or spring. The placements start earlier with the top throwers in the nation, and work down throughout the spring.

When deciding on schools to visit, you want to consider several athletic and nonathletic factors. Athletic factors include the style and expertise of the throws coach, the requirements of the team and head coach, the training facilities, including the strength and conditioning staff and equipment, the support facilities, including sports medicine staff and facilities, academic support, etc. You also have to figure out access to these resources. Some schools may offer a lower level of support to certain sports.

You want to consider the existance and access to facilities. Are there indoor throwing facilities for winter? Are there restricted hours to indoor and outdoor facilities? Are there grass clippings and pools of water in the throwing circles during the fall?

In terms of coaching style, there are two extremes in terms of active vs. passive coaching: the drill sargent and the facilitator. The drill sargent tells you exactly what to do each day. The advantages is that you don't have to worry about doing your own research or assessment; everything is taken care of. The negative is that there may be less flexibility for times of high academic loads, illness, or injury, which may lead to overtraining. Also, you may not be informed of what you are doing for the rest of the week, so you don't know how hard to work. Also, you are told what to do, but not why.

The facilitator is a more passive coach. You have to be self-motivated to work with a passive coach because he/she is not going to assure that you are working hard. However, you will understand the principles behind your training and have your entire macrocycle laid out for you to ponder.

There are also extremes of recruiting style. The heavy "recruiter" type looks for athletes with good technique and the ability to contribute to the team immediately, but may not have the highest level knowledge, experience, or resources to coach the athlete to a much higher level. On the other hand, the teaching coaches have the ability to bring the most potential out of an athlete. The teaching coach usually spends more time on researching the athlete to look for potential whereas the recruiter spends more effort on advertising to convince a high school star to come to their school.

You also have to consider your academic options: what are you interested in majoring in, and what is the academic quality of the school?

When you get an offer, you should be given a week to accept or decline. The day you receive an offer, you should make calls to recruiters at other schools in which you are under consideration. You should tell them that you received an offer, and see what they say. They may match that, or they may not. Tell them of your deadline, and give them a couple of days to decide. You may decide to accept less money, or no money at a school you prefer over a less preferred school that offered you more.

The offer process can be painful to some. Some recruiters can become very hostile. Try to be honest, professional, and considerate. I hope this article helps to give you an objective assessment of your potential. Some parents can have unrealistic expectations of their son's/daughter's prospects. Do not tell a school that you have an offer from another school if you don't. In economics, this is called a noncredible threat. The market will work its way down to you. If you enter too early, they are still waiting to hear from better throwers, and they will not give you a counteroffer. You really have to wait for that first offer.

Foreign athlete considerations: Some US university coaches are active recruiters of foreigners. Recruiting, expecially foreign recruiting, is expensive; so usually these schools will develop "pipelines:" a current foreign athlete or alumni will contact and recommend former HS or club teammates of his/her home country. However, a minority of university coaches are opposed to recruiting or offering athletic scholarships to foreign athletes. These coaches feel that US universities should give priority to the development of US citizen athletes. So you just have to inquire and figure out which is which. Most schools do not actively recruit abroad, but are not opposed to offering scholarships according to athletic ability or potential contribution to the team, without regard to national citizenship status.

Foreign eligibility: you may lose one year of eligibility for every year you compete on an athletics club after high school. Some countries have different years of high school, so each case may be treated on an individual basis.

Individual event considerations:

Shot: you should consider if the coach is able to instruct both spin and glide techniques. If this is your primary event and you haven't already done so, you should experiment with both techniques. If your HS coach does not have expertise, you should use the fall of your freshman year in college to try the other method. You should try both methods at a clinic.

Discus: Unless you are a superstar, all discus throwers will be expected to also compete in the shot to pick up extra conference points. Emphasize discus in 11th grade, and emphasize indoor shot in 12th grade.

Hammer: If you have thrown the hammer in HS, congratulations. You are lucky to be either from Rhode Island, a private school or club, or have a parent or neighbor who has coached you in the event. The applicant pool for hammer is very small. It is a bonus to be proficient in at least one other event like the shot or discus. Some recruiters look overseas for their hammer needs, so you may be competing for slots against foreign athletes. But other schools are opposed to foreign recruiting.

Javelin: It is hard for coaches to justify a full scholarship to a jav thrower if this is his only event. So you have to be either great, or you must be willing and able to score in other events. You are more valuable if you can be a legitimate scoring possibility in two events in conference championships. Depending on your size and the needs of the school, you might want to consider also trying the hammer or the #35 weight throw indoors. If you are smaller and quite athletic in other events, you could contribute in the decathlon or other decathlon events. On the other hand, they don't throw jav in HS in all states, so the applicant pool is smaller than that of shot or discus.

Coaching issues: First, there are two basic administrative arrangements that may affect your ability to access coaches at various universities. There are separate men's and women's programs, and there are combined programs. The NCAA Places coaching limits of 3 paid coaches per Div. I team, men and women. A combined program can have 6 paid coaches. In addition separate and combined programs may hire additional noncoaching administrative assistants, and may provide nonpaid volunteer part-time assistant coaches. These volunteers are typically alumni athletes or elite athletes who help out with practice in exchange for use of training facilities.

In combined programs, typically, you will have a head men's coach and a head women's coach, and you have four assistants who each coach an event group, both men and women. However, in some separate programs, the coaches may coach only one gender. Some separate programs are only separate for the sake of administration, but coach both genders during practice; however, some separate programs have nothing to do with the other team. They may even practice at different times. You need to make sure that the throws coach at separate programs coaches your gender.

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