Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 124

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 124

Unless you were offline last week, you already know Dan has a new book out (the guy’s a machine!). In case you didn’t get a chance to see it, here’s a new page to show you Dan’s introduction to the book.


I’m not sure what I was going to talk about this morning, but when I heard Brian Oldfied had died (as I write this, he died yesterday, March 26, 2017), I knew I needed to talk about Brian.

Brian was, of course, a hero to every thrower in the 1970s. He did things differently, drove people crazy and threw far. He was big in every way: big voice, big personality and a very big man. And, By GOD!, he loved throwing…and talking about throwing.

At the DVC Relays, my good friend and teammate at Skyline College, Eric Seubert, was spinning in the shot. Brian came out of the stands and took Eric aside to work with him during the meet.

There. There is your story of Brian. He came out of the stands to work with a young thrower.

He was generous to a fault when it came to training and throwing. He had no concept of time, in a sense, so even when the ring judge called Eric’s name, Brian wasn’t finished with him yet. But, that was Brian. The rest of the throwers…and the ring judge…waited while Brian finished his sermon on throwing.

My daughters grew up with Brian. They have both shared dozens of meals with him, served him food and drink and found out things about life that I wish they would not have found out about life. Brian called Lindsay “Peanut” for a few years and would scream the most profane things to a thrower then turn and smile to Lindsay “Hi, Sweetie.” Brian Oldfield was also “Butch Oldfield” and he readily admitted this to anyone listening to him at night.

You didn’t get the “Big O” without “Butch.” Butch would fight with supervisors, argue with authority and, generally, look for a way to upset the cart. Everybody who knew Brian has a Big O story and a Butch story.

His insights on training were revolutionary. Driving Brian one afternoon with Nick Aiello and Nick Hristou, Brian explained to us the idea of only training twice a week in the weightroom. He thought throwers should be athletes first and jump and sprint and play. He told us the importance of the Highland Games for throwing and said that any increase in the weightroom should be seen with an increase in the throw…otherwise, well, he said it different, but your lifting was not optimal.

I have had to clean up after Butch a couple of times, just ask my wife, Tiffini. I’m going to let those memories move to the dustbin of history. Tiffini sat back last night and talked about how Brian left practice early one day because he couldn’t get a certain flower in Illinois. He came back to the field later and the back of his car was filled with shots, discs and three flats of flowers.

That’s Brian.

I have a lot of Brian stories. The tornado incident, the Beer Pong match with three world record holders, the “lost” golf cart, the pee bucket, and the coach in the way stories will all be retold in late nights and dark rooms for years to come. Brian’s insights into training have been used by countless athletes and soldiers without me giving enough credit to his insights.

Brian once told Tiffini, Kelly and Lindsay about his naps: “I love napping. I spend most of my time skipping,” said the wheelchair-bound Olympian and World Record Holder.

I hope he is skipping today.

This article might give some insights into his later years.


“He kept playing and playing, and it got worse,” said his sister, Joan Junod of St. Charles. “He wanted his fame so bad that even though it hurt him, he wasn’t going to stop.”

Oldfield also acknowledged taking steroids, starting in college with Dianabol pills from a physician. But he said he used the drugs sparingly and doubted they had harmed his health. His doctors, he said, never have raised steroids as an issue.

Starting in the early 1990s, Oldfield’s disabilities piled up at a frightening clip. His right leg became severely infected after surgery, putting him on antibiotics for 17 months. A fusing spine ate away the strength in his upper body, while neuropathy, a nerve disorder, weakened his legs.

As his body deteriorated, Oldfield tried to make the switch to coaching but was ill suited for its administrative tasks. He halfheartedly earned his real estate license but never sold a house, saying with rueful sarcasm: “I don’t like talking to people. It’s beneath me.”

For all of Oldfield’s ferocity in the 7-foot throwing circle, he can be painfully sensitive outside it. To this day he feels the sting of ancient slights, from a teacher holding him out of a 3rd-grade field trip to a sportswriter labeling him a “cigarette-smoking wackadoo.”

“All I ever wanted to do was to be liked,” he said one afternoon in his condo, where he had turned off the lights to save money. “I don’t like to be misliked. That used to cause me to fight people until I found out that they couldn’t fight with me. So I hid from people. . . . That’s why I don’t mind living here [without] much contact with the outer world.”

End of quote

As I reviewed this week, I decided to cut way back on things. This article is really worth your time on dieting and nutrition.


We asked some university secretaries if they wanted to fill out a questionnaire for a study on candy consumption. And then we said ‘as part of our thanks we’re going to give you this nice dish of candy’.

We asked some of the secretaries to put the dish on the desk and others to put it about six feet away from the desk. That’s only three steps, but they had to get up and move. We put 30 Hershey’s Kisses in either a clear or opaque bowl with a lid. And every night for four weeks, we secretly went to the secretaries offices, counted how many kisses they had eaten and filled the bowl back up to 30.

We found that if you put the candy on somebody’s desk, they ate about nine chocolates a day if the bowl was clear and 6 1/2 if the bowl was opaque.

But all you had to do was put it six feet away and the number dropped down to four kisses a day, whether it was opaque or clear
People in our biochemistry department say ‘’what’s the big deal? Five more chocolates isn’t that significant.’’

But five more chocolates is 125 more calories per day. Over a month of weekdays, that’s 2,500 calories, or two-thirds of a pound.

End Quote

I also have a new book out.

This short piece sums up the key to the whole work. Fun piece:


I like to keep things pretty simple when addressing athletes. They’re not dumb. Far from it. But we need to make sure we have clarity. It’s one of the reasons I don’t like using complicated peaking programs: I don’t want the athlete to get lost in the minutiae and miss the big picture, the big point.

Performance should be better than practice!

There are three outcomes, generally, when looking at the relationship between practice and performance.

A. Performance is better than practice.
B. Performance is the same as practice.
C. Performance is worse than practice.

A or B are fine, but C is an issue.

The ideal model of practice and performance is what we usually see in track and field.

During the early season, the practice marks are below the prior year’s performance. A lot of second guessing happens and some begin questioning the whole program.

Ideally, at the first meet, tension and arousal will lift the athlete’s marks up from practice. This begins the process of building a throw. The next week, the practice marks are better, as if hidden wires have been cut from the athletes and they can move like magic again.

Performance explodes.

The next meet sees another improvement, and then the next practice marks improve, too.

This continues to wave upward during the season until the athlete wonders out loud: “Why didn’t I throw this far this easy early in the season?”

As a master athlete, there is nothing more heart deflating than performance efforts subpar to practice marks. “Woulda/coulda/shoulda” is a curse for the aging athlete. This effort seems to bring a spiral of self-defeating thoughts:

‘Why did I waste my time and money coming here?’
‘Why did I think all those hours of work would pay off?’
‘Why did I lather up on the sunscreen (or put on an extra raincoat) for this kind of day?’

End Quote

Finally, let’s look at something a little extra for you to enjoy. My friend, Stoney, took on coaching a local team. He called for advice and he utilized some of the concepts from the book, Now What?, as well as some other resources. Please enjoy a novice coach’s insights on training a team. He did a great job.

Stoney Beckstead on coaching:

My wife and I ended up, not with the 10/11-year-olds, but with the 8/9-year-olds. Having a 10-year-old and a 9-year-old in the same house, I can tell you the difference in maturity can be (and is) vast.

The basics were that we played on an 8.5 foot hoop with a 28.5 inch ball. Coaches were the officials. No score was kept (this kind of upset me because in our Coaches Info they stressed not keeping score and asked us to not let parents keep score, but what are the people from the city doing? Keeping score! It did, however, give me a chance to practice emphasizing the more important parts at this age – rebounds, good defense, good dribbling, good passing, and great sportsmanship!).

My philosophy changed a bit during the season in that it got more general. I wanted to emphasize sportsmanship, hard work, and fundamentals. Having this season under my belt does show me the value of the “automatics.” I need to do better on those, but they did start to come out for me.

My first-year three keys:

1: Sportsmanship  I can’t emphasize sportsmanship enough.  “It’s not whether you won or lost, it’s how you played the game.”  This is a paraphrase of what Grantland Rice wrote in the early 1900s:

“For when the One Great Scorer comes
To mark against your name,
He writes – not that you won or lost –
But how you played the Game.”
(from the poem “Alumnus Football”)

I approached this principle in two ways: one—my interaction and two—their interaction. And tried to stay consistent during the practices and games.

My interaction:

Call each boy by name (or nickname if they prefer). Calling them by name shows they are important to me and it allows me to single them out for reward/discipline.

Stay positive. These kids are eight or nine years old; they are going to mess up a lot. Just make sure they are not beating themselves or each other up, working hard, and doing their best.

Applaud effort over results. In other words, I care more about you learning and growing, than I do about you doing something perfectly.

Their interaction:

I insist on cheering each other on, we are a TEAM. Coach doesn’t win or lose. Billy doesn’t win or lose. Joey’s dad doesn’t win or lose. WE (the team) win or lose.

Absolutely no teasing or fighting.

2: Hard work—In my humble experience, hard work = more fun. If you can walk away from a game or a practice knowing that you did your best, then you walk away with pride and your head held high. There’s yet to be a team that wins every game or does everything perfect. Sure, there are loss-less seasons, but that doesn’t mean you’re done or you stop working. In fact, it’s probably argued that you then have to work harder to defend it.

3: Fundamentals—I’ve yet to hear a coach in any sport say they should have spent or are spending less time on fundamentals. Here’s where we learned about the game and broke skills out and down into components. This is where practices were focused and drills were used to get in our repetitions. So much of athletics (and life, really) is about repetition; doing something over and over so that it’s recognizable and less scary.

Here’s what I ended up with each practice.

– few laps around the court
– skipping (forward and both sides)
– back peddling
– some sprinting

Dribbling and since we eat the biggest nastiest frog first (a nod to you and Tiffini), we do left hand first
– first: basic “down and back”
– second: faster, keeping the dribble low
– lastly: fastest, dribble low, don’t lose control

Dribble game—kids love dribble knockout (everyone inside the free throw circle)

– Basic passing (chest, bounce, overhead)
– passing keep away

Passing Game: We had a fun game where we spread the kids out and make them pass to each other sequentially, with just one ball. Then we add a ball until we get to the point that we can’t add another one. This is great as it requires them to make a good pass quickly and be prepared to catch an incoming pass quickly. I think it’s great for hand-eye coordination with a basketball.

Finally we’d try to learn something new related to the most important parts of the game.


We spent most of the time on the basic layup progression (standing, one step, one dribble + one step). This was enough for all these kids, and many didn’t progress pass standing, which I think is fine as they play at this level for two years and in the progression there’s room for perfect practice. Basically, we’d start first by the hoop, one hand only, bend your knees, feet about shoulder-width, aim high in the square, right hand then left hand.  I did right hand first to better ingrain the feeling of shooting correctly, then referenced it in the left-hand shooting.


Rebounds I’d incorporate into other games as another way of scoring. To emphasize that there’s more to a good basketball team and game than shooting.

Ending Game

This was always Elimination (sometimes called Tornado). In the beginning, I’d just let them play, but then I decided I’d force them to shoot their first shot one handed to enforce/ingrain the habit of shooting fundamentals.

Probably the most challenging thing for me was dealing with a couple kids who just wanted to goof off and didn’t pay attention. These kids had some skill in the sport, it was obvious they had parents or others who’ve been working with them. Only one time, did I lose my cool and tell them both to go sit down. I told them if they wanted to chit-chat and goof around while I was trying to teach something they were welcome to, but they had to go sit on the bench and wait until I called them back over. This “worked” in that they decided they’d rather pay attention than have to sit on the sideline. But it was insightful to me to be welcomed to the conflicting worlds of wanting to be a friend/father figure vs. being a coach who needs them to listen, practice, and try things.

One kid did say some negative things about his teammates during the game. I was refereeing, so my wife handled that one. She corrected the kid and let him know that she was going to talk to his dad when the game was over. She followed through (something that maybe this kid isn’t used to) and was met with a bit of resistance from dad, but she’s been working with behaviorally challenged kids for 15 years and was quickly able to give the father the specifics and set the expectations of it not happening again. I made sure to let him know we’d all work on it in practice.

Luckily I didn’t have any parents who tried to coach over me, though of course many did during the games when kids would go over to sit by their family, but that was fine and expected at this age and their first year of team basketball.

All-in-all it was a great experience being able to run things my way. But I think I could benefit from some experience as an assistant. And I think I’d like to work with some older kids who are maybe more interested in learning.

End quote

If Wandering Weights is truly dedicated to “lifting and learning,” Stoney seems to really understand the Big Picture.

Until next week, I leave you with dreams of skipping.


As Dan was reviewing his notes from his work on Now What?, he came up with these three secrets to performance he wanted to share with you. Here, grab THIS LINK.

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