Talking With Tony Ciarelli
28 December 2005
By Glenn Thompson
It?s difficult for any one to reach the summit of their chosen profession. Many years and countless hours are invested in perfecting their craft in the endless pursuit of reaching the pinnacle, and staying there. Tony Ciarelli has arguably achieved the triple crown of coaching. Along with putting some of the toughest defensive squads in the nation on the gridiron, Ciarelli is one of our country?s top weightlifting and throws coaches.
Ciarelli knows how to develop talent and is an expert in blending weight training with athletic performance. Tony was kind enough to take some time during the heart of his busy football season to share his thoughts with LSTJ.
LSTJ: Talk about your athletic background.
TC: I started into sports at a very early age; my father and mother were both athletes and coaches. My father coached a women?s softball team called the Orange Lionetts. He won two World Championships in the early 60?s. He was a great coach. Another reason was that Huntington Beach, where I grew up, had a great recreation program, so starting at the age of five, I went from football to basketball to track (I was not extremely fast so I threw the shot and softball) and then baseball every year until I started high school. At Huntington High I played football, basketball, baseball and threw the shot my freshman and sophomore years. My junior year I dropped baseball and my senior year I dropped basketball. Southern California was a tough place to throw. I got fourth place in our Regionals behind Randy Cross, Terry Albritton and Jim Niedthart. Overall there were 16 throwers over 60? in California in 1972. I placed tenth place at State with a throw of 59?1".
After high school I went to Orange Coast College and played football and threw the shot, discus, and the javelin. I ended being best at the javelin, throwing 69.46m and placing second in the State. In 1974 I went to the University of Hawaii after my second year at Orange Coast. There I met up with Terry Albritton and Jim Niedthart again, and it was a time myths are made of. I ended up throwing just under 75m and going to the ?76 Nationals at UCLA. Right after that kids, work and surfing started to take up most of my time and my throwing suffered. I moved back to Huntington Beach in 1981 and began coaching.
LSTJ: Care to share a couple stories from Hawaii?
TC: Most of the stories about Hawaii I will plead the Fifth on. It was just a great time with a lot of great and crazy people. Terry Albritton, Jim Niedhart, Bill Starr, and many others were there at a time before the big hotel boom of the late 70?s, so Waikiki was a much wilder place. The drinking age at the time was 18. Not that it affected us because we were athletes in training and did not partake in such things. The one thing I can still picture, that I wish I could forget, is Jim and Terry, both at over 300 lbs. rolling in the waves at Waikiki in flowered Speedos. There are thousands of pictures of this still today somewhere in Japan, because the Japanese tourists were amazed by the sight, as were most people. The great thing is they would throw in Speedos also. It was the 70?s, so all of our hair was well below shoulder length and we were all bouncers. So as you can imagine, it was wild. My claim to fame was getting third place behind Albritton and Fuerbach when the Pacific Coast Club came over to Hawaii for a meet. They were both throwing over 70? at the time, and they did not want to just go one after the other, so they asked me and Wayne Bovier to throw, both of us being former high school shot putters. I was throwing the javelin for UH and he was powerlifting in Hawaii. Well, anyway, I got third by only a little over 20?.
LSTJ: How did you get involved with coaching football, track and the Olympic lifts?
TC: I actually began coaching in Hawaii at Damien High School in 1980. I really enjoyed it, so when I got back to California I hooked up with a friend of my brother?s who was the head track coach at Edison High School in Huntington Beach. He gave me the throws coach job. I had no intention of coaching football, but the next year the football team was taking a trip to Hawaii so I volunteered to help coach the freshman team. I coached at Edison from 1981 until 1989. At that point I was hired as a history teacher at Newport Harbor High School so I began coaching varsity football and the throws at Newport. I became the defensive coordinator at Newport where we made the finals in ?92, ?94, ?96 and ?04 winning the whole thing with an undefeated season in ?94. In 1997 I mistakenly took the head football job at my alma mater Huntington Beach High. I also took over as throws coach. After five years I could tell that my philosophy and that of my principal was never going to fit, so at that point I went back to Newport for football but my daughters were throwing at Huntington, so I stayed for three more years as throws coach. I changed back to Newport last year for the throws so now I coach only at Newport.
I got my Olympic lifting education from Bill Starr at the University of Hawaii. I have always done some form of Olympic lifting with my athletes, but in 1991 I had a guy that was just a natural so I got involved with USA Weightlifting and began studying and taking tests. I am now ranked as a U.S. International weightlifting coach and just finished my first international assignment as coach of the USA World University team in France where the women won the title and the men placed second.
LSTJ: Do you have a preference amongst the three sports that you coach?
TC: I enjoy coaching each of them for different reasons. I like the throws and weightlifting for the technique involved to pursue the perfect lift or perfect throw. To get someone prepared, technically, physically and physiologically, to be their best at a specific time and place, programming each and every detail and seeing all that work come to fruition is great fun. I like coaching football for many of the same reasons, but it?s the unit that you are bringing together, not the individual. The other reason I like football is the effect I have on the competition. I am a defensive coordinator, so I get to sit up in the box and play chess with the offensive coordinator from the other team. I love to study the tendencies and traits of the teams we play and put my scholarship to test every Friday night. In throwing and weightlifting, there is very little you can do as a coach once the competition starts, although there is a lot of strategy involved in weightlifting.
LSTJ: How did Tony CiareIli?s Annual World Class Throws Clinic get started? How have you come to have such elite clinicians?
TC: I started doing the clinic back in 1990. I was doing it by myself, and the first year I think I got about 15 throwers. It grew slowly, and in 1996 I was helping Eric Johnson and Melisa Weis get ready for the ?96 Trials and they helped with the clinic that year. Eric really enjoyed doing it and said he could get some friends to help, so the next year he brought in Kevin Fitzpartick, Jamie Presser, Joe Bailey and I brought in 2000 Olympian Weightlifter Cara Heads whom I coach and also my wife Stephanie for the weightlifting. In ?99 I started coaching Carl Brown so he began to help out. I think it was 2002 that Jason Tunks came to train for the spring so I asked if he would be interested which he was and it was also that year Eric got a hold of Jarred Rome and Ian Waltz and both were more than glad to help. We picked up Scott Semar and Coach Mac (Bob MacKay). We also have Scott Moser, Jon Davis, Jamie Beyer, Nick Pettrucci and my daughters, Maryn and Katelyn. This year we picked up Mac Wilkins, which was great. We had a good mix of old school and new. It is a great clinic and this year we had over 100 throwers and coaches. I think that most of the clinicians do the clinic because of the barbeque we put on at the house afterward. It is starting to get to that mythical stage: good food, good people, good stories. We have a really good time. So if anyone else would be interested please get in touch with me. (email@example.com)
LSTJ: Who is the most amazing prep thrower you?ve had a chance to work with, and why? What about lifters?
TC: This is a tough question, I would say that Kaleaph Carter was the best. He threw 64? and 186?. He was State and National champion, but I look back and I was not as good a coach then as I am now. If I had him now, I know he would have thrown much farther. Scott Moser was one of the best and I only got to coach him for a year and a half. I started helping Scott at the end of his junior year while I was still at Newport because I knew I was transferring to Huntington. He threw 52? and 185? as a junior and as a senior he threw 62? and 213?11" (California state record). Scott was by far the best lifter with a 302 lbs. snatch and a 364 lbs. clean and jerk at a bodyweight of only about 210 lbs. He was National champion in both the discus and weightlifting. I have a thrower coming back next year, Bo Taylor, who I think will push to be the best I ever coached. He threw 59? and 185? this year as a junior, but this is the first year he has ever been coached. This was my first year back at Newport. Bo threw 52? and 145? as a sophomore.
You could give a good argument for the Heads sisters, Gina and Cara. Gina was 5?2"/145 lbs. She threw 47?5" and 147?. She was the Junior National champion and record holder in both the snatch (187 lbs.) and the clean and jerk (231 lbs). Cara was 5?1" and 135 lbs. She threw 41? and 149?. She was also Junior National champion and record holder with a 176 lbs. snatch and a 225 clean and jerk. Cara has gone on to become a seven-time Senior National champion and record holder and was a 2000 Olympian. Overall I have coached six throwers over 60? in the shot, soon to be seven (Bo) and have coached six throwers over 180? in the discus. No matter what I have done, it only happened because these athletes were willing to work hard.
LSTJ: What is your general strategy with weight training regarding throwers? And especially, the Olympic lifts?
TC: I coach high school throwers for the most part so the strategy I use is two fold; first and foremost technique and safety in the weight room. We spend weeks and even months working just on technique, mostly on the Olympic lifts, but there is a proper technique for every lift we use, whether it be the squat, bench or kettle bells. I don?t think enough coaches take into consideration the long-term plan, which should be that the athlete is at his/her best and strongest in his/her senior year. So you should have a four-year plan starting when your athletes are freshmen. In the first year the emphasis should be on technique, not strength. We start every athlete on PVC pipe, and when they show a proficiency in the Olympic movements, we allow them to move to an Olympic bar. Proficiency in movement means you can do the lift perfectly. If you can?t move perfectly, then you cannot move up in weight. If a lifter makes a lift, but with bad technique, it does not count and the weight must be taken off until perfect technique can be accomplished. Only lifts done with perfect technique are counted as max lifts. By doing this through the first and second year of their four-year plan, you greatly cut down the risk of injury because of bad position, and you create a much better lifter who will be able to lift more weight in their third and fourth year because of their superior technique.
Second is creating size and strength. So there is much more hypertrophy in the first and second year; more sets of 5 to 10 reps. This also helps in muscle memorization for the young athlete. We never do more than 5 reps in the Olympic lifts, but we will in the pulls, squats, and presses. The older athletes still have a hypertrophy phase every year, but it does not last as long for them. The phases of any yearly plan need to be adjusted for each athlete. We have throwers that will make State, some that will make Regionals, and some that league finals will be their last meet, and they can?t all be on the same program if you want everyone peak at the right time. So a basic look at our yearly program looks something like this.
From September to January will be our hypertrophy phase:
WEEKS 1 - 4
Days 1 & 3 Days 2 & 4
Clean pulls 5x10 Snatch pulls 5x10
Shrugs 5x10 RDLs (*) 5x10
Front Squats 5x5 Step ups 5x10
Bench 5 x 10 Overhead press 5x10
* Romanian Deadlift
WEEK 5 ? active rest
Days 1 & 3 Days 2 & 4
Cleans 5x5 Snatch 5x5
Clean pulls 5x5 RDLs 5x5
Front squats 5x5 Step-ups 5x5
Bench 5x5 Push press 5x5
Days 1 & 3 Days 2 & 4
Cleans 5x3 Snatch 5x3
Clean pulls 5x3 RDLs 5x3
Front squats 5x3 Step-ups 5x3
Bench 5x3 Push press 5x3
WEEK 8 active rest
WEEKS 9 through 16 do the cycle over again
During this first 16 weeks we will also do a jump rope circuit, a med ball circuit and a hurdle circuit
WEEKS 17 through 24 will be much the same but it will be four weeks of 5?s, then rest a week, then a week of 3?s, then a week of 1?s.
We will add kettle bells and club bells to our program during this phase.
This should bring us to the first of March; from this point on we will do primarily do singles
WEEK 25 and on
Days 1 & 3
Cleans - 1?s to failure (3 attempts at max weight)
80% of best lift of the day 3x3
Clean pulls 100%of best lift 3x5
Front squats ? 1?s to failure
80% of best lift 3x3
Bench ? 1?s to failure
80% of best lift 3x3
Days 2 & 4
Snatch ? 1?s to failure
80% of best lift 3x3
Step-ups ? 1?s to failure
80% of best 3x3
Jerks ? 1?s to failure
80% of best lift 3x3
As you can see, the load in the weight room is much heavier at the start of the season. We would not be doing much outside at this time, just working on strength and size. As we move through the season, the load in the weight room is cut back so we can do more drills, throws, jumps and running outside. I think that there is a great carryover from the weight room to the ring with regards to technique. The more the athletes understand that the better their technique is, the farther they will throw. They see that first hand in the Olympic lifts because the better their technique the more they will lift. We do full movements in part for that reason. This will change also as the season progresses. We do full movements pre-season and early season; then we will change to power movements and hang movements as the season progresses.
LSTJ: What technical points do you stress to throwers?
TC: Balance is the key. Body awareness is imperative. When teaching technique, I work from the back to the front. Teaching throwing, I work from the front to the back. The first thing is getting out of the back of the ring, so we spend most of our time on that, balance, and getting on the left for a rotational thrower. If you are not balanced, the rest of the throw will not matter. We do left foot pivot drills until they can do multiple 360 degree turns, then we add a 10 or 15 pound bar on the shoulders. Then they hold the bar out in front of them. When they can turn and load the left with balance with the weight, we will move forward. After we have an understanding of the back of the ring and its importance, then we will discuss the middle of the ring. The emphasis for me is staying on and working the right leg, so we take a lot of non-reversal throws so they can feel their feet on the ground when they throw. We also do many right pivots with the bar on their back; once again balance is the key. We do right foot pivots and press in the weight room with barbells and kettle bells to re-emphasize the muscle memorization. Then we get to the front of the ring and the throw and release. That brings me back to the teaching the throwing. While we are learning how to get out of the back, we are at the same time learning how to throw, starting with standing non-reversals. Once we can control our body and flight of the discus, we will add the reverse.
The next step we will take is right foot pivot non-reverse, then right foot pivot with reverse. We will go right to fulls with no reverse after that. I don?t use the South African drill much because I don?t feel it duplicates the positions coming out of the back and the throwers use it as a crutch because it is easier than fulls. Once a thrower has mastered a full throw, we will cut out the standing throws in the discus altogether and take very little in the shot. We will start with drills every year, but with the older throwers we will get to full throws as soon as possible: reps, reps, reps.
In the glide shot, I will do the same: teach technique and balance from the back and throw from the front. My emphasis with the glide is balance on the right with a quick left. I teach ?kick the left and pull the right.? You should kick the left with violence and stretch for the toe board when you reach full extension of both right and left legs. Then the right comes off the heel and should be pulled up under the hips with the right foot turned as close to 90 degrees as possible. At that point the right side should elevate up through the ankle, knee, hip, chest and shoulder; at the same time the left arm should be pulling itself open to expose the hips, chest and chin to the landing area; then the left side should stop and not keep pulling. This will speed up the right side, drive the hip, chest, and shoulder through the shot, extend the arm and stretch to the finish. This is when you should reverse, landing on a flat right foot at this point. I teach to (1) see the shot come out of the hand, then (2) turn to 90 degrees and (3) then kick the left foot up in the middle of the ring, and (4) reach back with the right hand. All of this while trying to stay as tall as possible. We work on this also. I have the throwers lean over the toe board on their right foot as far as they can and as they are about to fall out of the ring, they kick the left foot and reach back with the right hand, working on saving the throw.
The javelin I don?t coach. We don?t have it in California, but when I threw, I emphasized speed and rhythm. The run up should be relaxed and rhythmic with an increase in speed through the last five steps. I tried to run through the last right foot as much as possible and then you must block that left leg as much as possible so as to speed up the right side. The straighter you can keep the left leg and come over it with the right side, the more energy will be transferred into the javelin. If the left collapses or your right side goes around the block, less energy will be transferred into the javelin.
LSTJ: Would you explain the phrase ?Wasa -Ki-Shin? which you frequently use to end correspondence?
TC: WASA~KI~SHIN is my maxim as a coach. I truly believe that if you live and train by these words and their meaning you will become the best possible athlete you can become.
WASA is technique. Not just technique, but perfect technique to pursue perfection to strive for perfection to bring about perfection in the person seeking the perfect technique.
KI, is energy; the energy of the universe, the energy of work every lift, every throw, every jump, every sprint. The energy of our ancestors, the energy of everything within us that can be used and focused into that one throw.
SHIN, is attitude, but it is also heart, guts, faith, belief, desire, all of the intangibles that make a winner. As I tell my throwers and lifters, "You need to be the Alpha male. Now will you be the Alpha male of the team, the city, the league, the county, the section, the state, the country? Someone has to be, it might as well be you." *LSTJ*