RALEIGH — For athletes competing at the track and field ACC championships, it’s easy to fall into a mental trap of "make or break."
Have to get on the podium. Have to chase the leader. If you want to go to the NCAA regional competitions, you have to hit that magic mark.
So for Amin Nikfar, his challenge is to keep his athletes focused on their process and not their results. Nikfar, the throws coach for the UNC track and field team, hopes this process-oriented mindset helps his throwers maintain consistency.
“We have our plan,” Nikfar said. “We're gonna stay in our lane. We're gonna do our thing, and the result is going to take care of itself.”
Senior thrower James Joycey placed second in the men’s hammer throw at the championships on Thursday. Nikfar said the focus for Joycey was not to exceed but rather to meet expectations and finish second.
No need for personal bests — just place where you finished. For Joycey, that might not have been his focus years ago.
Raised in Australia, Joycey was a national champion in the boys' hammer throw under 18 division, winning the Australian All Schools Championship in high school. He then came to the United States, where the competition got better.
And when the competition beat Joycey out, he took it like it was an attack on him as a person, he said.
“I had to learn I wasn’t gonna be the best,” Joycey said. “I had to learn how to compete where my feet were at. I had to develop that, because if I didn’t, I was just gonna be left to the wolves.”
Rather than brood over his shortcomings, Joycey let the competition inspire him. After all, he said he loves the difficulty of the hammer. All the moving parts make throwing a hammer hyper-technical. It’s like a puzzle.
And Joycey loves a puzzle.
At the start of the season, Joycey worked through deep training, focusing on lifting and copious throwing reps. That regimen isn’t optimized for speed and power, so he started the season slowly. It didn’t discourage him.
“This year, I've been able to remove the ego from that stuff and be able to go to competitions when I'm in deep training,” Joycey said. “I'm not in the best shape, but I'm doing the work that's gonna make me better at the end of the season.”
And it paid off. With his performance, Joycey is all but guaranteed a spot at the NCAA East First Round meet in Jacksonville, Fla. No personal best, but a place to compete against the best.
Graduate thrower Jordan Fong placed third in women’s hammer on Thursday. Nikfar coached Fong during her first year at Stanford before he left to coach at UNC. When Fong transferred in 2022, the two were reunited. The pair’s word of the year? Consistency.
“That’s been a big thing for us: her being consistent, not just with distance, but with technique,” Nikfar said. “She's accelerating the ball better. She's keeping her knees bent, keeping her legs lowered a little better.”
Fong had never placed higher than seventh at Pac-12 championship meets. She connects on her throws fast, so she prefers throwing from a ring with a smoother surface — it makes her turns faster. But the surface was rough on Paul Derr Track at N.C. State, she said.
Despite the slower turns, Fong said she achieved great connection on her throws. The next step for her at regionals is to trust that she can stay connected when she keeps her knees bent while turning. That will prevent her from pulling her throws leftward, she said.
In this regard, the reunion with Nikfar helps. Nikfar said he limits himself to giving one or two cues at a time, emphasizing what will give his athletes more help in total than just on the next throw — an approach Fong appreciates.
“If I’m not hitting a cue, we don't throw eight different things at me,” Fong said. “Yesterday, it was, ‘You need to stay bent.’ And that was the one thing I was working on yesterday.”
For Fong, Nikfar’s cues are more meaningful because of his approach. It keeps her consistent in her technique — which is exactly what Nikfar wants at a high-stakes meet where pressure can clutter his athletes’ process.
“We want to be consistent,” Nikfar said. “We want to execute. We want to attack. We want to be aggressive. We want to do all those things. But we can't be number-focused. You have to be process-focused. And then the outcome is going to take care of itself.”
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