Who Are You Working With?
I am finally on vacation with my family at Surfside Beach in South Carolina. So what do I do? I am writing an article to help you guys. Why you ask? I do it because I love it, and I love the people that I help. I just finished two very intense weeks of coaching with competitions in Miami and Minneapolis. These competitions were in polar opposite sections of the United States, and the competitions themselves were polar opposites.
In Miami, I coached many of my senior lifters, but in Minneapolis I was working with my youth. I also work with junior lifters as well. Not to mention, I work with amazing international competitors all the way to rookie lifters competing in their first competition. The only common bond is a love to lift heavy weights, and that is all I need. Personally I love the different challenges that each group presents, and I love to change lives, the more lives the better. The different populations seem to fit my personality as well. I am sure that I would get bored if I only worked with one distinct population.
I want to tell as many people as possible about the magic of the barbell. I grew up most of my life with not a lot of people caring at all about lifting weights. Now, thanks to CrossFit, there are millions of people that want to know ways to get stronger. I want to be the one to tell them. That is the reason that I am writing while on vacation. I feel blessed that you guys want to learn more, so I am more than happy to supply that knowledge.
No matter whom you train, there are certain questions that you have to answer before working with anyone:
• What’s the athlete’s goal?
• What level are they?
• How can weightlifting affect their lives for the good?
• How committed are they?
• What’s their potential?
• What’s their age?
I want to show the importance of each of these questions, and I want to encourage all of you coaches to ask these questions and process properly. The “Athlete’s Goal” is ultra important to know because they are only going to work towards what they want. They are not under you to reach “your goals”. Your job is to help them reach their dreams. They might have the ability to win the Olympics, but it doesn’t matter unless that is their goal.
This one questions and my ability to process the information has allowed me to continue awesome relationships with all of my athletes. Could Jon North make the Olympics? No doubt the answer is yes, but that isn’t his goal. He wants to grow the sport of weightlifting through his reach, and that is what he is doing. I applaud anyone that is doing their best to reach their individual goals.
You have to know the level of the athlete that you are about to coach. An easy way to do this is with videos, and/or an assessment. I believe that coaches should have the ability to detect technique flaws, movement flaws, mobility issues, and muscular imbalances. Knowing these four questions is the only way to write a program that will address the complete needs of the athlete. We are living in a day and age where Snatch, Clean & Jerk, and Squats only will no longer work. A more comprehensive approach is the only way to ensue that your athlete is taken care of.
How can weightlifting affect the lives of your athlete for the good? This is probably the most important question that you can ask. How many people are going to the Olympics or the World Championships? The answer is: not many at all! However there are positive affects of weightlifting that far outweigh the Olympics. The barbell can teach people to set goals, make a plan, and to take action to reach those goals. These are lessons that will follow them throughout life. These are lessons that will help them succeed in whatever they do. These lessons are more important than PRs, National Championships, or records.
The barbell will teach them who they are as a person. Are you wild, crazy, and unafraid to jump under any weight at anytime? Are you more calculated in your approach? Either way you will learn to lean more to the center of the line being courageous in a calculative way. Once again these are lessons that will follow them throughout life.
How committed is your athlete? This is very important, and it is a variable that you can have an impact on. If your athlete wants to just play around with the lifts, then you need to decide whether or not you are willing to take them on. I have several athletes that haven’t completely sold out, but my job is to shift that commitment a little at a time. However, you probably aren’t going to shift that commitment level from “not at all” to “completely committed”. If they are very committed, then you might convince them to become completely committed. One or two degrees are normally all that you can expect.
When I look at potential, I look at several variables. I am going to look at the obvious traits like mobility, movement patterns, speed, power production, and absolute strength. There are other variables that are often overlooked by coaches, but these are variables that are very important. I look at overall athleticism, competitiveness, courage, and game day performance.
Athletes that have competed in multiple sports growing up are often better suited for weightlifting. Weightlifting requires an extreme amount of kinesthetic awareness that is often perfected by playing tons of sports. James Tatum is a perfect example of this. He has competed in skate boarding, parkour, wrestling, MMA, powerlifting, and grew up sailing on a sailboat. He moves like a cat on the platform, and there is no wondering why.
Some athletes are naturally competitive, and some are not. If an athlete isn’t competitive, then it’s going to be incredibly hard to motivate them to be the best. They simply won’t care about being the best. An athlete that is competitive will do whatever it takes to beat the man or woman in front of them. They will train longer, sleep more, and eat wiser.
Courage and game day performance go together. Some athletes will crumble when things get tough. Some athletes will excel when the pressure is on. That is the athlete that coaches dream of. It’s the athlete that is relaxed and smiling at a competition that will be the killer.
There are two ages to consider when training athletes: training age and biological age. Training age is talking about how long someone has trained. If an athlete has trained 1-3 years, they are beginners. If they have trained 4-7 years, they are intermediate. When they reach the 8-10 year mark, they are advanced athletes. Coaches should allow the more advanced lifters to have more input on their own programming. They have trained long enough to know their own bodies, and deserve to have input.
Biological age is a whole other animal. Let’s break it down into youth, junior, and senior athletes:
Youth- these athletes are athletes under the age of 18. There are a few keys to coaching them. The first key is to expose them to General Physical Preparedness. Get’em strong! Make them durable! Then slowly introduce the lifts teaching them perfect movement. The biggest key is getting them to have fun in the gym, and that is where most people go wrong. You can’t train kids like adults!
Juniors- these athletes are 18-20 years old. Some of these athletes can be just as strong as the older senior lifters, but they still require a slightly different approach. The biggest key is trust with this coach/athlete relationship. They are going to question your program. If you haven’t earned their trust, you are going to lose them. They still need their techniques improved. This is the time to perfect their lifts.
Seniors- you are going to have to deal with real life with these athletes. They have to pay bills just like you. The key is helping them find the right situation to chase their dreams depending on what those dreams are. These older lifters will require help balancing training with the demands of life, and that is part of coaching. You will also want to address any imbalances or movement flaws right away. That is step one with senior lifters.
There is a lot to consider when taking on a new athlete. Throwing them into a cookie cutter program isn’t giving them what they need. A coach’s job is to gather information and to formulate the best plan for the athlete. A love for coaching is required because this is a lot of work, and a lot of people want to take the easy way out. If you are in this for the right reason, you will do the right thing!