Category Archives for "Weightlifting"

A New University Program

I found the sport of weightlifting in 1996. I was able to earn my USA Weightlifting Level 1 Coaching Certification in that same year.

In 1997 I made the move to Colorado Springs to be coached by two-time Olympian Wes Barnett. I thrived under his tutelage, and in 1998 I was invited to train at the Olympic Training Center with Coach Dragomir Cioroslan. Shortly after that I moved home to North Carolina because my father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

Thanks to CrossFit, the sport became popular around the entire world. By 2009 I started dabbling in the sport once again, and coaching a few people in my gym. By 2013, weightlifting was slowly becoming my focus as a coach. Around 2014 I started writing articles about improving the sport of weightlifting in America. I was working with Team MuscleDriver USA as a coach, which gave me a pretty solid voice in the sport.

Making the Sport Better

Some of the things I was recommending were:

  • A better culture overall – one of expecting to win versus happy to just make a team.
  • Providing financial assistance to our top athletes to motivate them and also so they would be able to focus on training.
  • Targeting all the mundane areas of performance that add up to big results – like sports psychology, nutrition, and recovery.
  • A successful university program to motivate exceptional young athletes and to get the buy-in of their parents.

Phil Andrews has taken USA Weightlifting out of the dark ages during this Olympic quad. Our athletes are winning medals at every major international competition. Our athletes are breaking world records. We are no longer happy to simply make the team. Our top athletes are receiving stipends that allow them to focus on their sport. Phil has done a tremendous job of assembling a staff of rock stars that are supporting our top athletes in the areas of sports psychology, nutrition, and recovery. Phil obviously had a similar vision – and more importantly he knew how to execute the plan.

The University Dream

My dream as a coach has always been to start a university weightlifting program that would provide athletes a place to become truly great at their sport – while providing scholarships and academic opportunities to pursue the career of their choice. If we want the parents of exceptional athletes to buy-in to the sport of weightlifting, there have to be opportunities for their children. If not, those athletes are going to choose sports like football and wrestling where there are opportunities after high school.

I have worked on this dream for over five years. I have approached four different colleges only to get lost in red tape and decision makers. Finally, Lenoir-Rhyne University answered the call with the help of Professor Alex Koch. They announced the new program last week, and we wrapped up the details yesterday. I am starting the recruiting process now, which is why I am releasing this article now. I want the other coaches in America to know where I am coming from.

First off, I have dropped my personal club, Mash Mafia Weightlifting. I don’t want any conflict of interest. I will form a club for Lenoir-Rhyne, but our athletes only have to list that team for the competitions that we attend as a team, which I am anticipating to be University Nationals and Junior Nationals. Otherwise, they can keep their current affiliation for events like Senior Nationals and the American Open.

We still have on online team, and we are still coaching athletes online. Nothing is changing there. We still want to help all of you crush your goals. The only reason I’m dropping the personal club is I don’t want there to appear to be any conflict of interest with me being a coach for two clubs.

Second, I want the athletes to keep their current coaches as their number one coach. I get what it’s like to develop an athlete to the top national or international level only to have them picked up by another coach. That hurts – and in most cases, it doesn’t work very well. If I recruit an athlete who is enjoying constant and steady improvement, I would be a fool not to collaborate with that coach. I would only ask that their programming fit the weekly structure for the team. (For example, Friday is a heavier day for snatch and clean and jerk with Saturday being focused on strength work.) This way the athletes can still benefit from the camaraderie and competition of the group.

Of course, I am going to want to communicate with each of the coaches based on what I am seeing. That way, adjustments can be made when needed. I am not trying to benefit from anyone’s athlete. I am simply trying to provide an opportunity for young athletes. If you send me an athlete and they make it to the Olympics, you will be going and not me. This brings me to the other half of this announcement.

Want to come to Lenoir-Rhyne?

Here are the benefits to being a weightlifter at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, NC:

  • There will be scholarship opportunities based on level of performance.
  • All weightlifters will have access to athletic training.
  • All weightlifters will have access to the recovery methods provided to all athletes (cold tub, hot tub, sauna, etc.).
  • All weightlifters will have access to intra-workout and post-workout nutrition and supplements that are NSF certified.
  • The facilities are beautiful.

For anyone reading this who doesn’t know about me as a coach, I am a USA Level V Senior International Coach. Since 2015, our team has produced 23 Team USA athletes. I have been the Team USA Head Coach at four major international competitions – including the 2016 Men and Women’s Junior World Team. We have taken beginners all the way to Team USA – like Ryan Grimsland, Morgan McCullough, and Hunter Elam. We have also taken athletes with some degree of success and made them even better – like Jordan Cantrell and Nathan Damron. The point is that we can help you get better regardless of your situation.

Starting in January, I will start the long process of pursuing my PhD. Here’s why! In our industry, most of the time coaches are either:

  • The great athlete turned coach
  • The great coach who wasn’t a great athlete but has produced countless amazing athletes (much like Coach Don McCauley)
  • The PhD, PT, or Chiro who has all the research and book knowledge

My goal is to combine the three and see what happens. I want to perform research in the areas that we all debate without any concrete science to back our theories up. The other complaint I constantly hear is that certain research studies were performed on non-athletic general population folks. I want to use athletes and gen pop folks to figure out these questions. I have so many questions to answer! What average intensity is best, and which is best for different populations? How often should someone squat? Are deadlifts good, bad, or indifferent for snatch and clean?

These are just a few, but I am so excited to go to work. I am excited to be challenged both academically and as a coach. I am excited to work with all of you on developing a university program we can all be proud of. I want a program that:

  • Produces champions.
  • Produces athletes with functional degrees.
  • Produces humans who make a positive impact on the world.
  • Aids in the research that will benefit all coaches and athletes in America.
  • Aids in the research that will make our practices as coaches safer than ever.

Getting Started

Here are a few final thoughts I want to make all of you aware of. In the past we have raised money that benefited our athletes for Mash Mafia Weightlifting. Starting right now, any money raised by our nonprofit will go toward scholarships and competition expenses for our future athletes. The minute I learn about the ins and outs of how this will work, I will start raising money for this program. My goal is to make this program as attractive to top athletes as possible.



* Special Facebook Group Access to the Team

* Discounts on Ebooks

* Tax Deductions

One thing I am considering is working with CrossFitters who either want to do weightlifting as well or who simply want to get better at the Olympic movements. If that is you and you are of college age, you might consider this opportunity as well. If you are awesome at the movements (like David Bradley), you might get a scholarship as a CrossFitter as long as you can compete at University Nationals. If not, it would still be a good decision. I will teach you how to be a great weightlifter, and you can still CrossFit. This is an aspect of the program I intend to elaborate on immediately, so please start considering it. Contact me if you are interested!

For now, here is what I need from coaches, athletes, and parents:

  1. If you are interested in the program or you’re a coach with an athlete who might be interested, you can email me at and soon at
  2. I am totally open to suggestions – so once again, email me or message me. I want this to be a program we can all be proud of.

I am excited for this new era in my life. My family is excited for the move. For all of you who I coach online, nothing will change. If I am your coach, I will continue as your coach. Of course, if you have one of our other awesome coaches, you will continue with that coach. Our gym in Lewisville, NC will continue along – and I will be present there until August of next year. Most of my athletes will be coming to Lenoir-Rhyne, and other athletes we work with will be able to train with the team at Lenoir-Rhyne. So nothing really changes there. Now we are simply able to provide more to our athletes. Wish us well please because this will be my legacy to the sport of weightlifting.

Pursuing Coaching Excellence with Crystal McCullough – The Barbell Life 287

We have a very special guest on the podcast today.

One who isn’t really a guest at all.

Coach Crystal McCullough has grown over the years to be more and more a part of the Mash Mafia. And now I don’t know how I would survive without her.

So we talk about her coaching journey, the lessons she’s learned along the way, and how she plans to continue to get better and better as a coach.

Here's the key to unlocking even more gains in 2020...

Become a member of the Mash Mafia.

* Fully Customized Programming

* Unlimited Technique Analysis

* The Best Coaching in the World


  • Why verbal cues are the last step – and what to do first
  • What makes her a great coach in the back room
  • How she got to be a coach for the Mash Mafia
  • Crystal’s biggest lessons
  • A simple process and a crazy tip or recruiting
  • and more…

Is Competition Good or Bad?

It’s an interesting era we are in.

I am not sure if this is the point where I am old and simply blaming a generation for the shortcomings I am experiencing, or if this is a real thing all over. Let me dive right in, so I can catch you up on what I am talking about.

Competition – Then and Now

When I was a young strength athlete, I loved competition. I drove 90 minutes each way twice per week just so I could train with someone stronger than me. Eventually I hooked up fulltime with Chris “Ox” Mason, which is when I became my strongest. Ox and I were in the same weight class most of the time and sometimes one weight class apart. We were competitive with each other in the gym but remained the best of friends outside the gym. Heck, inside the gym we helped each other. Basically we were each other’s coach.

Westside Barbell is legendary because most people think Louie Simmons is some kind of magical programmer. The secret is that he placed a bunch of lions in the same room – and the toughest lion became the alpha. There were battles within the gym, but they were family outside of the gym. This arrangement reminds me of my home with my two sons, Rock and Behr. They fight all the time, but they won’t let anyone else pick on the other.

Recently I have noticed in my gym, as well as other gyms across America, that athletes don’t like having someone in their own weight class training with them day in and day out. I have witnessed arguments break out and cultures destroyed over this. Instead of complaining to all of you during this entire article, I am going to explain the way it should work and the advantage that competition brings. Hopefully this will enlighten some of the athletes out there so we can use this tactic to our advantage as a country.

Attitude of Excellence

Why do you think wrestling programs like the one you will find at Penn State University are so awesome? Why do countries build Olympic Training Centers? Yes, in both cases you are trying to give your best athletes the best coach and conditions – but there is another reason that trumps all the rest. If you toss the best athletes in the same room with a great coach, you can rest assured the best athlete will make their way to the top. Not only that, even the athletes who aren’t the best at first will get better. The ones who were never going to make it in the first place will fade away, and that’s fine too. You will either become the absolute best you can be – or you will realize it wasn’t meant to be.

I had an athlete several years ago named Michael Waters. He was a two-time 4A state champion here in North Carolina. He was a rockstar in this state. He could have gone to several collegiate programs in America and started right away, but he chose Penn State. He wanted to become the absolute best wrestler he could possibly be. He knew Cael Sanderson, the Penn State head coach, and the amazing tradition at Penn State would do just that. Michael is now serving in the Army Special Forces, which fits this attitude of excellence.

Here’s what you have to ask yourself:

  • Do I want to be the best athlete I can possibly be?
  • Do I want to be the best athlete on the team?

Here's the key to unlocking even more gains in 2020...

Become a member of the Mash Mafia.

* Fully Customized Programming

* Unlimited Technique Analysis

* The Best Coaching in the World

Competitive Environment

If your coach recruits someone in your same weight class or who plays your same position, that doesn’t mean they think less of you. It doesn’t mean they don’t believe in your abilities. It doesn’t mean they love you any less. They are simply trying to create a competitive atmosphere conducive to forming champions.

The way you react to the recruitment of new athletes says a lot about you as an athlete. If you fade away from a battle during practice, you will fade away during a battle in a real competition or game. The best athletes in the world thrive on competition. Guys like Michael Jordan will thrive when threatened or pushed. If this isn’t you, you will need to embrace competition more than the others until you are comfortable in competitive situations. Otherwise, realize you will never be a great athlete. I know these are tough words, but I am being brutally honest. However, it’s never too late to change, so you aren’t locked in to a life of losing.

Here’s what athletes should experience from competitive environments:

  • The best athlete with the best attitude will get even better as they rise to the top.
  • Athletes will feed off of each other, especially during max effort days or scrimmages.
  • Athletes will learn from each other.
  • Athletes will encourage each other during training.
  • Athletes will encourage each other outside the gym.
  • The athletes who aren’t necessarily winning right away are still getting better as they seek to keep up and surpass.

Peer Pressure

First, if you are the top dog and your coach recruits someone in your weight class or in your position, don’t get offended. You should be excited because that new person is going to elevate your level of play to a place you didn’t believe was possible. This is going to make your next meet or game way easier than ever before. Remember this: if you can’t beat this person in training, you sure aren’t going to beat them at a competition. Champions always elevate their level of play based on the competition in front of them, and now you have the advantage of having that stimulus daily versus only on game day.

This is a life lesson, which is exactly what sport is supposed to be. What if you are the top accountant at a firm, and then one day your boss hires someone with equal or slightly better skills? Are you going to quit or get mad at your boss – or are you going to use the competition to raise your level of play? Parents, remember that sports are designed to prepare your children for life – not simply to showcase their skills to make you look cool in front of your family and friends. This is something most parents always forget.

If you have a max effort day or highly competitive day, athletes will feed off of each other. If one is feeling sluggish, they will elevate to match their competition. If you want to see athletes surpass never-dreamed-of levels, put them in a room filled with lions. The weak will get stronger, and the strong will get stronger than ever! This environment will make the competition, game, or match seem easy – just ask the Penn State wrestlers.

Peer Support

One of my favorite aspects of competitive teams is that athletes will learn from each other. Coaches can’t be everything to everyone. There are going to be times when coaches are struggling to fix flaws in their athletes. Sometimes hearing it from a peer is easier to accept and assimilate than when it comes from a coach. I have seen it happen several times. Sometimes athletes will struggle with an issue their peer has already overcome, so their peer can explain how to overcome the obstacle both physically and mentally.

Sometimes training is hard. We have all experienced the moments in training that felt like we were in the middle of a desert all alone. This is a lonely place to be, so having a teammate look at you and say that it’s going to be okay is a definite asset. It’s easier to endure trials when you’re not alone.

Enduring with teammates in the gym is much easier than overcoming the temptations out of the gym. Champions are not made inside the gym. Everyone trains hard, but the champions are the ones who make the right choices outside the gym. If you create a culture filled with focused and determined athletes, you will also form a culture of athletes who will keep each other accountable. We are all tempted once in a while to break our diet, drink that beer, or stay up late. It’s nice to be surrounded by athletes who will help keep you focused on the primary goal.


The latest and greatest methods from Travis Mash as he continues to innovate Mash Mafia programming.

Weightlifting - Powerlifting - Super Total

Garage Gym Warrior - Functional Fitness - Strength and Conditioning

If you are in a gym or on a team with two other athletes who are just as good or better, don’t get upset or get mad at the coach. This isn’t a bad thing. Whether you end up being the number one or not, I promise that you will get better in those conditions. You will work as hard as possible in an attempt to get ahead or stay ahead. That’s the point of competition – it will make you better.

I am not sure what has happened with today’s athletes not embracing competition. I guess we are in the “everyone deserves a trophy” era. Here are my final words. If you quit and run away from competition now, you will carry this action with you through life. Instead of running away, I suggest making a stand, getting better, and staying number one. Are you really a number one if you run away from another potential number one? I don’t think so.

Listener Questions Answered – The Barbell Life 285

I want to start off by thanking everyone who writes in to ask us questions.

First, thanks for the privilege of helping you. It’s not something we take lightly, and it’s something we are honored to do. Plus it’s something we love! Few things in life are better than helping out other people.

But also I want to thank people for writing in with questions – because if someone writes in with a question, chances are lots of other people have the same questions and just have never asked.

And when we get questions, we love answering them right here on our podcast. So listen in!


The latest and greatest methods from Travis Mash as he continues to innovate Mash Mafia programming.

Weightlifting - Powerlifting - Super Total

Garage Gym Warrior - Functional Fitness - Strength and Conditioning


  • Recovery for older/busy athletes
  • Gaining size in the legs
  • Jerk technique
  • Elbow pain
  • Back squat frequency
  • and more…

Coaching the Individual: A Case Study with Hannah Dunn

During the recent Max Out Friday, the entire team did incredible. I believe the final count was 10 lifetime PRs in ones session.

We had visitors from all over the country in the house – including my buddies Anders Varner and Doug Larson from Barbell Shrugged, Will from Barbell Stories, Tim and Karina from CrossFit Rugrats, Lance, and my athlete from New Zealand, Isaac Lawgun (who was experiencing his first American Max Out Friday). As you can imagine, the gym was filled with energy and excitement.


Some people thrive in this environment, and some can get distracted. I want my athletes to thrive no matter the environment. An athlete truly becomes great when he or she can perform regardless of circumstances.

Here’s a quick rule of thumb: if an athlete somewhere around the world has performed at a top level with a particular set of circumstances, then those circumstances are no longer an excuse for anyone. For example, Alyssa Ritchie trains alone and has managed to earn the top spot in the 48kg class. (By the way, this is not an article for just weightlifters or strength athletes. This has to do with the coaching of athletes in any sport.)

All of my kids at one time or another make excuses for their performance. I get it. It’s human nature, but my job as a coach is to not allow the excuse to stick. What happens if you are in the Olympics and it’s a bit crazier than normal? Are you going to use that as an excuse for a poor performance? What happens if you are playing quarterback in the Super Bowl and it starts to snow? Are you going to fold?

When Chris Mason and I used to train together as professional powerlifters, we would purposely train with less than optimal circumstances. I wanted us to be prepared for anything at a meet… and we were. I can honestly say that I have never used the circumstances at a meet become an excuse for a poor performance. Here’s the thing: the circumstances are the same for all the competitors. So if one person can do well, there is no longer an excuse for poor performance.

This brings me to my point. During this Max Out Friday, Hannah Dunn absolutely flourished. She tied her all-time snatch PR of 75 kilograms and took some close cracks at a much bigger weight. She clean and jerked up to 92 kilograms (which is 1 kilo below her PR) for a massive lifetime PR total of 167 kilograms. The best part is that she only weighs 57 kilograms right now, so she is in great shape for the 2020 season. She is by far my most improved athlete. In the past all the extra people would have been a distraction for her, leading to a poor performance. Not during the recent Max Out Friday!


So how did she make the progress? I will start with what she has done on her own. She has taken responsibility for every aspect of her weightlifting. She has a sports psychologist who coaches her consistently, and I can say firsthand that the results have been fantastic.

Let me be the first to say the biggest roadblock for most athletes is their mental game. I have personally coached athletes in weightlifting, powerlifting, football, softball, wrestling, and many other sports who were only missing that one aspect: a strong mindset. As coaches we can help with this, but this is not our craft. A professional coach surrounds themselves with an amazing team to refer their athletes to depending on the need. If you are trying to be everything for your athletes, you are doing them a disservice.

Hannah has learned to ignore distractions. She has learned to embrace the energy, clear her mind, and only focus on the task at hand. A couple of weeks ago she showed me these new skills during a competition in Charlotte, winning the overall best lifter as a youth athlete with a 71kg snatch and 93kg clean and jerk for a PR total and PR clean and jerk. The snatch tied her best ever, and she went 5 for 6.

Her improvement has been nothing short of miraculous. She has set somewhere around 12 major personal records in the last three weeks. Hannah, I bet USADA is showing up at your house the day after this is posted.

It’s not just the mental game that she has improved upon. She has taken responsibility for every aspect of her training. She works with Jacky Bigger Simeone, Mash nutrition coach and overall awesome human, to perfect her nutrition game. Is she perfect? Not yet – she’s just 16 years old – but she is ten times better than last year. She is learning to form a healthier relationship with food and bodyweight, which I attribute directly to Jacky. She gets it as a coach and as an awesome athlete. That makes her the perfect coach.

Here's the best way to reach your diet goals in 2019...

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* Expert Coaches to Guide You

* Real-World Solutions for Real-World Issues

Hannah has also focused on her recovery, sleep, and overall preparation. My favorite thing she has started doing is coming over to me before each of her working sets to make sure I am watching so she can get my feedback. In a room filled with great athletes, I can’t always see everything, but she makes sure that I see her lifts.

Growing as a Coach

As a coach I feel that Hannah has forced me to get better. When she moved to the Mash Compound with her family, she of course improved a lot. It was new and exciting, leading to lots of personal records. When the newness wore off, things got a bit tougher. I don’t think that my normal coaching style met her needs as an athlete, so she immediately became my project. I wasn’t going to let this young girl fail. She entrusted her hopes and dreams to training with me, and personally I take that seriously.

For a while I had Coach Crystal work with her more than me as I worked on my approach. A great book to read is “Conscious Coaching” by Brett Bartholomew, which is about understanding the different archetypes of athletes. The book defines each of those and then explains best practices for coaching and getting buy-in from the different archetypes. Too many coaches want the athletes to mold to fit their personality. Hey, that’s one way to do it, but you are going to lose a lot of potentially great athletes because of this style of coaching. Even if you don’t lose the athletes, you will 100% not get the results from the different archetypes that you could have by just making some adjustments.

Here are a few things that I learned about coaching Hannah:

  • I maintain 100% positivity.
  • We smile and laugh a lot. Things are already super serious in her brain, so she doesn’t need extra tension from me.
  • I listen to her suggestions for jumps as we get near maximal. That way she is confident and certain of her attempts.
  • We talk about situations a lot – and proper mindset for different situations. That way she is prepared long before she goes to a meet, contest, or a crazy Max Out Friday.
  • I spend more and more time with her, making sure that she understands how much I believe in her.
  • I tell her my honest opinions about the potential of her athletic ability, which I believe to be limitless. This one is huge. Not all athletes grow up believing they can make Team USA or the NFL or the NBA until someone tells them and shows belief in them. I tell Hannah a lot that I believe she can be great, and now she’s starting to believe.

These are just a few of the changes that I have made. I am contemplating a book using her as a case study because I think this is an area where I could help a lot of coaches improve. I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen in the next year, but I know this one thing. We have made tremendous strides over the last year. We will continue to make strides because she is focused and dedicated as an athlete, and her coaches (Crystal and I) are focused and dedicated to becoming the best possible coaches. That combination will lead Hannah directly to the genetic potential that God gave her at birth.


Principles and Real-Life Case Studies on How a Master Programmer Customizes a Program to the Individual

Peek inside Travis's brain... and learn how to individualize your own programs to fit an athlete's strengths, weaknesses, age, gender, sport demands, and unique response to training.

I hope this helps and encourages a few of you coaches and athletes out there. We can all get better. We can all improve. Coaches and athletes alike must continue to attack their weaknesses, so that each and every year brings and new and better product. I vow to all my athletes that I will never stop reading, researching, talking to other coaches, and listening to podcasts until I am the absolute best coach I can be. Let me give all the coaches out there this bit of advice: none of us will ever be done improving as a coach. If you think that you know it all, you should retire. That’s one absolute I have no problem throwing around.

P.S. I am proud of several athletes that I am currently coaching. It just so happens that Hannah and I have made the most strides of late. Let me be clear on one more thing: Coach Crystal has been a huge part of this process. It definitely helps having a female coach in the gym – especially one as good as Crystal.

Remembering Don McCauley

This is the hardest thing I have ever tried to write.

I wrote something about Coach Pendlay, and that was hard. However, this is something different. Coach Pendlay is someone I respected. Don is someone I loved.

We coached together since 2014, starting with our time at MuscleDriver USA. I remember my first day there – and man, did I ever feel intimidated. Don and Glenn are arguably two of the best weightlifting coaches in American history. Glenn was the motivator and recruiter. Don was the technician who didn’t care one bit if you were going to be great or just good. He simply wanted to make a difference in the lives of every athlete he coached.

MuscleDriver USA

Don was a big reason I was offered the position at MDUSA. Coach Pendlay had a stroke at the 2013 American Open, leaving Don all by himself to coach the best weightlifting team in America. At the 2014 Senior National Championships in Salt Lake City, he asked me to help him coach the team. Luckily there were cameras in the back room, so the owner of MDUSA, Brad Hess, saw me coaching the team. At the time I didn’t think there was any selfish benefit to helping out, I just love coaching athletes. Brad Hess saw that passion. When Don got home, he told Brad the team needed someone like me to help assist him with the coaching. Since Brad had already watched me fervently coach his team, he called me in right away to offer me the job.

It was a dream come true to get paid a good salary to coach some of the best weightlifters in American history. Until that point, there had never been such a position. However, like him or not, Brad Hess had created this amazing organization, Team MuscleDriver USA. When I started working there, Coach Pendlay was coaching but wasn’t fully focused. But Don took me under his wing, and we were off and running. I would watch an athlete complete a repetition, and he would ask me what I saw. At first I was way off. His eye was better than a slow motion camera, but over time I got better and better.

Everyday we talked technique and philosophy as it relates to weightlifting. He taught me all about his beloved catapult technique. I laugh at least once per week when I hear it mentioned incorrectly online. There were so many misconceptions about the way he coached. But this article isn’t the place I am going to discuss weightlifting technique. At this very moment, I could care less about weightlifting technique because all I want to do is talk to my friend.

Black and White

Most of you know him as the weightlifting technique guru – and yes, he taught me loads about technique. However, there is something else he tried to teach me – and maybe, just maybe, he has taught me this final lesson in his passing. Coach Don McCauley was unwavering in his beliefs and values. He was black or white, and there was no gray with that man. I like to find common ground when discussing controversial topics. He often criticized me for this. Now looking back I am agreeing with him.

He would say, “Travis, you are such a politician. You need to let people know where they stand with you. Wrong is wrong, and right is right.”

Not doing this has often got me in trouble. I want to please others with all my heart, and often that desire to please does nothing but cause more grief in the long run. It’s funny that Sean Waxman, someone Don disagreed with so much, is also my friend. That quality of me is something they both agree on, so maybe I am like that so the two of them agree on something.

The Real Don

One thing we shared was a love for the athletes. His athletes were his children. He was married to the sport, and in that I am 100% positive. He didn’t care if he was working with an Olympian or someone trying to make the American Open. He was going to give them his all, and they were going to know that he loved them. It wasn’t his words that let them know. Heck, his sarcastic humor was downright brutal at times. It was his actions. It was the way he watched them like no other lifter in the world existed in that moment but them. His steadfast stare was one of passion and intensity.

Nothing pleased him more than to help an athlete overcome a challenging technical issue. You could tell that he shared in their joy way down deep. Every athlete was a puzzle that he was going to solve. It was his oxygen; his reason to live.

I saw him perform miracles with athletes. I saw him take Jess Kinzler in only 10 weeks from the ninth best in her weight class to a silver medal (she darn near won the thing on a final jerk). I wanted to impact athletes like that. I wanted to see athletes enjoy that feeling of accomplishment because I helped them overcome obstacles. He helped me get to that point.

It was Don who gave me the desire to help other coaches. He worked with coaches like Vinh Huynh and me as intently as he did with the athletes. He would share his thoughts on technique, programming, and overall coaching into the late hours of the night (with a few glasses of wine, of course). I believe that some part of him realized he wouldn’t be on this planet very much longer, and that feeling of urgency persuaded him to teach us. A lot of coaches want to keep their “secrets” to themselves, but Coach Mac wanted his understudies to get it… really get it. Only the coaches who can see the barbell like an experienced coach will understand what I am talking about.

Is the bar path “in, up, and back” or is it “out, up, and in front”? What’s causing the issue? What verbal cue or drill will help fix it? When is a good time to use the Mac Board? This man lived his life to master this one thing and one thing only. He understood the sport of weightlifting from both a physics and a philosophical stand point. He got it! He simply got it!

His Legacy

Let me end by making one final point. There are several of you who didn’t agree with everything he said, and that’s fine. I didn’t agree with everything he said. Yet none of us can deny his coaching worked. He coached athletes all the way to the international level with Team USA throughout three decades of his career. Most of you haven’t been coaching three years let alone thirty. Most of you will never coach an athlete to the world championships let alone the Olympics – but yet he did it with four different teams and multiple athletes.

You can debate him all you want, but his resume is probably going to win out over just about anyone else’s. That’s why I normally kept my mouth shut when I didn’t agree with him. I always thought it was funny when people would criticize his coaching. Not everyone thinks that Michael Jordan is the best basketball player in NBA history (although he is), but no one ever doubts that he is at least high on the list. You might not think Don is the best weightlifting coach in American history, but his record clearly places him high on the list also.

I want to celebrate Coach Don’s life by giving all of you a few of the gold nuggets that I learned from him:

  • Rhythm is the most important skill a weightlifter can have.
  • The angle of the torso can indeed change during the pull and normally does a bit – but by the time the bar is right below the knee, it shouldn’t change at all until the lifter begins the second pull.
  • Any extra time spent at the top of the pull is wasted time.
  • Oompa Loompa! If you know, you know. If you don’t, ask me about it when you see me.
  • Push with your whole foot through the floor during the pull and the jerk.
  • Sweep the bar in after the knees.
  • As you pull under the bar, keep the bar moving right up the shirt (close to the body).
  • Never sacrifice technique for more weight during the process of developing a weightlifter.
  • Drive the back foot down on the jerk, and a lot of your problems will be solved.
  • You only get one chance to do it right the first time, so don’t mess (most of you know that he didn’t say “mess”) it up.

I am a better man from knowing the great Coach Don McCauley. I miss him. I watched him get hurt by athletes countless times – and man, did it cut him deep. I saw him help athletes go from good to great, and then watched the same athletes leave him for some other guru. It baffled me. The best thing I learned from this process was that he never let his heart get hardened by the actions of an athlete. He opened his heart to the next athlete in exactly the same way.

Lately I am still learning what appears to be his final lesson to me. I have the tendency to harden my heart to protect it from being broken, but that’s not what Don taught me – and surely isn’t what Christ taught me with His actions. I love my athletes. Don, I promise that I will love each of them in the exact same way as the ones before them. The scary part of being a coach is opening your heart up to new athletes, but it is also a necessary part. Coach Mac, tonight I will raise my glass in honor of you, and I promise to love each of my athletes the same way that you loved all of yours – no matter what hurt that love might bring.

So here’s to your final lesson! I love you, Coach Don. Your life’s work will live on with me and the countless other coaches and athletes that you touched during your time on this earth.