Senior Nationals and Lessons Learned by Crystal McCullough

This article is long overdue, but I’ve had a hard time putting in to words my experience from Senior Nationals.

I do not pretend to be a subject matter expert, even in my own field, as I am still very much a student of the sport. I have been blessed with amazing mentors and opportunities. I began coaching CrossFit in 2012 and found that as much as I liked coaching it, I LOVED weightlifting. I started seeking out people to learn from in 2013. I was privileged enough to learn from Don McCauley while he was at MDUSA. He is a man who has always been willing to teach anyone who is willing to learn. I took what I learned from him back to a small barbell group I had in my CrossFit gym. Then something happened that I didn’t see coming.

Joining Mash

Most of you don’t know the story behind how Morgan and I became associated with Mash Elite.

I knew of Mash Elite Performance and Travis on social media. If you knew anything about weightlifting, you pretty much knew who he was. We had even been to a couple of events, including the first Strength Spectacular in 2015, but we had never met him. In November of 2015, Travis posted a video of Matt Wininger – and I commented. I honestly don’t remember what I said, but it prompted Travis to send me a direct message and the rest is history. I won’t bore you with details of the next two years, so fast forward to now.

I know I kind of fell into my current coaching position. I feel 100% I deserve it – however, the circumstances that I came into it are horrible. We found out right after Youth Nationals last year that Don had brain cancer. Within a month or so, he had moved back to Florida with his family to fight the cancer. Although I have been coaching with Mash Elite for over almost three years, my role expanded in that capacity greatly with Don’s absence. Don has some huge shoes to fill, and I’ve been working my butt off to be worthy.

I am so grateful to Travis for every opportunity he has given me thus far in this sport. To say he is my mentor is an understatement. He has taken me under his wing and taught me so much over these last three years. He took a gamble with me last year as his co-coach and I cannot thank him enough.

Better Coaching

Before we get into the details of the meet, I want to go over a few points I have learned so far in my career. Our goal at Mash Elite is to inform the rest of you coaches, so that the entire sport of weightlifting is moving forward – not just our team. USA Weightlifting should be a family working toward making America – as a whole – better at our beautiful sport. Here are some points that will help all of you become better at coaching our sport:

  1. Never allow yourself to get to a place where you think you know it all. Continue to seek out others to learn from. Once you get to a point you don’t think anyone else can teach you anything, you might as well hang up your coaching hat. There is always something to be learned from others – either how to or how not to do something. Coaches who are so set in their ways and close-minded aren’t helping their athletes by any means, and they are doing their athletes a disservice. Be the coach who continues to seek out knowledge no matter where you are at in your career!
  2. Networking is a big part of this game and it is important to ‘know people’ – but being fake or befriending others for the sake of what they can do for you is not the way to do it. When you see me smiling and laughing with other coaches and athletes, that’s just me. I love my job and I love connecting with others. It isn’t calculated to get an edge or pry out information. If I am talking to you and laughing with you, I like you. Unfortunately, not everyone is genuine. I even hate to say it, but I’ve experienced it firsthand. I can’t stand people who are fake! People will see through the fakeness eventually. Just be genuine and make relationships, not contacts!
  3. Keep your challenge card for the session on you at all times! I witnessed a seasoned coach lose a challenge due to not having their card on them. You have a very small window to challenge a lift. Once the weight on the bar has been changed, the clock has started, or the next lifter is on the stage, you have lost your window. That card better be on your person and you better be ready to throw it when needed.
  4. Regardless if it is a one-minute or two-minute clock, you only have the first 30 seconds to make the first attempt declaration. I messed up on a third attempt and let the clock run past the 30 seconds and we were stuck at the same weight. In the end it didn’t matter because we were only going to go up a kilo and we would have still stayed on our two-minute clock anyway. I’m thankful I learned my lesson in the scenario I did, because it would have been horrible if it was a situation where a medal or team was on the line!
  5. Whether or not an athlete wants to take a lift in the back between attempts due to sitting too long, take control and make them. There was a situation where an athlete I was coaching warmed up perfectly to their openers on both snatch and clean and jerk, but they were having to sit for too many attempts between first and second and second and third attempts. We suggested a lighter power and/or pull to keep the flow going every three attempts and the athlete said no – they were good. In the moment, I was frustrated at the athlete. But, it was my back room and I should have forced the issue and told them they were doing it. In the end, the athlete went 2/6 and I feel like the long waits between attempts played a role in the misses.
  6. Adapt to your athletes and not the other way around. I learned this from Travis a long time ago. No two athletes are the same, and part of your job is to figure out each of your athletes – this goes for training and competition. You have to adapt programs for individuals based on their needs and capabilities. Different athletes require more volume, less volume, longer tapers, shorter tapers, etc. It is a process, and it takes a few training cycles and meet preps to figure athletes out, so don’t get frustrated. In the back room, some athletes want to joke and interact with people while others want to have earbuds and get in their own heads. Learning what the athlete needs in the back room is crucial. I found some athletes want hand signals and body language to get a point across because they don’t want any external stimuli, whereas joking and conversation keeps some others calm and focused. Treat them as individuals!

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

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  8. “I am capable!” When you are a newer coach, you might have issues with confidence and wonder if you are good enough. As long as you care about your athletes and have their best interest at heart, the rest can be learned. Seeking out mentors is probably one of the most important parts of a coach’s journey. Each athlete you coach and each meet you go to will build your confidence. I think a lot about my own journey, from the beginning to where I am now, and how I have been blessed with amazing mentors. Sometimes, it feels like a dream. Most people don’t know my journey or how I’ve gotten to where I’m at. That is partially my fault, but I don’t want anyone thinking I got here for any other reason than my own merit. I was a coach long before Morgan became a weightlifter and was coaching him before we even came to Mash. But the outside world only sees what we show them. Not that I care what others think, but this weekend put the naysayers to rest. I am in this position on my own merit and I am exactly where I belong – not because I am someone’s mom. This meet put another notch on my confidence belt!

Meet Recap

Onto the meet recap –

Senior Nationals was my second solo meet without Travis. My first solo meet was The American Open Finals 2018. That was a mixed weekend with a couple of unfortunate bomb outs and a podium medal. The weekend didn’t sit well with me as I feel like we win together and we lose together. My heart hurt for the ones whose weekend didn’t go as planned. So this time around, I had some nerves going into Senior Nationals, as I wanted that weekend to go better for the athletes! And of course, I didn’t want to mess it up!

We had six athletes competing at Nationals. Four were on-site athletes and two were remote athletes. There were some huge stakes for two of our on-site athletes, which added quite a bit of pressure. Thankfully, I usually work well under pressure!


Alexis King, one of our remote athletes, was first up in the 49A session. She went 2/6 with a 60kg snatch and 78kg clean and jerk. On her clean and jerks, she was called for a soft elbow on her second attempt at 81kg. There is a new rule in national meets that allows a coach to challenge a lift with their challenge card. I decided to challenge her attempt and actually got a 2:1 vote in our favor – but it has to be unanimous in order for the decision to be overturned.

Jacob Wyatt was next in the 73A session. It was quite a stacked session with the current Youth Olympian Jerome Smith and former Olympian Chad Vaughn. Jacob was a 77 prior and this is only his second meet as a 73. He went 2/6 as well, hitting both of his openers of 120 and 145.


Hunter Elam was the talk of the weekend with her cut to 59! I don’t want to go into much detail on the hows and whys of her cut because that is a story for Hunter to tell. What I will say is that it was the right decision! This was probably the most fun I had all weekend in the back room, if I’m being totally honest.

She was on her game, but she was also chill and having fun. Hunter went 3/6 with the gold medal snatch at 94kg and a gold medal total of 206kg. We opened at a successful attempt at 90kg on the snatch and went to 93kg for her second attempt. She had a close miss behind her… and then there was a decision to be made. In the end, we decided to bump a kilo to hit that gold snatch and also set her up for the clean and jerk. She nailed that third attempt! On the clean and jerks, she smoked the 112kg opener. We went up to 114kg to try to take it first for a shot at gold as well as beating the #1 59 female’s current total. The clean slipped in the catch and we had one more attempt at that point. One of the other lifters hit 114kg, so we decided to try our hand at 115kg. Unfortunately, the bar slipped again. Her total at 206kg was good enough to put her on the Pan American Games team. She also left the weekend with Best Female Lifter!

Side note: one of the most entertaining moments of the weekend is when Hunter made her gold medal snatch attempt and jumped off the stage into my arms!

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December Garcia competed in the 64A session, going 4/6 with an 84kg snatch and 109kg clean and jerk. She has worked hard to battle back from a shoulder injury. With continued hard work and dedication, she has a bright future!


Nathan Damron started us out on Sunday in the 96A session. It’s been a hot minute since he, Jason Bonnick, and Phil Sabatini have competed on the same platform. It made for a great competition! Nathan had an extraordinary meet, hitting gold across the board with a 157kg snatch and a 200kg clean and jerk. We opened at 153kg – and he smoked it! He was at the end of the session, so we had the ability to see what others hit on their third attempts to see what we needed for gold. In the end we went 157kg – which had been a while for Nathan, so it was a victory in and of itself. On his third attempt we went for 161kg, which would have been a meet PR, but it was just a bit out front. On clean and jerks, his opener of 193kg was child’s play. His second attempt of 198kg was a super easy clean and the jerk locked out, but he got a soft elbow in the recovery and dropped it. We were in the same situation with being able to see what others did first before deciding our final attempt. Bonnick took 200kg first and missed it, so we decided to stick with 200kg and Nathan killed it!

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@nathandamron94 200kg/440lb Clean & Jerk to sweep the Gold Medals 🥇 🥇🥇 at the Senior National Championships and earn a trip to the Senior Pan Am Games! He’s back and he’s working hard! =================== <link in bio> for: . -Online Video Seminar . – Mash Mafia Online Team . Feats of Strength Online Meet (proceeds benefit 501c3 Mash Weightlifting Team . -Hundreds of Free Articles & Workouts . -Donate to the 501c3 nonprofit team . – 22 Awesome E-Books . -Seminars . -FREE “Mash Method” E-Book . -FREE “The Barbell Life Podcast” . . @intekstrength #intekstrength @athleteps @harbingerfitness #harbingerfitness @tfox66 #nikeweightlifting #athleteps @mg12power #mg12thepowerofmagnesium #wodfitters @wodfitters @strongerexperts #strongerexperts @leanfitnesssystems #LEANFit @shruggedcollective @andersvarner

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I have no doubt Nathan was good for at least another 5 kilos! With his total, he also secured his place on the Pan American Games team and Best Male Lifter.


The Training and Philosophy of Nathan Damron

World champion and world-class coach Travis Mash outlines the programs and principles behind the training of his stellar athlete, Nathan Damron.

Side Note: I love the camaraderie between the top three guys: Nathan, Jason, and Phil! When it was over, all three shook hands, laughed, and congratulated each other. I can honestly say that women are different. That didn’t happen in Hunter’s session and it makes me sad.

Sam Dowgin, our other remote athlete, closed out the weekend in the 81A session. She competed in a higher weight class previously and is fairly new to the 81s. She went 4/6 hitting an 87kg snatch and 108kg clean and jerk. Both are PRs at this body weight!

Recap and Reminders

To say the weekend went amazing is an understatement! While not everyone met their personal goals, overall the whole team did amazing! I love coaching in general, and I love coaching weightlifting in particular. The back room at a meet is one of the most exciting parts of our jobs. It requires strategy and thinking on your feet. I always learn so much by talking to and observing other coaches.

To recap some lessons learned:

  • Never stop learning and seeking out knowledge from others!
  • Be genuine!
  • Keep your challenge card on your person.
  • Be aware of the 30 second rule on declaring attempts.
  • Be in charge of your back room.
  • Adapt to your athletes.
  • Be confident!

We have been riding the high of this meet for the last couple of weeks. Hunter and Nathan are already hard at work preparing for the Pan American Games. As I have experienced, not every meet is going to be the ultimate meet. Everyone has their ups and downs. I love every single one of our athletes, and I will celebrate with them in their highs and go down with the ship with them in their lows. That is what makes our team so special!

Special thank yous to Morgan ‘Madlifts’ McCullough, Joe Cox of Krypton Barbell, and Sean Rigsby of Heavy Metal Barbell. They helped load and were a second pair of eyes during the weekend when I needed them.

We are here for you during this Coronavirus crisis.

Let us help with customized programming and coaching when you have limited access to gym equipment.

If you are financially able to join our online team for customized programming at this time, we would appreciate your support.

If you are financially struggling during this time, we still want to help. Email us and we will try to help out in any way we can.

* Fully Customized Programming

* Unlimited Technique Analysis

* The Best Coaching in the World

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