When you talk about sports psychology with an athlete, most will shut down almost immediately. Sports psych has a bad stigma among athletes in America – and that’s very unfortunate because it’s the one area where most athletes need help.
I have a young female athlete who should definitely be the next one to make Team USA. I’m not going to mention her name because I didn’t ask her permission to write this. This young lady is amazing. However, she’s gone through several months of Chronic Clarking, and honestly I didn’t have the answers.
For all of you who don’t know what Clarking is, I will explain. Ken Clark was an amazing weightlifter in the 1980s. But at the 1984 Olympics, Ken pulled his clean to his waist but didn’t go under the bar on his second and third attempts. So now, when someone performs a snatch pull or clean pull without going under the bar, most English-speaking athletes from around the world call the lack of going under the bar a Clark. It’s sad because Ken was an amazing athlete. Heck, he was an Olympian, which is something most people will never be. Regardless if it’s fair or not, the reality is when a lifter refuses for whatever reason to complete the third pull (pull under the bar), it’s now considered a Clark.
EVALUATING THE REAL ISSUE
Let’s get back to my young athlete. I was at wits’ end trying to figure this out for her. If you are a coach, athletes are coming to you in hopes you will help them reach their goals. I take this very seriously. If one of my athletes is struggling, I am struggling as well. We win together, and we lose together. That’s the deal.
I actually reached out to two of my colleagues, Spencer Arnold and Sean Waxman. They both concluded maybe her average intensity was too high, and maybe she was experiencing some neural fatigue. I was saving that for after the Junior Nationals coming up, since we were only four weeks out. However, I wasn’t 100% convinced because her bar speed and the height of the barbell were both above par compared to what other athletes produce. It honestly looked like a mental glitch – like at the last second there was an interruption in the brain. Plus this young lady is an ex-gymnast, so she is used to high volume.
I recommended to her mother that she look into finding a sports psychology professional. Her mother knew a female sports psychologist, so they contacted her. This young lady has had only two or three sessions with her new sports psych, and now it’s as if I have a brand new athlete. She’s quickly becoming the very athlete I knew she could be. In the last few weeks, she has set personal records in the snatch, clean and jerk, and of course total. She’s only experienced one Clark – which she actually overcame in the same session.
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THE STIGMA AND THE SOLUTION
Here’s the sad part. The fact I have to withhold her name is the very reason most of you are failing. The fact that there is a bad stigma around sports psychology is the reason most of you will never reach your goals. Instead of reaching your goals, you will:
- blame your coach.
- blame the program.
- blame your friends.
- blame your significant other.
- blame your parents.
- blame your circumstances.
I have news for you. When you miss the lift, that’s your fault. The minute you admit that important fact is the minute you can start to improve.
This point can also be made by looking at coach-jumping. Coach-jumping is more common in America than it has ever been. It’s not uncommon for athletes to have three to four coaches in a two-year span. Silly really, because every time an athlete jumps to another coach, they have to adapt to the new programming, new technique, and new coaching style versus experiencing continued improvement. Most of the athletes I see making these jumps all have one thing in common. They need a sports psychologist to help them become more successful.
Guys – it is not weak to seek out a professional. It’s weak being afraid to do so. I see so many of you getting a weightlifting coach, nutritionist, rehab professional, yoga instructor, and so many other professionals – but the one thing that would help you the most is somehow taboo. Ridiculous!
As athletes, we are all searching for an advantage over our opponents. Luckily in America, we’ve cracked down on drug use with the help of the United States Anti-Doping Agency and its year-round out-of-meet testing of our top athletes. We can’t take drugs for an unfair advantage, but there are several things all of you can do to give yourself an advantage:
Seek out advice and support through a good:
- sports psychologist
- physical therapist
And practice self-care through:
- addressing sleeping patterns
- proper warm ups
- optimal cool downs and stretching
- recovery (ice baths, Marc Pro, MobilityWOD, etc.)
If you do all of these things, you will have an advantage because you will be the 1% who actually handles all the different areas. Heck, you will be in the 1% if you are the one who hires a sports psychologist. Too many Americans want to think they are too mentally tough to need a sports psychologist. If you believe that, I’m going to say right away you are the very person who definitely needs a sports psychologist.
USA Weightlifting has partnered with Colin Iwanski as their sports psych professional, and I think he is amazing. If you have the opportunity to work with him, I 100% believe you should. If you want to be a true master of the mundane, I believe it should start with sports psych. If the brain is functioning properly, everything else will function much more smoothly.
The brain is a crazy place. I for one tried everything I could think of with this young lady, and I couldn’t get through. I’m not a sports psychologist. There isn’t an athlete on the planet who couldn’t stand to get stronger mentally. If you have the funds, have the time, and you know of a good sports psychologist, I recommend immediately reaching out to them. If they’re good, I can almost guarantee improved results.
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If you don’t know of one, you can message us. I have three I recommend. You could contact all three and decide which one works the best for you. It’s not weak to hire a sports psychologist. It’s only weak if you don’t. I promise you this one last thing… “If you don’t first become the strongest athlete mentally, you will never become the strongest athlete physically.”