What We Learned from Our Super Week

A week ago, our coaches were facing the most challenging week in the history of our team.

We had three competing at the Junior Pan American Championships in Cuba – and then 21 were scheduled for the Youth National Championships in Anaheim, CA. One of our athletes, Ryan Grimsland, was signed up for both, since it was his last Youth Nationals.

This article is not just a massive brag session, but it could definitely be. We did kill it! However, as always I want you to get the most out of everything that we do. Therefore we are going to talk about the lessons we learned so all of you can benefit from our trials. As always the goal is to leave this sport and the entire barbell world a bit better than we found it.

Individual Approach with a Team Concept

Since the 2017 Senior National Championships, I haven’t entered a team. The main reason is this is an individual sport, and I don’t want to make decisions based on some team championship. I want to make all of my decisions based on the goals of the athlete – like making an International Team or getting a stipend. I don’t want the extra pressure on the athlete of worrying about some team championship.

Coach Joe Cox, the owner of Krypton Barbell, convinced Coach Crystal and me to consider a National Team. We also partnered with the awesome people from ODC Barbell in Kentucky. Basically it works out to be one big mentorship. Crystal and I mentored Coach Joe, and now Coach Joe is helping Coach Karina.

It definitely makes my heart happy to see our competition philosophies being passed from one coach to the next. Plus it makes it so easy for the entire team because we end up having big coaching staffs, which is much needed at a big competition like Youth Nationals. Team ODC has a house full of talented athletes. It was so much fun helping Joe teach her the science of timing warm ups, counting cards, and making strategic jumps.

Here’s the kicker! Coach Karina is only 21 years old, and she is the head coach. I’ll tell you one thing, Coach Karina is going to be amazing. She had six athletes at Youth Nationals and six medalists with four National Champions. Tim Davis is her father and is legally blind. It’s awesome to see what he has done working with all of these amazing kids. It’s even more amazing to see what great people his actual children are turning into. If I had a child anywhere near Owensboro, KY, I would 100% want them to be a part of what they have going on at ODC Barbell.

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Now let’s get back to maintaining an individual approach. Each and every decision we made was based 100% on what was best for the athlete. Some were trying to PR their totals, some were trying to win a National Championship, and some were trying to make Team USA.

Each attempt is very different from each other. Obviously the first attempt is somewhat conservative because it normally sets the tone for the rest of the session – especially the opening snatch. When I choose an opener, I consider:

  • Training PR – roughly 93% plus or minus 2% in each direction
  • Minimum – the weight that the athlete can hit in training without any misses on their worst day
  • Bar speed during warm ups
  • Overall mentality during warm ups – relaxed, focused, nervous, etc.

I don’t really consider the weight the athlete is trying to end with because I have no problem with hitting a big weight in the back in between an opener and a second attempt. The only time I will open above what I consider to be conservative is during a meet where the one and only goal is making Team USA. I bet some of you still remember when I opened up Hunter Elam with one kilogram above her lifetime personal record. We didn’t care about winning an American Open Series 3. We only wanted to earn a spot on Team USA… and that’s exactly what we did.

I will never be that aggressive with a youth athlete because I want them to form successful habits. However, I have no problem being aggressive with the older youth on second and third attempts to make Team USA. Some would probably think my aggressive nature would lead to a low make to miss ratio, but that isn’t the case at all. Let’s take a look at the official numbers of our Super Squad:

Stats from Youth Nationals/Junior Pan Ams:

So if we were totally focused on what’s best for the athlete, how did we do so well?

For one thing, it’s a youth competition. I am not trying to put any undue stress on the athletes. I want them to build up several wins under their belt, so they get used to winning. We were only semi-aggressive with the older 16-17-year-old athletes, and it was only the ones who had a chance at Team USA. Otherwise we stuck with a 93%-97%-PR structure of taking attempts (give or take a couple percent).

One other thing is we are much more sport specific nowadays, especially in the last month before a meet. At that point we don’t talk a lot about percentages or bar speeds – but instead we talk in terms of openers, last warm ups, second-to-last warm ups, and so on. It really prepares our athletes with what to expect come game day )but we will talk more about that later in the article).

To tell you the truth, I have never really looked at make-to-miss ratios until this competition. It’s fun to see where you fall. When I learned we made 77.3% of our attempts, I was tempted to really rub it in the faces of a couple of social media sites who aren’t big fans. However, I decided to take the high road. I did make a few jabs, but then quickly backed off because at the end of the day we could have a bad meet sometime in the near future.

No other team in America is putting as many athletes on Youth, Junior, and Senior teams as we are. There are going to be ups and downs. That’s the nature of sport. In 2016 Nathan Damron crushed it at Junior Pan Ams, and then he came in seventh at Senior Worlds in 2017. Then he had a rough 2018. In 2018, Morgan McCullough went 5:6 in his first Youth Pan Ams and won a gold medal – and Ryan Grimsland went 6:6. At the 2019 Youth Worlds, they both struggled a bit. Now they both went 5:6 and won a bronze medal in their first Junior Pan Ams, breaking six combined Youth Pan Am records between them. My point is the sport and the athletes are always evolving. Sometimes athletes are trying to overcome injuries, but no one knows that besides the coaches and the athlete.

It shouldn’t bother me when silly meme pages criticize us, but it does. It makes me mad for my athletes mainly. Most of them are kids, and the rest of them are like my kids. I love them – so yes, I take it a bit personal. One site published an opinion that my guy would bomb out at Senior Pan Ams. Well, he didn’t. We took Silver – but dang, it got to me. All I could think about was what that site might do if we actually bombed out. It was silly, I know. The fact is I have never had an athlete bomb out in the back with me at a Youth/Junior/Senior Pan Ams or World Championships. I did withdraw an athlete once because his back was bothering him not because he bombed or was bombing. Who cares really? It’s my fault for letting those folks get to me.

I just love this sport. None of the coaches make a penny from coaching this sport. We do it because we love it. It’s not like some MLB coach making millions. Heck, if I were making a few hundred a month from this sport, I would welcome the criticism. However, I am not making anything. I am simply trying to improve the status of American Weightlifting around the world, and we are doing just that with the help of USA Weightlifting headed my Phil Andrews. That should be my focus, and I will be working to make it 100% my focus moving forwards.

I will end that little pity party rant with the good news that we did kill it at these two meets: seven National Champions, six Pan American Records, Best Male Lifter, Best Overall Female Team, and qualifying three youth for Team USA. I’ll take it whether people want to talk about it or not. Either way I am proud of my entire team. I am also proud of my fellow coaches – Joe Cox, Crystal McCullough, and Coach Karina. Our entire team and staff killed it, and now it’s on to the Pan Am Games in three weeks.

Individual Mindset and Coaching Approach for the Different Athletes

I wish I could tell you a specific way that we coach our athletes to produce results like we just experienced. The truth is it takes a special person to understand the feelings of others. Then it takes a special person willing to spend their entire career molding that ability. Right out of the gate, I am going to recommend Conscious Coaching by Brett Bartholomew. That book is a great place to start, but there is one requirement: empathy.

I talked to several coaches this past weekend with several of them asking me what is required to be a good coach. I told most of them this: be nice and have some empathy. It sounds simple, but sadly both are missing from too many coaches. Instead they want to bury themselves in programming and technique – and don’t get me wrong these are important as well. However, programming and technique are useless if no one likes you. If no one likes you, it will be hard to recruit new athletes, it will be hard to keep athletes, and it will be almost impossible to get athlete buy-in. If you don’t care about the feelings of your athletes, do you really think you are going to listen to them enough to understand what makes them tick? No, you’re not!

I have one of my athletes who I am failing to get through to, so guess what keeps me up at night? I refuse to not understand each of my athletes. Not to mention getting buy-in is an ongoing process. Athletes change sometimes on a daily basis, and you have to change with them. If you take the time to get to know them on a deeper level, you will know what I am talking about. I suggest starting by simply asking your athletes what makes them tick. Yes, that’s right! Straight up ask them!

Remember this one more thing, outside stress is perceived by the body as any other stress (just like training). If your athlete is getting crushed at home or with a bad relationship or at school, you can bet their training is going to suffer. You have to alter their program and adapt your approach to compensate for the added stress.

To wrap it up, I take it very seriously to understand what makes my athletes tick. Do they want to get hyped? Do they want to laugh and have fun? These are the things you have to find out to be successful regardless of what you’re coaching. It’s also the aspect of coaching that most people fail in the most.

Cutting Weight

There are a couple of ways people look at cutting weight for sports. Some people want to cut down to the weight class and roll into their competition at weight. That way they can eat like normal, and nothing really changes. Others like to stay a few kilos/pounds over their weight class and then perform a water cut to get those extra kilos off.

Based on observation alone, I am going to go with water cutting. I watched two athletes in a low weight class in the female division with both taking the opposite approach. The girl who performed the water cut (it was an extreme one – like four kilos) seemed to suffer the least from weak legs normally associated with a big cut. Since then, I have been very observant, and I am now very convinced. Plus I performed a water cut as well, and I never noticed a major dip in performance.

I’ve heard of several ways to do it, and I don’t think there is a real science to it. Here’s one that you guys and gals can use to get those last few kilos off:

  • 5 Days out – limit sodium and drink 2 gallons of water
  • 4 Days out – cut out most all sodium and drink 1.5 gallons of water
  • 3 Days out – no sodium and drink 1 gallon of water
  • 2 Days out – no sodium and drink 0.5 gallon of water
  • 1 Day out – no sodium and only sip on 8-12 ounces of water throughout the day
  • Day of the meet – obviously no sodium and no water until weigh-ins

You can eat healthy during the cut, sticking to mainly lean meat and vegetables. If you are two kilos over the day before, you are going to really cut your calories – especially if you have early weigh-ins. Also if you have early weigh-ins, you are going to want to go to bed with a kilo or less of body weight to lose.

Here are a few ways to cut to get those last few kilos off:

  • Sweet Tarts – These are the best. Now every single competition, a parent or athlete will challenge me by trying to bring some other candy. FYI Jolly Ranchers don’t come close. It’s the intense sour taste that makes you salivate like a dog staring at a raw steak. Also just in case there are some challenged folks reading this, don’t eat the candy. You simply swish one around your mouth and spit.
  • Sauna – Most of us know this one
  • DIY Hotel Steam Room – Cover the cracks of the hotel bathroom, and then turn on all the hot water. You will quickly have a steam room. You can splash some more hot water on the walls to get things really steaming.
  • Rake sweat with credit card – Regardless if you are using a sauna, DIY hotel room steam room, or some other sweat producer, I recommend taking a break to rake away the sweat from your body with a credit card every hour. What’s the science? I don’t know. I just know that it works. Supposedly it blocks the sweat from being absorbed back into the body.
  • Stand on your head for 30 seconds- yeah I know it sounds crazy, and once again I don’t know the science. Yet I have watched it work multiple times. Right before you weigh-in, simply stand on your head or on your arms for 30 seconds, and then immediately jump on the scale. This can help you appear to lose .1-ish kilograms. Try it if you don’t believe me.

After you make weight, make sure you have everything you need to rehydrate. Most people use Pedialyte and/or Gatorade. I would recommend drinking slowly, and trying to eat something easily digested. Weightlifting only gives their athletes two hours, so picking something you can eat is key. I recommend moist chicken and rice – or even a simple meal replacement. This is also a great time for simple sugars like you might find in fruit or even your favorite candy. You are only going to compete for two hours, so you need fast energy that doesn’t have to last for days. You will also need some nutrition between snatches and clean and jerks. Once again, I recommend something like a delicious protein bar and your favorite candy like gummy bears.

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Peaking, Tapers, and a Coach’s Response

Obviously it appears we tapered our athletes pretty well. The majority of them hit some type of personal record, and since they averaged going 4.6 for 6 in their attempts, I’d say they were all feeling ready for competition. The keys to a good taper are all the lessons learned from previous ones. If an athlete does poorly, make note of it and make alterations to the plan. If something seems to work, then you will only want to make small adjustments until you design the perfect plan. Also, you will want to start the process a month out by switching to a sport specific type of plan. By that I mean not using percentages, and instead referring to sets as second to last warm up, last warm up, opener, and second attempt. This prepares the athlete for what they will encounter during competition.

You can pretty much gauge the final week or the taper week by how your athletes respond throughout the plan. If they respond well to high frequency and high intensity, you will want to stay semi-heavy – just trim the overall volume. If going heavy seems to hurt their performance, consider staying under 90% or 85% during the taper week. It’s that simple really. Whatever happens, I recommend that you collect as much data as possible.

Evolution of USA Weightlifting

I am not going into major detail here because I plan on writing a complete article on this topic in the near future. However, I will say things have changed. These youth athletes are doing weights that would have won Senior Nationals just last year. Our goal as an organization was to prepare our athletes to medal at all international competitions, and that’s just what we have done with the leadership of Phil Andrews and the entire staff at USA Weightlifting. As Mike Gattone says, “It’s the new norm.”

With a new paradigm a new mindset must follow. None of us can look at things like we used to. Your athletes can’t take months off at a time just because they might be ahead right now. There is simply too much competition out there. Coaches, your hunger for information needs to be insatiable. Your athletes are going to need every edge to succeed in this new norm of ours.

Well, my reflection on the 2019 Youth Nationals and 2019 Junior Pan Ams is over. I don’t have time to spend too much effort thinking about these competitions. I am preparing two of our athletes for the Senior Pan American Games, which are the Olympics of the western hemisphere. I leave for Lima, Peru along with Hunter Elam and Nathan Damron in less than three weeks. I can only pray for this trend to continue. I pray you have the same success.

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