I am on a 15-hour plane ride from Hong Kong to New York, so I have had lots of time to think about the world championships. There were a lot of ups and downs with even more lessons to pass on to all of you.
That brings me to the first realization – I enjoy teaching all of you more than just about anything. Coaching is like the ministry. If you can do anything else in the world, you should. Coaching is filled with highs and some major lows. Those lows are going to absolutely break your heart. You are going to pour your heart and soul into your athletes, and you are not going to make a lot of money. That’s what makes coaches a group of people I want to help.
The last few months have absolutely broken my heart. Charles Poliquin died, Glenn Pendlay died, and Justin Thacker died. It’s not only the fact they all died. It’s the circumstances surrounding their lives that really opened my eyes. Justin died alone in his gym. Charles died unmarried. Glenn was married but didn’t get to see or talk to his son very often. These men gave their very soul to their profession – especially to their athletes. Their joy came from the success of their athletes. Unfortunately their sadness came from the struggles of their athletes, or in some of their cases their hearts were broken from their athletes leaving. It’s rough, man. My heart has been broken this week, and the worst part is most of it is my fault.
1. Expectations and communication are priorities.
This probably sounds obvious for a lot of you, but not for me. I have focused way too long on goals and performance. I have avoided the hard conversations, and therefore caused a lot of animosity. As coaches we have to set the expectations of our athletes. I am not just talking about the obvious: show up on time for training, work hard, and recover even harder. I am talking about the expectations of team character, interaction among athletes, and training environment. After talking to Spencer Arnold, I think it is important your core athletes be involved with this process. It’s way more powerful to reinforce expectations the athletes help set. However, expectations without communication are useless as I just found out.
I think it is important to have weekly meetings as a team and weekly one-on-one meetings with your individual athletes. There was so much going on in my life during the last few months. If I had simply taken the time to communicate my thoughts to my athletes, so much negativity could have easily been avoided. If there is something heavy on your heart, get it out in the open and handle it.
Consider limiting the number of high-end athletes based on your time and emotional availability. This is where I for sure went wrong. The one thing I was the most excited about is the very thing that crushed me in the end.
If you are coaching NFL or NBA athletes, it can be totally different. For one thing, they will pay you – so it can be your major way of earning a living. With most weightlifters, that isn’t the case at all. They are amateur athletes for the most part, so there isn’t a great deal of money to go around. In some cases (like my own), we pay the athletes. It wasn’t the money by itself that made things hard – it was the combination of finances and emotions. A weightlifting coach has to make money just like anyone else, which can be from coaching athletes and the athletes paying a nominal fee, selling something online, or maybe sponsorships. Either way a coach has to work at paying the bills as well as preparing his or her athletes for greatness.
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For an athlete to become great, a strong personality must accompany the athlete. When you have a gym filled with great athletes, you have a gym filled with strong personalities. Each of those personalities requires energy from the coach. Emails have to be answered. Videos have to be analyzed, and problems have to be addressed. Every day at least one of my athletes has an off day. Most athletes require the coach to be their emotional rock to let them know a bad day is just a bad day and nothing else.
It’s an emotional juggling act at times. When you are growing a family of your own, this can be quite challenging. Athletes are a lot of work. Don’t get me wrong – it’s part of the fun and feeling of accomplishment. When they win, you feel like a major part of the process. Yet it can drive a coach crazy when the number of athletes and emotional demand eclipses the emotional availability. I felt myself getting frustrated, and my frustration led to another major mistake – talking to others about the issues with athletes.
I believe that is the number one lesson I learned in all of this. I will never discuss an athlete with another athlete or coach for that matter. If you are so overwhelmed you feel you must vent your frustrations, you have too many athletes. Unfortunately in this sport, you can’t expect anyone to keep your conversation confidential. Plus like I said, if you feel so frustrated you can’t control your emotions and want to just blab those emotions and feelings to others, you need to get rid of some of your athletes.
I am 100% satisfied with the amount of top-end athletes I have right now. I won’t be adding any to my stable of athletes for the foreseeable future. I still have nine international-level athletes with several young ones coming up who will be on Team USA shortly. The lucky thing I have is Coach Crystal. She has become an amazing coach, and I see this as her time to show the world what she can do. It makes sense – her son is going to be one of the greatest American Weightlifters of all-time. That means he will be there when she travels, and that changes everything. If my wife and children were able to come with me, I would love the travel.
Let’s move on to a more fun topic and one I have been contemplating for several years now.
2. A mixture of maximum effort and moderate intensity repetitions seems to be producing better results for athletes.
I am blessed to travel the world with the best weightlifters in the world. I get to see the Chinese train. I get to see the Georgians. Even better, I get to talk programming with the other coaches. It appears the athletes who focus either too much on maximum effort or too much on moderate intensity aren’t performing as well as the athletes like Kate Nye or Boady Santavy. It seems simple, but most coaches choose one completely over the other. If you aren’t used to going heavy, it seems to really be making this final approach to the Olympics harder. It’s time to go for it. People are trying to lift as much as possible to solidify their bids for the Olympics. People like Boady are crushing 210kg clean and jerks. Kate Nye is hitting Junior World records because she is used to it.
Heck, if you watch the Chinese and Georgians train, you will see exactly what I am talking about. They go heavy the week of their meet. I watched their 73kg athlete performing clean pulls with 270kg/595lb. Now there is the other extreme as well. The people who go heavy all the time with no attention to detail seem to be too inconsistent. I believe this to be another example of moderation is key.
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3. The number one key to becoming a great athlete remains Sport Mentality.
I am sure a lot of athletes will stop reading at this point. You are probably saying you don’t need any help. I have news for you. Unless you are the world champion, you need help. We can always work on our mental approach to sport and life. I watched Tian Tao badly miss a jerk, and then go up five kilograms for the win and crush it. I saw Meso, the other 96kg athlete, approach each of his attempts with an abundance of confidence and what seemed to be zero fear. He was actually having fun, where as some of his competitors looked completely scared. It was the difference.
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4. The Chinese taught all of us that a balanced approach to strength and technique is the real key.
I watched them train almost every day when I was in Thailand. I love their technique. When I say “their technique,” I don’t want to over-generalize. Just like Americans with different anthropometrics, there were slight differences from one Chinese athlete to the other. However, there were a few keys:
- Generally a low butt start with elbows starting equal to or slightly behind their knees.
- Tremendous use of their legs during the pull, keeping their whole foot through the floor for the majority of time.
- Incredible timing at the top of their pulls with very little time in between the up and down portions
Their builds show an obvious attention to muscular symmetry. They go heavy what seems to be very often. Of course this is their competition peaking phase, but they seem to go heavier than most. They stick with their accessory work more than some of the other countries. They would definitely make Louie Simmons happy.
5. The beautiful aspect of coaching –
I want to end this article with this. I have been coaching Sean Rigsby since 2014 during our days at MuscleDriver USA. I watched a young man realize his dream of competing on the world stage, and it might have been my proudest moment as a coach. I watched his face fill with the pure joy of sport. He might be a grumpy grizzly bear, but he’s my grumpy grizzly. I love this young man and his future wife, Tayler Harris. I look forward to coaching Sean throughout his entire career. I hope all of you coaches out there will get to experience the feeling of helping your athletes reach their ultimate goals. It’s not as common as you might think. I encourage my athletes to reach for the stars – and as we all know, it’s not easy to grab a star. However, it’s a beautiful thing. It’s my personal art!
The 2019 IWF World Championships are finished for my athletes and me. You can probably tell it was a rough one emotionally, but the best one as far as lessons learned. It’s going to take me several months to disseminate the information, but I am confident I will be a better coach because of it. I hope all of you can learn from me and hopefully avoid some of these painful mistakes. I am excited to move forward. I have decided to pursue my Master’s Degree and PhD starting next semester. I will announce the school and the plan as soon as I sign everything. My wife and I are excited to start this new chapter. My athletes who are still with me are going to have some unique opportunities I will tell you all about as soon as everything is completed. Exciting times!
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