Competition: Role of Athlete and Role of Coach

Lifter: Muhammad Begaliev, Photographer: Everyday Lifters

Lifter: Muhammad Begaliev, Photographer: Everyday Lifters

Training in the gym is to help you become successful in competition.  BUT training in the gym can't help you with everything.  In order to put yourself in the best position to win during a competition you need a coach.  And sure we have all met athletes who coach themselves at local meets.  I have done it myself for several meets.  However, I do have a lot of competition experience AND would never coach myself at a meet that mattered.  

I find most athletes who try to coach themselves at a meet become preoccupied with the 'game' of the competition and are unable to focus on their job as an athlete (or vice versa).  They are two different hats, and are difficult to wear at the same time.

So, let's talk about those 'hats'! 

The job of the athlete in a competition is to make lifts.  Whether it is the warm up lifts or the lifts taken on the platform, the athlete is to execute those lifts to the best of their abilities when they are told to do so by their coach.  There is nothing else the athlete should be asked to do.  We don't even allow our athletes to change their own weights in the warm up room.  

Now this might be a slight oversimplification.  When the athlete is not lifting weights they need to stay focused on making lifts... so, I guess that is something too?  Now some athletes like music, some like to chat a little, and some like to stare at a wall.  I prefer music and not talking.  Maybe a slight nod to my coach when I make lifts, but nothing really else.  I find that every athlete is a little different, but developing a strategy to handle stress, distraction, and self doubt is very important to making lifts when you do not control when you lift.  

A little on that last part, YOU DO NOT HAVE FULL CONTROL OVER WHEN YOU WILL LIFT and you are going to have to accept that.  In training you can try to hit a PR whenever you want and you can try a billion times for that PR.  You can try that PR in the morning go eat lunch and come back to try again in the evening.  In a competition you have to make your lifts when your coach tells you and not when you feel like it.   

Yep, you need to surrender some control and trust to your coach.  The coach is wearing the other hat.  The coach does everything in a meet that is NOT making lifts.  The coach watches to see how the competition will unfold and makes a guess about how long before the athlete will lift.  The coach tries to position other lifters such that they are at a disadvantage and you are at an advantage to make your lifts. 

Coaches do this in numerous ways.  One of these ways is to have you declare weights that are different from your intended weights that you will lift.  Perhaps you will declare at weigh in a higher weight or a, more often, lower weight.  This is done with the intention of changing your weights later in the competition.  This allows the coach to have some control over when you will lift and keep other lifters in the dark.  I have seen lifters jump 15kg up from their openers when their name was called to lift.  This means that the coaches who assumed that that lifter would take all three of their attempts before them would be mistaken.  This could upset the warm ups for other lifters.

Coaches may have you take a weight that is less than what you think you can do.  This may be the case because of a number of reasons.  The first, and most obvious, is that you are moving a little slower or seem off that day.  This is usually what the athlete assumes, BUT is not always the case.  The coach may also want to position you to secure a medal or qualifying total.  The coach may also want you to take an attempt because they are worried about an extended break in between your attempts.  In many national level weightlifting competitions the weights each athlete is capable of are rather similar because the athletes are grouped by their weight class and by their total.  This means that you can have sometimes a 20 minute weight in between your first and second attempt (or maybe longer).  If the coach feels that the wait in between the lifts are too great, they may have you take a weight a kilo or two under what you would have liked to hit.  They also may have you stay warm by taking warm ups that are less than what you just hit and building back up to your next attempt (sometimes a strategy taken for the snatches).  Another strategy is to do less weight and do powers, or to take heavy pulls to stay fresh and warm. 

Sometimes a coach will have to bump you up a kilo or two.  This may be because they need longer for you to rest in between your sets or they want to give you more time to warm up.  Or they may be positioning you for a medal or a particular total.  The coach may also declare weights higher or lower during a competition for your second or third attempts.  The coach is making your opponents guess on your intended attempts.  The coach may even let your name be declared as the lifter before changing your weights.  This can lead to an athlete who normally would get a 2 minute clock if they were to follow themselves, to only have a 1 minute clock and less rest.  They can decide whether they wish to bump their weight up higher or take the weight if less rest. 

For all these reasons it is important for the athlete to just focus on making lifts that the coach gives you.  If you focus on numbers, or what your competitors are doing, you will be distracted and unable to perform at your best.  Leave all that to the coach, and do what you know how to do... make lifts. 

Kurt Roderick, CSCS, USAW-ASPC L2, CF-L3, AOLC