Platform Coaching Demeanor: I’m now attending more weightlifting competitions simply because there are more of them that my athletes are eligible for. This is good for me as weightlifting coaching can become quite monastic. I spend many hours in the gym. Anyway it gives me the opportunity to observe the coaching styles of my colleagues as they attempt to manage the performances of their athletes.
One thing that becomes obvious is the fact that many coaches, especially the newer ones, fail to realize the extent to which their demeanor affects the performances of their athletes. Performing a maximum weight in competition requires a high degree of concentration which will lead to the altered state necessary for execution of the complex series of movements that enable successful completion. There are too many aspiring coaches today who have not competed in weightlifting long enough to understand the psychological state necessary to execute a competitive lift. A successful snatch or clean & jerk requires very precise movement patterns coupled with appropriate levels of aggression. Anything that disrupts the psychological state needed to perform the lift is a distraction.
Some fall into this category because they don’t have valuable advice, but feel the need to be involved or supportive. Encouragement without specific direction can actually be distracting. An athlete will more than likely feel the enthusiasm from the coach, yet may still feel in need of specifics. By the way, if a coach sees a technical fault on a successful first lift and realizes that it will not self correct, then the coach should advise a correction.
Some coaches act like making a successful first attempt is winning the lottery. Some reinforcement may be in order after an early attempt, but it should not go to the extent where the athlete becomes too satisfied or complacent. The athlete needs to stay “on edge” to some degree to be able to compete successfully. My personal preference is that as soon as the athlete leaves the competition platform, he or she is thinking about the next attempt.
Over aggressive coaches can get their athletes overhyped and out of that narrow zone where they are both focused and aggressive. Do athletes need to be aggressive in competition? Of course, but not to the extent where they cannot concentrate on the task at hand. Some athletes by their very nature can be easily over amped, and a coach needs to maintain an even demeanor to help the athlete maintain the optimal psychological state.
When things go awry (as they often do), the coach needs to be the one who maintains a cool head. The coach will set the tone and it should be one of self control and competency. If the coach loses it, the athlete may often involuntarily follow suit.
The coach who stands at the side of the platform, shooting video but never uttering any advice is serving a role. It is not, however, that of a coach. Videography can certainly be helpful, but viewing a lift through a camera lens does not provide an accurate impression of the timing and dynamic of the lift. A coach needs to be present and aware of the atmosphere within the sphere of performance. Video is one degree of separation. There is a realization that we have to come to grips within the 21st century. Just because technology is available we don’t necessarily benefit by using it in all situations.
Coaches, please keep in mind that your primary mission at a weightlifting competition is to manage and facilitate a performance.
The Lesson I Learned
I personally learned the importance of coaching demeanor and performance management in a very costly way. It took place at the 1983 National Championships in Seekonk, MA. My athlete, Albert Hood, set the national snatch record in the 56 kg class at 108. The old record had stood for 23 years and the breaking of that record was a major event. Albert was elated, I was elated and he was immediately taken out of competition mindset by the throng of well-wishers who gathered around him in the warm-up room.
I as the coach allowed the celebratory mood to continue too long and Albert was psychologically unprepared for the clean & jerk. He missed all three of his C & J attempts and bombed out. He failed to win the national championships and missed qualifying for the Junior World’s in which he would have been considered a medal contender. Costly and painful. From that point on I vowed to never let that happen again and it would always be my job to keep my athlete’s head in the game through my actions and my demeanor.
Coaches—keep in mind that your primary function is to manage the performance to the best possible outcome.