In many countries where weightlifting is an important consideration, the talented athlete is considered a gift or a treasure and he or she is cherished as such.  The elite athlete, when identified early, is sent to a sport school where conventional education is scheduled for mornings and the afternoons are reserved for sports training.  Specialist coaches are provided to guide the development of these athletes.  These specialist coaches are well versed in the coaching of adolescents and all of the training is designed to insure that the young athletes develop in such a way that they will achieve their greatest successes as an adult.  When the young athlete is ready to leave the sport school, he is frequently supported by the state and provided with appropriate training facilities and the best coaching. 

I’ve discussed this process with coaches from the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Cuba, Poland, Romania and Germany.  The process is quite similar and is designed to pair the best athletic talent with the best coaching minds.  This final pairing is almost always a surefire winner!

What is a Master Coach?

A master coach is one who can successfully guide an exceptional athlete who has mastered the fundamentals to competitive success at the international level.  This requires a long view of the athlete development process, highly developed pedgagogical skills, a sound understanding of the scientific principles of sport training, and experience at coaching performance in the international arena. 

While the principles of coaching the elite level athlete can be studied and learned they can only be implemented effectively after continuous practice.  The talented athlete’s body responds frequently in rather acute ways and the underexperienced coach may not be used to such responses and keep an athlete from progressing.  To achieve optimal results at the highest levels most frequently requires the pairing of an elite athlete with a master coach.

Here are some frequently encountered scenarios that can be improved upon. 

Scenario 1—Inexperienced coach and mediocre athlete:  This is a very common scenario, and the two limiting factors are the ability of the coach to grow in abilities and the ability of the athlete to master motor learning.  A new coach must realize that mistakes will be made on the part of both parties, that both are on a learning pathway, and that ego gratification is a by-product and not a goal. 

Scenario 2—Pretty good coach, pretty good athlete: This is also a common scenario and frequently results in the lifter competing at national level competitions.  Ultimately the limiting factor for the athlete will be the ability or inability to increase strength and the mastery of the performance paradigm.  The coach will experience growth in the areas of program design and performance management by being diligent in self-analysis.  To progress to the next level the coach will need more talented athletes to train on a regular basis and perhaps the guidance of a mentor.

Scenario 3—Pretty good  or mediocre coach, super athlete:  This is one of those situations that can lead to problems down the road.  The athlete is so talented that he or she qualifies for national events in a very short period of time and can even be named to an international team or sets national records.  If the coach does not have extensive experience, he or she is apt to think that this rapid progress is the result of his or her coaching.  This inevitably leads to a slowing down in the development of the coach and occasional miscues in the performances of the athlete. 

Scenario 4—Master coach, super athlete:  This happens periodically in our sport in the U.S. as both components are in short supply.  This is the best outcome as the athlete develops as quickly as his or her talent allows and the coach knows best how to manage the psychological development so as to avoid the occasional psychic pitfalls. 

A Possible Forward Step:  In other fields it is common to organize mastermind sessions where participants can gather and discuss common problems, innovative solutions and generate or maintain enthusiasm and drive.  They could be organized into ability levels that would take coaches beyond the current USAW L2 course and involve more problem solving approaches.  Any takers?