Athletes are not coaches

Credit Wonderlifter
Credit Wonderlifter

Weightlifting is more popular than it ever was. Many things have contributed to the rise of popularity of our sport, such as Crossfit, modernization of our competitions ($ prizes at the Arnolds or web streaming for instance), athletes showcasing their training online (YouTube, instagram, Facebook’s athletes pages), etc. This hasn’t really translated in more youth lifters (may be a little). It has mostly translated in a lot of 18-30 years old new lifters. Youth lifters don’t really read weightlifting articles or watch YouTube instructional videos. What we are seeing is a lot of older athletes who are very smart and tend to think like coaches and gather more information than they can put in practice – although they are still young in their lifting career.

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The role of the coach is of extreme importance. The coach will provide the right tools to progress and put you in the right state of mind to lift the best you ever did. Credit Wonderlifter.
The role of the coach is of extreme importance. The coach will provide the right tools to progress and put you in the right state of mind to lift the best you ever did. Credit Wonderlifter.

I once added 10kg to somebody’s snatch by telling him to stop thinking about everything that can possibly go wrong and everything he has read or viewed. I asked him to let go of it all, to take a big breath and think only about giving 100% effort. Sure enough, he did better than he ever did. That does not make me the best coach out there, but it does prove my point.

My point is that way too many adults forget what coaches are there for. Coaches are responsible for the programming, the technical teaching of the lifts, and overall lay out of the session. We think for the athletes – in the sense that we look at your lifts, analyze it and cue you on how to correct it and hopefully lift more. Your job as an athlete is to lift and, in order to lift heavy or heavier, you need to get your head in the game and not all over the place. It is not so much your job to analyze your own lifts. You may discuss it with your coach – but you can’t replace your coach.

I can’t tell you the number of new athletes that come at the gym who tells me all their mistakes in details before I have even seen them lift. These athletes will go on about all that is wrong in their pull, mobility and strength – and they have figured it all out. Yet, they come in because they are not progressing the way they would like. The truth is you can’t replace the eye of a real coach. Sure, like many adults athletes, you might have filmed all of your lifts, but you are still looking at it through the eyes of a beginner athlete. What you see might not be the cause – but only the symptoms. Coaches are there to find the causes of the mistakes and fix it.

Your coach's eye > your video
Your coach’s eye > your video. Credit Bruce Klemens

On the other hands, athletes need to do what they need (or feel like they need) to lift the bar. Many have very special habits – such as lifting routine, screaming habits, bar set up habits, breathing patterns, visualization techniques, stretching routines, etc. All of that is fine because they need to be in the right state of mind to lift heavy weights and all of the above enhance the whole experience allowing the athlete to feel the movement and just feel good about it. Many great lifters know they will PR – or hit high percentage lifts – just by how warm ups felt (in term of timing and overall speed and precision of the lifts). I have seen that way often. However, no great lifter need to think about a long list of details before they lift. It ruins the lifting sequence and slow everything down as well as introducing compensation.

I have noticed a trend in which newer adults lifter know more than they can realistically put in practice. It’s great that people are knowledgeable about weightlifting. I, indeed, write these articles because I believe in the democratization of weightlifting information. However, there is a time to learn and think about weightlifting stuff and that time is not the platform itself. On the platform, you should be focused about your lifts and what your coach is making you work on. It is not the time to think about 20 different things when the focus of the session is to fix one error in particular. Focus on one thing and make it better.

Moreover, since weightlifting is a skill that takes a lot of time to develop, your knowledge can be higher than your skill level. Since there are no miracles in weightlifting other than you need to work really hard to be the best you can be, you can get carried away with trying to find cures for all the problems you might have. Practice tends to make you better when you don’t think so much except for a cue or two. This is true for all sports and all skills – even music skills.

credit Lifter's Life
credit Lifter’s Life

If you fail to do so, you loose your focus and just have no training direction no more. Programming hopping, coach hopping, and trying something new every session is not going to help you lift heavier and better. Skill is better developed when going from simple skill work to complex skill work – which is why us coaches walk you through different drills and exercises to fix your technique. This is called progressive training and this is why the training of the beginner is not the same as the training of the elite athlete.

The bottom line is athletes should be athletes and leave the coaching to the coaches. You need to trust in your coach and in your training process if you want to make progress. You cannot get good without this type of relationship. If you feel like you can’t trust your coach, then chances are your coach is not the right one for you. Athletes can coach other people, there is no problem in that. My point is that when you are training, you should remove the coach hat and focus on your training and on the coach’s feedback. Gather all the information you can – this is good for discussion and for picking the coach’s brain. We all learn from discussion. Just don’t put it all in practice on the platform in one day. Go from simple to complex – not the other way around.

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Jean-Patrick Millette

Jean-Patrick Millette is a full time weightlifting coach located in Montreal, Canada. He has a bachelor in kinesiology. He coaches dedicated weightlifters of all ages (Youth to senior) as well as running the well respected First Pull website. He has been very active at promoting the sport of weightlifting.

5 comments

  • While this rings true with me and some of the frustrations I have as a coach I think there’s also a halfway house to be very aware of. As a coach I want lifters to buy in to my philosophy, respect me and come to me for help and direction. I can’t force this and only have limited availability so much of the time I can not directly be there to provide guidance and input. This means my lifters need to understand the coaching process, be very self aware and support each other. An independent athlete who owns their programme is a great goal to work towards. With this in mind therefore I feel it’s important to build independent athletes rather than create dependencies. An athletes who knows their body, the feel of good and bad as well as how to alter their training as required surly has to be the destination of the coaching process? Self determination theory from psychology supports this approach. SDT says an athlete who has autonomy, belonging and competency will enjoy the training process more, adhere to it better and produce better results. After all if an athletes who has been through your programme for a few years were to write their own training programme it would look very similar to yours with your language and philosophies in would it not?

    • Oh don’t get me wrong. Discussion has to happen between the athlete and the coach. It’s not a dictatorship relationship. My point is that when you are working with a coach, it is a good idea to prioritize the coach’s feedback over your own impressions. Athletes are learning to be better – so we can discuss all things weightlifting to try and broaden their understanding of the movements and the sport. When lifting, it is a much better idea to wear the athlete hat rather than the coach hat.

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