I have formed a view, as a result of a lengthy career in Olympic Weightlifting, that the most difficult tasks of the coach are neither the instruction of Weightlifting technique, nor the teaching of athletes how to train effectively. Though these activities are time consuming and require considerable learning to perform, there is yet another level of coaching that far exceeds in complexity. The hardest task is keeping athletes highly motivated over many years despite all that life throws at them. This article will examine the causes of burnout in athletes and what the coach and supporters of the athlete can reasonably do to mitigate the risks. Read More
To my athletes, I would like to take a moment of your time to explain how I might see things differently about training, your training.
Last night was a designated 'heavy' session. I know that you very much look forward to such sessions in the hope that you can push beyond your present personal bests. Last night, many of you were rewarded for your efforts. Well done!
But as we head towards the next competition, there are some things I want you to keep uppermost in your mind. Read More
The journey of the athlete in Weightlifting from beginner to the qualifying standard for the national senior championship takes perhaps 3 years of goal driven, well organised, and consistent training. For the athlete, the first 3 years are full of wonder as there is so much to learn. The motivation to train is aided by a series of intriguing discoveries about the nature of Weightlifting skill, the complexity of the training process and the remarkable mental skills required to perform in the competition environment.
In the right training conditions, and depending to some extent on age, progress in the first 3 years is usually rapid. The male athlete might achieve a 200 Sinclair score in their first year, 270 in their second and 310 by the end of their 3rd year. For the female athlete the Sinclair scores might be 150, 200 and 230 for years 1, 2 an 3 respectively. Progress of this nature will create an expectancy of significant further improvement in years 4 and 5, and likely the athlete who has come this far will have aspirations to compete at the highest levels: World Senior Championships, Olympic Games, and Commonwealth Games.
But in reality, for aspiring athletes, years 4 and 5 are not like the first 3 years, Much of the motivating discovery is behind the athlete and the journey becomes more like a race. It is now a question of whether the athlete has the capacity and motivation to leave no (ethical) stone unturned in their quest for improvement. The athlete must be prepared to invest very considerable effort to correct as best they can all weaknesses and idiosyncrasies that affect their training and competition performance. Every factor must be examined for possible improvement including the time commitment, content and quality of training, the athlete’s physical functioning and well-being, and the daily routine of the individual outside the gym to ensure that the athlete’s life energy is focused on training. This is what it takes to succeed.
But it’s not all about the athlete. Coaches must also demonstrate their dedication to help athletes successfully take the next step and to move into contention for national team selection. Coaches must assume that they are leaders and role models to their athletes. The values they portray, their behaviour in the gym, the example they set, all matter a great deal. Coaches must be prepared to reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses, invest time in their own self-improvement and keep an open mind and never stop learning. They must expend great effort to plan, organise and monitor training, provide feedback, and generally go the extra mile to assist the athlete in a myriad of ways.
The next step is the hardest step. To reach the highest echelon, it is no longer acceptable for athletes to pay insufficient attention to warming up in training, flexibility, physical fitness, nutrition, sleep, recovery and injury prevention. It is not longer acceptable to train without discipline, to train without paying great attention to one’s weaknesses, to train with less than 100% conviction or to engage in other sporting activities that risk injury. For the athlete and the coach, there must be total dedication. To miss training would be like running a 1500m race and diverting on lap 3 to say Hi to a friend in the spectator stand. If you miss training, you cannot pretend to be running the race.
Why is it a race? It is well for the athlete to be mindful that the prize they seek, that is national team selection, is also coveted by many other individuals. To win this prize, athletes must not only reach qualifying performances but also be the very best in their category that the nation can produce. Every athlete who seeks national team selection must envisage that across the nation that there will be others training with great determination to beat you. To succeed in this task, therefore, you must prove that your attitude, your commitment, your meticulousness, your effort and your courage is second to none.
Do not commit the cardinal sin of thinking that time is on your side, because it isn’t. The clock is ticking.
Nature versus Nurture in Weightlifting
It is accepted theory in Weightlifting that genetics plays a substantial role in the ultimate performance of the individual (12, 33). A typical belief is that Weightlifters of the highest performance levels have a greater ratio of fast-twitch to slow-twitch fibres (29). Similarly, a common opinion in the Weightlifting community is that certain anthropometric characteristics strongly influence success such as shoulder circumference (38) and shorter height and limb lengths (34). Furthermore, many researchers have found that Weightlifters as a group are amongst the most mesomorphic of all athletes (25).
Figure 1: Relative contribution of nature (natural ability) and nurture (influence of environment) on success in Weightlifting
However, environmental factors also play a highly significant role in success in Weightlifting. These factors include the coach’s leadership skills (8), the coach’s knowledge and effectiveness (7), the culture within the training environment (22) and the degree to which the athlete develops a sense of belonging or relatedness to their sport and their training colleagues (30). These factors will affect the motivation of the athlete to pursue training over the many years of deliberate practise (10) at increasingly higher levels of commitment needed to attain high performance. Furthermore, environmental factors will impact on the athlete’s ability to cope with the psychological pressures of extreme heaviness in critical moments in competition and training.
For these reasons, success in Weightlifting should not be considered as predominantly dependent on genetics as is a popular view, but instead on a relatively equal contribution of genetics and environment as portrayed in Figure 1 above.
It is no easy thing to make progress towards higher levels of ability as an athlete in the sport of Weightlifting. The level of commitment to training is uncomfortably high and beyond the contemplation of most individuals who enter the sport. For the average athlete who lifts weights 3-4 sessions per week and who reach intermediate performance goals, the next step in the improvement process often involves not only increasing the training commitment to 5 sessions per week but also a quantum leap in understanding how to training effectively. The following article provides some advice on how to take thst quantum leap.
1. Listening to your body
In attempting to train on a highly frequent basis, and maintain high levels of effort, the athlete must take account of soreness, pain and feelings that something is not quite right. This means that the exercise schedule needs to be frequently altered to rest individual body parts or to reduce intensity to accommodate the need for extra recovery of individual body parts. For example if a wrist appears to have an issue, the wrist is rested that day, and some other exercise replaces the exercises that would have further stressed the wrist. Injury is the greatest cause of athletes failing to progress and injury is most likely to appear just after athletes have performed in training and competition at their very best. Buoyed by success, athletes and coaches very often make the mistake of trying to repeat high levels of performance rather than immediately adopt recovery measures. Athletes should expect that wonderful sessions are followed by recovery sessions to restore the body. Training is only as good as recovery.
The purpose of this article is to illustrate how differences in the athlete’s commitment to training will effect their ultimate performance capability in the years ahead. In this illustration, let’s assume that a physically talented individual walked into your gym one year ago and began training in Olympic Weightlifting. Let’s also assume that this individual has enjoyed participating in some competitions during their first year, weighs around 70Kg and has achieved a creditable 180Kg Total. What is the future in store for this athlete?
There are of course many factors that will effect the rate of progress of an athlete, some of which the coach can influence, and some not. One critical factor is the athlete’s commitment to training, and this in turn will be dependent on their self-confidence and belief in their own abilities. This is a factor that the coach can influence through the quality of the athlete-coach relationship, by their efforts to educate the athlete in training methodology and by enabling the athlete to consider higher levels of training.
To this end, three different scenarios are presented for our talented 70Kg individual who has one year of training experience. Chart 1 below provides an indication of the rate of improvement and ultimate performance potential of the athlete, dependent on which level of commitment scenario they pursue. The characteristics of the three scenarios are described in Table 1 below.
The difference between scenarios 1 and 3 is perhaps the difference between achieving national team status or remaining as an averagely good athlete by virtue of their natural talent. It is very conceivable that our 70Kg athlete, under the right conditions (scenario 3), could progress into the 85Kg category and achieve a 320 total in their 5th year. At this level, they would be a strong prospect, in many nations, to participate in World Championships and be a possible contender for Olympic Games selection. Furthermore, as Chart 1 indicates, the athlete’s improvement has not reached a plateau and further increases in performance are probably likely in years 6-10 of their career.
|Table 1: Commitment to Training Scenarios|
|Scenario 1||Scenario 2||Scenario 3|
|Commencing at 2 sessions per week rising to 3 sessions per week after 1 year, maintaining this level of commitment for next 3 years.||Commencing at 2 sessions per week, rising to 3 sessions per week after 1 year and 4 sessions per week after 2 years||Commencing at 3 sessions per week, rising to 4 sessions per week after 1 year, 5 sessions per week after 2 years, reaching 8 sessions per week (“double day” training) in their 5th year|
|Some attention to improvement of technique, relatively little effort to learn about training methodology.||Significant attention to technique, developing good training habits, learning principles of training methodology||Maximum attention to technical development, achieving a high level of organisation and discipline in training, immersion in the principles of high performance training methodology. To all intents and purposes, a “professional” approach to sport participation.|
|No particular goals for Weightlifting, enjoying the sport for fitness||Setting goals to compete at National Championships.||Setting goals for National Team selection to compete in World Championships, and Commonwealth and Olympic Games|
|No particular effort on increasing bodyweight, not employing specific measures for recovery from training||Some attention to diet and increasing bodyweight, some effort to employ measures for recovery from training.||Planning the bodyweight category that is optimal for the lifter, significant attention/effort to reaching and maintaining the required bodyweight. Including regular recovery measures as part of the training process.|
If you are an Olympic Weightlifting coach and you have been coaching a few years, you are bound to come across just such individuals as in our illustration above. Your task as a coach is to find away to keep the athlete training, expand their perception of what is possible and help them achieve their potential. While there is always initial excitement about possibilities, there is soon a realization that the coach’s task is anything but simple. Your best efforts as a coach can be easily thwarted by many factors that constrain the athlete’s willingness to pursue training with increasing commitment. In such circumstances, the coach may well ask the question “why does the athlete not have the motivation to strive for important goals?”
It is probable that one chief reason why an individual will not strive for important goals is their lack of confidence in their own abilities. Although the athlete might state a desire to be a national team member, they do not really believe that they can rise to this level. The coach’s task is therefore to instill confidence that if the athlete pursues a proper process, it is probable that their efforts will be well rewarded. It helps if the coach has a good reputation and track record of success and has other athletes in their charge pursuing the same goal. But for the upcoming coach it is quite a hard proposition to achieve their first high status athlete, and sometimes some luck is involved. But in both cases, for the experienced and the upcoming coach, a great deal of time and effort has to be invested into gently “nudging” forwards the athlete’s self-confidence and belief in their own abilities.