The Path to High Performance: Part 1

If any athlete starting out in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting should aspire to reach a high performance level, they will face a succession of challenges through which their destiny will be determined. The beginner athlete will possess little prior knowledge that adequately prepares them for these challenges. They must seek knowledge from all sources including coaches and athletes in their immediate training environment, coaching staff in other places wherever possible, and all forms of literature and electronic resources. And yet there is a scarcity of literature that deals directly with the topic of High Performance in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting save a few good texts that have emanated from Eastern Europe in the late 70’s and early 80’s. This article seeks to assist by identifying four challenges that will surely present to any athlete who would tread the path to High Performance in Olympic Weightlifting. These challenges are:

  • The pursuit of technical mastery
  • The magnitude of training
  • Limits of the training environment
  • Self-imposed performance limits

The term ‘High Performance’ refers to the international competitiveness of an athlete rather than their national ranking. Measures of international competitiveness would include the athlete’s placing in a World Championship and/or comparison of the athlete’s performance with the World Record for their category. High Performance also implies that the athlete has reached a very high level of physical and psychological adaptation specific to the sport. A High Performance athlete is one whose training regimen is comparable to other athletes around the world who compete at the highest level.

This definition of High Performance excludes athletes who may rank highly at a national level but whose training regimen is not likely to raise their competition result to be among the best in the world. Indeed, mere participation in a World Championship is also not a criterion for High Performance.  A nation may send an athlete to compete at the World Championships but the competition result may be less than 70% of the World Record.

It is the nature of sport that only a tiny proportion of all participants in sport rise to the level of High Performance. This is despite enormous investments of time and money by not only the athletes themselves but also their parents, coaches and clubs. The path to High Performance has a number of challenges that require great dedication and resourcefulness to overcome. The possession of enormous physical talent is a good start but not nearly enough to succeed at the highest level. Success depends on whether the athlete can develop, perfect and withstand a process of training that can be favourably compared with other athletes at the High Performance level across the world. It is an unrealistic expectation to become a High Performance athlete without High Performance training.

Ultimately it is the psychological attributes of the athlete that will determine how well the athlete will deal with the four challenges described below. While it is natural for people to contemplate the training regimen of the high performance athlete, the scope and complexity of these challenges can only be really understood by those who have actual experience.

The first challenge in Weightlifting is the development of TECHNICAL MASTERY. This is more than simply learning to perform the snatch or clean & jerk. Technical mastery is a state of skill development in which the athlete achieves the highest degree of technique efficiency that is possible for the physical attributes that    they possess. It is also a state of mind. It is the ability of the athlete to produce excellence of technique in the most difficult of circumstances. In weightlifting, the obvious difficult circumstance is the pressure placed on the individual in the heat of competition, when every lift matters. Technical mastery is about being able to focus on technique irrespective of the weight on the bar or the competition situation.

For the beginner, the initial problem is to learn the basic body shapes and movement patterns that form the basis of weightlifting technique. The problem is difficult as the skills involved are quite unlike anything the beginner would have learned before. However, in the hands of an able coach, the beginner will acquire a satisfactory working technique in a matter of weeks. Then, if conditions are right, the athlete will develop excellence of technique in not less than 3 years and Technical Mastery in perhaps 5 years. The necessary conditions include expert coaching, an increasing volume of training and exposure to appropriate competition experiences.

Unfortunately, however, there is every opportunity for the athlete to develop persistent errors in technique and to never achieve technical mastery. The skill learning process depends very much on the quality of coaching and the athlete’s attention to detail. Technical errors may seem small and inconsequential at first. Then, as the athlete strives for higher levels of performance, such errors can prove to be very costly if the athlete should fail, by small margins, to attain key results at the pinnacle of their career.

For the athlete, it will seem a cruel act of fate to have developed imperfect technique. After all, the athlete who joins a Weightlifting or Crossfit establishment is not to blame for their initial learning experience. It is a fact of life that coaches will differ greatly in ability and the story for many athletes is one of enduring effort to correct technical issues that arise as a result of initial learning processes.

Coaches and athletes should always assume that there is a total necessity to strive for technical perfection from the first moment of the skill learning process. A coach cannot say that a particular athlete needs only an approximation of good technique because they are NOT a candidate for high performance in Olympic Weightlifting. Ingrained technique errors that occur as a result of a hasty or incorrect learning process and can significantly alter their long-term hopes and aspirations of an athlete.

Next Post: The second challenge: The training regimen

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