Perhaps the Most Important Skill to Train

Written by: Kevin Cann

When we all start off as coaches, we have this fascination with writing the perfect program.  This usually leads to us collecting more and more data, pumping out graphs, and explaining every mishap with the logic of these programs.

Now, I collect data that I feel is important.  This just happens to be a lot less than I used to collect.  We track all of our max effort numbers and the lifters place a last set RPE on everything.  The rest I gather from our communication.  That is data too.

However, none of that data even matters if the lifter does not know who they are as a person.  The program that the lifter does, does not matter in this case either.  Self-awareness is a necessity to be able to identify strengths and weaknesses and continuously get better.

Our muscles do not do anything without a neural component.  A huge part of this is controlling our thoughts, emotions, and actions in a way that allow us to perform at our highest level.  This may be the most important skill to have, mindfulness.

Mindfulness makes up the center of the foundation of our pyramid for greatness.  Mindfulness is the awareness of our thoughts, emotions, and actions.  We need to be aware of where we are at all times.  It easy for our thoughts to go to the past, or the future and to lose being present in the current moment.

The current moment is the only place that exists.  It is the only place where we can get stronger.  If we are not present in that moment, how can we truly be our best?  How can we think clearly and make the best decisions possible if we are not present in the current moment?

People will laugh at this when they read it.  They will say, “I am literally present.”  They will say this is me using mental gymnastics because I do not know how to coach.  I do my job, analyzing the lifts and coming up with a plan as well as directing volumes and intensities.  However, none of this works if the lifter does not do their part.

I heard interviews of Olympians that didn’t develop mindfulness until their second Olympics.  You can achieve some pretty high results without this skill.  However, the ones that get that far have things going for them that far outweigh the weaknesses in their mindset.  At the end of the day, this Olympian began to develop it because it made her better.  Being elite shifts at each level.

You can be the best competitor in a country, making you the cream of the crop there.  However, you could finish 10th in the world.  This is not elite on an Olympic stage when compared to other Olympians.  There is always something we can do better to gain an edge.

Most of the people we coach are not high end athletes.  They are average people living in an anxiety driven world trying to be better through sport.  Anxiety is nothing more than the fear of future predicted outcomes.  When we are in this state, we are not present, but lost in the future.  

The majority of the people we will end up coaching need to be taught how to be present in the current moment.  This will help them in all aspects of their lives, not just in lifting.  High performance is a lifestyle.

If they do not have this skill, it does not matter what program they do.  Meditation is one way that we can train mindfulness.  I think there is a misconception about what meditation is.  It is a mental training exercise that uses breathing to teach you to be present in the moment, and then you become aware of your thoughts.

Every time your thoughts wander away from the breath, you catch it, and you bring it back judgment free, you have performed a repetition just like a squat, bench, or deadlift.  When I meditate, I never feel I am doing it right.  My mind constantly wanders!  However, I do become more aware of my thoughts when I interact with people and even during training.  That is how I know it is working.

As a coach, I am more aware of this now.  Instead of just saying the same crap as I always say, I try to do something to help the lifter get in the current moment.  Reflection is a great way to do this.  Instead of telling them what to do, I have started asking more questions.  Making them think.  

This forces them to be present.  This is not something I ever thought of until I started reflecting and working on my mindfulness skills.  As a coach, we need to lead by example and do all of these skills with the greatest effort.

The importance of these skills and how to obtain them need to be clearly communicated.  I failed at this part previously, but I learned from it.  One part of mindfulness is viewing your thoughts and training judgment free.  Never too high or too low.

I have always stressed this, but I was poor at getting the lifters to understand it.  I would say “There is no good or bad, there just is.”  Saying the words did not seem to help very much.  However, asking them the right questions got this point across better.

The lifter still needs to be willing to put the work in and buy into the process.  The coach and lifter need to see eye to eye and share similar values.  Someone who is only driven by external outcomes will not be a member of this team.  A lifter not willing to do the personal work to get better, will also not be a member of this team.

The effort between coach and lifter needs to be 1 to 1.  As a coach, no one outworks me.  This is a tall task for a lifter to match my effort.  However, when the buy in, give that effort consistently to getting better, and develop the mindfulness necessary to be our best at the current moment, great things happen on and off the platform.  

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