Written by: Kevin Cann
This article will go along with the video that I posted on the Precision Powerlifting YouTube channel. The video was titled “The Program is a Language to Communicate with the Lifter.” I wanted to highlight one part of that video because I think that it is so important for coaches to understand.
As coaches I feel that we are often attempting to force our values and ideals onto our lifters. We have in our heads what every lifter should be doing, and when they deviate at all from that perfect picture, we tend to highlight that for them.
Let me give a few examples of what I mean. Say you have a lifter that misses a PR attempt either in the gym, or on the platform. They immediately get upset. You try to tell them that strength is not linear, and misses happen. However, you have said this to this same lifter many times in the past, yet here we are again.
It is ok to be upset after a missed attempt. It is not ok to start blaming other people for the perceived failures, or to let it ruminate in your mind so much that it will negatively affect the rest of your training or the competition.
At my competition on Saturday, I got hosed on a call on my squats. I was fucking pissed. I have dealt with bad calls for over 30 years of my life. I know the competition is not over. I also know how to handle those situations because I have done it so many times. I then missed my 3rd bench, a bench that I have never even missed before. It could have been really easy to lose it to frustration there. I could have blamed my travel and my back injuries coming into this meet. At the end of the day, I was so conservative with my shirt because I didn’t want to bomb out, that it cost me that lift. I also need to figure out a good tapering strategy for bench because this has happened twice, but that is another story.
I got up from that miss and was pretty neutral about the current situation. I was 3 for 6 going into deadlifts but felt that I was lifting pretty good. A close call goes my way, and I am sitting pretty here. My energy felt good, even though it was hot and the meet was moving at warp speed. There was something inside of me that I can’t explain that told me that I could pull something a bit bigger than I think today.
I told my training partners to increase my opener by about 20lbs and put some new numbers on the sheet. My first goal was to qualify for nationals, but I also wanted to qualify for the weight class up from mine. That last one was going to require a 578lb pull to cap the day. That is about 20lbs more than I hit in the gym and a number I haven’t really touched in almost a year, but I have hit 585lbs from a deficit, so I know it is in me somewhere. I went out and executed it with a clear mind.
These values of resiliency, focusing amidst chaos, and confidence are very important to me. Confidence only matters when things are not going well. It is easy to be confident when you have the momentum. Go 3 for 6 and start to see your goal of qualifying slipping away. There was pressure there to pull. No pressure, no diamonds though, right?
These values were instilled in me by coaches throughout my life and by my experiences throughout my life. When I was younger, I would get so mad if there was a bad call that I would let it affect my play as I continuously complained. All it took was a coach that would pull me out of the game and tell me that I am not helping the team right now to change that perspective.
I learned that a bad call could bring the team closer in that moment and get us all to up our game a little bit. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t complain about the call. I would make sure every break I got I would still say something, but I learned how to use it as positive energy. Just like finding that perfect song to listen to, that became my source of energy. That is why I didn’t listen to music during bench press. I didn’t need to; I was right where I have been before.
The program that the coach writes, needs to help the lifter learn these values. The coach needs to help guide the lifter to discover them on their own too. If a liter cannot recover from a miss, well they probably need to miss more in the gym and learn to work through that.
You want them to find technique important, the program needs to send that message. I sandwich rep work of a variation between 2 max effort weeks of the same variation. They focus and work hard on those reps, they get a PR week 3. That sends a strong message that technique is important. They don’t hit a PR week 3, it sends a strong message that something they are doing is off.
Lifters will go off program and make bad decisions. Week 1, they are supposed to leave 5-10lbs on the bar to give us some room for week 3. Fatigue really builds up over these blocks and those PRs are very hard to get. They make bad decisions, no PR. It sends that message clear to them and they are accountable because they are the ones deciding the weights. No one else to blame.
When the lifter experiences these situations, the coach needs to have a conversation where they just listen to the lifter. I will guide this conversation with a lot of deep reflective questions. The strength and the potential of each lifter lies dormant inside of every single one of them. Our job is to help them find it. This can’t be found with a velocity tracker, but only through self-awareness and a drive to be one’s personal best.
For us, the decisions we make are guided by our “why.” Whether you are aware of it or not, it is true of you as well. If you are the one constantly frustrated, there are values there driving those actions. They just may be values driven by the ego, instead of who we really are. Powerlifting is a sport of self-discovery.
Our job as coaches is to help guide that process. The programs need to help them figure out those values that are driving them now, and which ones are important to them and who they want to be. This is what coaching really is.