As a coach I feel great satisfaction developing athletes. There’s something about their pursuit that reminds me how much I love being a coach. For several years now, I’ve also found a passion for developing other coaches. There’s a great sense of pride in helping coaches find a style they can call their own.
At the end of a recent training session, a coach asked me, “How can I get what’s in your head?” I thought about the question much later. It comes down to experience. Everyone’s style is comprised of their own experiences. My style comes from my accomplishments as an elite weightlifter, best practices from people I’ve trained with, many of whom were Olympians, the sacrifices I’ve made, and the beating my body took for several years. Having been a part of so many competitions on local and international stages, I’m able to put myself in my athletes’ shoes as they strive for excellence. Unless new coaches work to create their own experiences, they may never obtain the abilities they seek. And if you’re wondering, there is one way to identify an experienced Olympic Lifting coach…they tend not to flinch while watching athletes lift. We’ve all cringed or squirmed when people are performing their lifts. Whether athletes execute it perfectly or struggle miserably, an experienced coach barely moves or waivers; it’s as if they’ve seen it already, too many times.
You don’t have to be a great athlete to be a great coach. In fact, some of the top coaches I’ve known were never great lifters. They became students of the sport and did for others what they couldn’t do for themselves. In contrast, I’ve known several excellent weightlifters, some who were Olympians, who haven’t performed well as coaches. Sometimes the crossover isn’t always as immediate as people may think. In rare instances within Olympic Lifting, there are those who are both accomplished athletes and possess the right skill set to become accomplished coaches.
The most frustrating aspect for new coaches is developing “the eye”, the vision, the ability to observe movement, identify mistakes and make corrections. I can still remember the frustration myself. I’d like to think that although I can’t share everything that’s “in my head”, I can certainly help those I train develop their own vision. One size doesn’t fit all; but one size can fit many.
The single most important thing a coach can do to develop the right vision is to simply watch as many reps, by as many people as possible. Humans can learn a lot through observation. I was blessed to have learned the Snatch and Clean & Jerk at the age of 12. Now, at 35, I’ve seen thousands of reps performed. I observed lifts by my peers and competitors, at beginner and elite levels.
Trainers should make an effort to watch everyone in their gym, online, and live at competitions. After some time, you’ll notice things you hadn’t seen months before. You’ll begin to see the same faults over and over. Best of all, you’ll begin to identify the difference between lifts, creating that distinction, that Coach’s Eye.
Do It Yourself
It goes without saying, it’s hard to teach something that you haven’t done yourself. Would you take lessons from someone who hadn’t practiced the material, regardless of what the lesson was? How can we expect our clients to appreciate our coaching if we haven’t practiced ourselves?
Like I mentioned earlier, you don’t need to be a good lifter to be a good coach, but you do have to know how to perform the lifts proficiently. It’s important for trainers to practice the Snatch and Clean & Jerk, along with their variations and assistance exercises so you can better deliver the material. By doing this, you’ll be able to relate to the responses your clients have during the same exact movements.
Entering competitions from time to time can also help you empathize with the feelings a lifter gets when their performance is on the line.
Record & Watch Yourself
No matter how you feel about being on camera, there’s nothing wrong with recording your lifts. There’s a huge advantage to comparing the sensation you just experienced with what you’re observing. This should be done real-time and not necessarily hours later when you may have forgotten each individual rep and set.
Recording yourself doesn’t mean you overanalyze your movements and develop what a recent client of mine described as “analysis paralysis.” You can cripple your mind by overthinking this stuff. Recording yourself allows you to associate what you see with what you just experienced. It will help you see the same mechanics in others and allow you to relate.
Record & Watch Others
Recording others is also a great way to develop coaching abilities. I use a 3-part method of video analysis that athletes find very helpful.
- Step 1: Play the video in normal speed. Discuss what you see.
- Step 2: Replay the video in slow motion or frame by frame. Pict it apart. Trainers may find errors or faults they couldn’t see in the normal speed. Replay this slow speed as much as you need to.
- Step 3: Replay the video at normal speed. Ask yourself if you see more errors than when you first saw the video. I guarantee the answer will be yes.
The more you follow this 3-step process of video playback, the more you’ll begin to catch certain faults live. Soon peers will wonder how you were able to see the things no one else could.
Trial and Error
There’s a lot to be said about trial and error in training. The main thing is to try it, whatever “it” may be. However, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Try new things but more specifically, watch the athlete’s reaction. Making a change and trying something is useless without paying attention to the feedback. A trainer’s ego should be left outside the gym for one main reason: everyone is different and what works for one may not work for another. As such, a trainer’s way can’t be the only way each and every time. The response an athlete has to a change in technique is more important than the correction itself. Comfort outweighs textbook any day. If a trainer makes a correction that doesn’t work for the athlete, then it’s not the right fit. Try another correction, then another, and yet another. Frustration may set in, but it’s okay. It’s part of training and a part of trial and error. The trainer will either reach the proper correction or run out of options. In which case, the detached ego will allow them to consult with someone more experienced. All of us know an Oly coach who we can reach out to for guidance. Many are very accessible, you’re reading an article by one right now.
I’m very comfortable with my approach to Oly training, both for the specialized lifter and the CrossFitter. I understand it’s not the only approach, and I encourage those I train to consult with other Oly coaches. I’m only one source. The more coaches learn, the more they’ll discover the common denominators and find their own approach.
Being honest as a coach will build trust. That rapport will develop loyalty and you as a coach will be able to keep that athlete long enough to see their progress, changes, and ultimately their proficiency in the Oly lifts. It’s gratifying to correct someone’s technique but it’s riveting to take them from scratch to perfection. The vision that can be developed with that one person alone will carry over to future clients and athletes.
So coaches, don’t be afraid to try every trick in the book until you find the right answer. While doing so, pay close attention to the reaction those tricks cause; they will guide you and fine tune your eye.
Developing the right eye is just one aspect of becoming a great coach. No matter how much training a coach has, it’s the experience and the eye that will set them apart from the rest.