Molding Your Athlete’s Brain

Just like every athlete’s mind operates differently, every coach operates differently. Even though athletes naturally possess free will, a coach can still have a significant impact on the mentality of their athletes. Depending on how early in their career an athlete starts with a coach, the athlete may experience a complete change in how they mentally approach lifting and even their general attitude towards the world.

Let’s take a few minutes to dissect the way I coach my team as a whole, and various members of my team.

I personally don’t believe in being a cheerleader for my athletes. I feel that positive reinforcement is necessary, but giving overly high praise for easy lifts can set up the athlete for bouts of depression if a high % lift is missed, possibly ruining the rest of their workout because they continue to dwell on it. Building up an athlete’s confidence to an unnecessary high level can leave them in a negative mindset for the rest of the day. (High highs = low lows)

My athletes would tell you that I believe in “less is more” when it comes to dialogue between lifts. As stated in a previous article, the average athlete can hear about 7 syllables before they either start to glaze over, or over-analyze their lift and ruin it (paralysis by analysis). You can listen in some of the training videos for my cues (generally 1-4 words). These are cues we discuss when we aren’t lifting so they know what I mean when I say them. Telling an athlete to “Use their hips” on a jerk is meaningless unless you have previously discussed what that is supposed to mean.

I was recently criticized by a recreational exerciser that I focus too much on teaching technique (sorry?) and I should instead focus on teaching them how to just muscle the weight up. That mentality possibly explains why he is a recreational exerciser because without a proper baseline of form/technique, you are strengthening your weaknesses.

I am not a form Nazi, but I do believe that a slower introduction to lifts with proper form will take an athlete farther than jumping in headfirst and muscling the weight up. Not only will that not work in a competition (press-outs on snatch/C&J, and hitching on deadlifts, for example) it will also cause the athlete to have start back at square one anyway.

On certain days where we test maxes, I will offer cash incentives for lifters who PR ($1 per pound) and this can serve as a great motivator and inspire a little competition between the athletes. Especially in a sport like Olympic lifting where there are no real prize incentives in the sport itself. External motivators occasionally are a good thing, although I am of the opinion that constantly adding an external motivator will detract from the athletes personal goals of PR’ing for its own sake.

Every athlete is different, and should be approached and coached differently. Anna responds to coaching differently than Zach or Jordan, and the cues and feedback must be changed as necessary. Some require lots of feedback; some will listen to what you say but won’t even reply because they are so focused.

In closing, I consider it important to spend about 50% of my time offering short, positive feedback (not cheerleading), 45% of my time ignoring the small things that will just take time and practice to iron out, and 5% of my time offering negative reinforcement. I don’t do it to punish the athlete or attack their person, but when all else fails, sometimes it can be necessary.

A coach can be one of the greatest influence on an athletes approach to Weightlifting, and sometimes the relationship just won’t work out, or it isn’t what is best for the team. Keep the team mojo up!

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