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Coaching New Lifters

Updated: May 14, 2020

Every coach loves when a new athlete enters the gym eager to learn the sport of Olympic Weightlifting. You immediately see their passion for the sport with each demonstration and explanation of the lift. Sometimes all of that energy can be overwhelming and intense for a new athlete. When I first started coaching new athletes, I would catch myself talking a mile a minute. In an effort to share my knowledge, I would start an explanation and then run-off into a tangent that wasn’t needed at that moment. The movements of the snatch and clean and jerk are complicated enough without veering off the rails and trying to ramble everything you know into a five-minute synopsis before the athlete even touches a bar.

Once the athlete begins to understand the basic ideas behind the movement, then you can begin to step-in and give deeper explanations about the sport as a whole. A couple of things that are important for new lifters to understand is the amount of time it takes to improve and master Olympic Weightlifting, the cues that their coach generally uses and an understanding of what they mean, or why the weight on the bar is “light” yet still difficult to do.

One of the toughest things to explain to a new lifter is the amount of time it takes to develop any sort of proficiency or true understanding of Olympic Weightlifting. Coaches should help their athlete understand that nothing about the lifts will EVER be PERFECT, especially when they are just starting out. I got my USAW Level-1 certification in 2014 and began training with Phil in July of 2015. Prior to having Phil as my coach, I knew what the snatch and clean and jerk were at their most basic level. In reality, I had no clue what I was doing. It wasn’t until I began working with these lifts four times a week and absorbing all the information, I was being given in the hopes of applying it to my own lifting that I felt semi-competent to coach someone else. I will often joke with new lifters that it took me two years to actually feel like I knew how to snatch.

If you don't believe me, the snatch on the left was three weeks into training, and the snatch on the right was last spring.

A lot of new lifters experience is the distress of not being perfect or successful after just a month of training. They often get frustrated that not every single rep feels the same or that one fixed correction will cause another one to be incorrect as their mind continues to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. The feeling of discouragement can overcome them and will only cause the rest of the training session to be a disaster. It is necessary for coaches to remind them that sometimes they just need to stop thinking and just lift. As a new weightlifter, sometimes you just have to let your body work things out on its own. No one rep will ever feel the same or be perfect until you have well over 1,000 reps in your body, and even then, perfection is unrealistic. It is the responsibility of the coach to reiterate that when they see their athlete growing more and more impatient with themselves. The athletes who survive the grind of stagnant PRs and the training sessions that bury you mentally and physically are the ones who will eventually come out on the other side of the tunnel with success and growth in the sport. The first few months of training for a new lifter are vital to see what kind of athlete you are working with and if they will be able to maintain the emotional rollercoaster that Olympic Weightlifting can often be.

The best way to overcome some of this new lifter anxiety is to create goals for each training session. Take one of the flaws your athlete has in the lift you are training that day and only focus on that one correction. For example, if the athlete gets back into their heels as the bar crosses the knees then the only goal for the day is for them to stay mid-foot throughout the entire push until they transition onto the toes in triple extension. Regardless of what else happens in the lift, that is the sole focus for the day. If they do that correctly, continue to reinforce it. Do not immediately jump onto the next correction until that fix is consistent. Often times the more repetitions that are performed correctly using that one cue will lead to other adjustments in the lift. That’s the beauty of weightlifting, for as technical as the lifts are, they are that way for a reason. The purpose of each moment or position within the lift allows for the next phase to be successful. Don’t try to give your athletes five different things to think about at one time, because not only will you get frustrated, but they will too.

When first learning the sport of weightlifting, the amount of weight on the bar isn’t even close to the athlete’s true strength potential. The focus should be on proper form and technique. The last thing they should be worried about is whether or not they can move the weight on the bar; they are trying to apply countless cues and instructions to hopefully grasp the movement and apply at least one cue correctly, on top of a new feeling of fatigue. It is imperative for a coach to be selective with the cues they provide to their athletes and to help them understand that when you are just starting out, no one gives a shit how much weight is on the bar if the technique is atrocious.

It can sometimes be difficult to empathize with them, but we were all new lifters at one point or another. Don’t just write off their concerns as unimportant or irrelevant. Take the time to explain to them why they are feeling more tried than usual or why they can’t have their maximum weight on the bar every training session. We want our athletes to find success within the lift and do so without berating themselves after every repetition. The sooner they understand that we don’t expect perfection they will begin to release some of their internal pressure. The greatest part of this sport is that perfection is forever being chased, but just like in life will never be reached. It takes a specific type of person to appreciate the angst within that idea and continue to push through to get as close to that ideology as possible. LIVE TO LIFT ANOTHER DAY!

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