Coaching athletes at competition can be a rewarding, exciting, challenging task for a coach. Weightlifting meets are no different, often requiring a large amount of pre-planning, adaptation, and communication between athletes and coaches. While preparing for our last weightlifting meet, I scoured the internet for the best tips and strategies to help coaches facilitate optimal success and minimize stress on meet day. Being a competitor myself, I knew what to expect from an athlete’s perspective; however, coaching was a whole new challenge.
Below are 10 tips and strategies I found helpful as I coached (I also competed) 6 of my athletes, 5 of which were first-timers in our last weightlifting meet.
1. Adapt to Everything
This is a golden rule that I have learned the hard way. No matter how well we plan for an event, there will always be factors that lie outside our control that we must do our best to foresee and react. The last meet we attended, athletes attempts went by load on bar rather than by weight classes, which was a critical component that affected start times, warm-ups, and the flow of my coaching. As a coach, you need to expect the worst, and have a plan of attack and options to help your athletes perform at their best, regardless of the situation.
2. Connect Athletes With One Another
Having athletes who help one another through the grueling peaking weeks, down sessions, and excitement of competition can have a great affect on the mentality of a lifter. When you connect lifters to one another, either during training sessions or through group chats, you create a sense of belonging and accountability that can keep people training hard and staying committed for the meet preparation and beyond.
3. Plan Transportation, Meals, and Hydration
Coaches need to plan the travel logistics out to minimize the stress of traveling for their athletes. Organizing car pools and/or transit schedules and departure times (trains, subways, airfare, etc) will ensure that everyone is on the same page come meet day.
Additionally, coaches need to offer insight and even lists food and beverage to bring to meet (either provide for athletes or organize that they bring their own) so that malnutrition is not a factor during the meet. Coming prepared will allow athletes and coaches to rehydrate and consume enough calories post weight-ins and throughout the day to best optimize performance.
4. Brief Athletes on Meet Logistics
A few days before the meet I suggest you email your athletes with the specifics regarding the meet day logistics to alleviate any unnecessary stress about factors that are controllable. For example:
- Departure Times: Transit schedules, car pools, and driving directions.
- Weigh-Ins: Start times, what documentation (ID and USAW member number), and tips to make weight.
- Start Times: Cover the layout of the day and share with your lifters time frames of when they can expect to lift.
- Brief Overview of the Day: This doesn’t need to be a novel, however a general overview of what to expect, time tables, and last-minute announcements can help to get your team on the same page and be mentally prepared for meet day.
- Sample Food List: Provide your athletes with a cheat sheet of foods/beverages to bring to have throughout the meet day. Malnutrition can greatly impact performance. Coaches need to make sure their athletes are well-fed and nourished for optimal performance.
- Gear List: Nothing is worse than realizing you forgot to bring your weightlifting shoes, belt, or lucky pair of wrist wraps.
- Meet openers, Attempts, and Goals: I ask my athletes to shoot me an email the week of the meet with the meet numbers they would plan and want to hit. By doing that, coaches can compare their athletes expectations/confidence with what they (coaches) see for their athletes. Then, I like putting it into an excel sheet, share it with my other coaches, and print copies for our athletes and myself to have while warming up.
- Motivational Videos: I love sharing motivational videos and content the week of the meet. I find it helps them stay focused on successful lifts, uplifting moments, and keeps the positive energy of a successful lift on the mind of the athlete. Coaches should be advised to minimize sending coaching tips and videos right before the meet, as that may mentally do more harm than good for their athletes so close to competition. Let them compete with a clear, confident mind.
5. Bring Simple Sugars
The brain and muscles function almost entirely off of glucose through weightlifting meets (and training). The additional stress from high intensity lifts and long training days (meets can take multiple hours) can cause havoc in athletes mental and physical performance. Simple sugars with electrolytes, such as; Gatorade, bananas, raisins, sugary candy, and other foods that have high GI values should be consumed before, during, and after warm-ups, attempts, and snatch/clean & jerk sessions to maximize performance.
6. Understand Lifting Orders
Planning warm-ups is a stressful task during a weightlifting meet. Prior to a session, coaches need to look over the lifting orders and the attempts to best calculate an approximate time of when to start warming up lifters. Athletes who are last in a session of 20 lifters often will not start warm-ups until the session has already begun, while lifters who are first should start warming up 20-30 minutes prior to the start time.
In my experience, I usually count 60-90 seconds/attempt. For example, if an athlete is the 8th lifter in the order, with 7 of the 10 athletes most likely performing all three attempts below my lifters opening weight, I can bank about 20-30 minutes until (21 attempts x 90 seconds) my athlete takes their first attempt. Monitoring your athletes warm-up attempts and the flow of the event is tricky, but this often helps me start of on the correct foot.
7. Pre-Plan Warm-Up Attempts
This information can be collected in the briefing emails or discussions with your athletes. I often allow my athletes to take 5-8 lifting attempts during warm-ups (60-95% of 1RM) before hitting the platform. Often, the same loading ladder from heavy single training done weeks before in the peaking program are used as an outline. Here’s a sample snatch warm-up routine that I used at my last meet:
- Opening Attempt: 110kg (1st, 2nd, and 3rd Attempts at 110kg – 113kg – 116kg PR)
- Unloaded Barbell Snatch-Warm-Up
- Power Snatch + Overhead Squat + Snatch 2×1+1+1 @40-50% of opener
- Snatch 1×2 @60% of opener
- Snatch 1×2 @65% of opener
- Snatch 1×1 @70% of opener
- Snatch 1×1 @80% of opener
- Snatch 1×1 @85% of opener
- Snatch 1×1 @90% of opener
- Snatch 1×1 @92-95% of opener
- OPTIONAL Snatch 1×1 @95-99% of opener
8. Be Aware of Nerves and Anxiety
Last meet I brought 7 lifters with me, 5 of them competing for the first time. As a coach, we need to recognize pre-competition jitters vs. lack of confidence and anxiety. Some athletes will train confidently only to show up at meets self-conscious and anxious, while others will be born for competition. Coaches need to discuss with athletes all scenarios and possibilities (both good and bad) and develop a feedback system to use throughout competition to better serve their athletes. I prefer establishing that trust with my athletes leading up to competition and in training by simulating the meet stress with a “mock meet” a few weeks prior which allows athletes to experience a taste of the real deal.
9. Know Your Athletes Numbers and Goals
If you are coaching multiple athletes, it may be helpful to write down their numbers, training maxes, and expectations for the meet. I found it very useful to have a “reference sheet” to use when calculating attempts. Competition can be stressful as a coach is you are unprepared, so having your athletes best lifts, training maxes, and competition info at you disposal will make your decisions much easier while “on the clock”.
10. Don’t Over-Coach
This is a hard one to remember at times. During meet day, warm-ups, and attempts, minimize excessive usage of coaching cues and corrections. The goal of you their is to minimize stress of an athlete, add useful reassuring cues and insight, and let the lifter lift. Over coaching athletes during competition can slow mental cognition, reaction time, potentially have a detrimental affect on performance.
These 10 tips are useful strategies that I have come to adopt and refine as I gain more experience coaching athletes at weightlifting meets. As a coach, you know your athletes better than anyone else, so trust your gut and listen to your athletes to develop the best individualize strategy for your athletes at that specific point in time.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
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