Back in the 1980’s one of my most diligent athletes was Mike Regnier, who was not only lifting but working on a neuroscience Ph.D at the same time. In spite of the heavy time demands, Mike rarely missed training sessions. One day he brought his then girlfriend Julie to hang out in the weight room while he trained. Julie, who would later marry Mike, had been a fairly serious tennis player and so was familiar with the athletic environment.
After the training session I struck up a conversation with Julie as I am always interested in first impressions of weightlifting. Julie responded with an unusual answer. She had noticed the etiquette with which lifters conducted themselves during the training session.
The avoidance of interfering with other lifters’ sight lines while lifting, the sharing of plates, the loading protocols and the orderly rotation of athletes on a platform were the things that resonated with her as she had come from a sport with a well structured code of behavior.
Fast forward to last weekend’s California State Games where I coached 10 athletes, and the reminiscence of Julie’s observations came to mind.
We are currently experiencing the largest influx of outsiders into U.S. weightlifting that I’ve seen during my 50 year involvement in the sport. Last weekend we had something like 91 competitors for a two-day event and many of them had never lifted in a meet before, and in some cases their coaches had never attended a weightlifting competition. Unfortunately these newbies were not as astute as Julie.
These first timers and their attendant friends and supporters had absolutely no notion that there might be an accepted code of behavior for competitors, coaches and spectators. In the past new lifters “grew up” in the sport with some sense of propriety as to acceptable conduct (By “acceptable” I’m referring to behavioral practices that facilitate performance). Apparently this is no longer the case.
It’s common practice for a team or a friendly group of lifters to set up a platform in the warm-up room with the plates that they would be needing to properly warm-up. I tried to do this with my lifters, but quite frequently the plates that we had laid out were removed by ill-mannered newbies without so much as asking permission or even notifying us. I’m hoping that the Olympic coverage will show some footage from backstage so that viewers might notice that real weightlifters don’t engage in such boorish behavior.
Some newbies are intent on re-writing warm-up protocol and perform sets of multiple reps in the warm-up and end up monopolizing the equipment when warm-up timing is critical. Of course, all that their warm-up does is fatigue them so that an optimal performance cannot be achieved. Smart.
Some lifters have “posses” that have to follow them from warm-up room to the staging area adjacent to the competition platform and back. They crowd the area so that on deck lifters have difficulty accessing the platform. There is a one lifter, one coach protocol that is followed at many meets I’ve attended (like the world championships).
Some fans, team mates, family members and others cannot figure out that there is a reason for coaches to access the expediting cards at the announcer’s table so they gather behind the table inhibiting access. Expediting cards are critical to the proper timing of the warm-up. Of course, if you are a barbarian coach and have no idea how to time a warm-up, you have no need for the cards.
Some coaches, who know very little in the first place, may have all their lifters competing in one session and when that session ends, they pack up their teams and leave. Even though the younger lifters could benefit from watching the top lifters, and the coaches could learn a lot about platform coaching by watching more experienced coaches, they are narcissistic enough to believe that their participation in the meet was the only important event. Furthermore it is disrespectful to the more accomplished lifters and coaches.
Some coaches loudly and consistently shout out coaching clichés from the side of the platform that are of little relevance to the performance of the lifter. They are obviously trying to impress naïve onlookers. Their behavior is not discourteous, but it is boorish. It is also quite off-putting to the cognoscenti.
This has prompted me to put some thought into including a short session in each clinic or course in which I am instructing that covers the various aspects of competition etiquette. I’m urging other instructors to do so as well, and will probably bring it up as a topic at the USAW coaches meeting next month in Colorado Springs.
Until next time, if you’re in a weightlifting audience, put your phone on “vibrate”.
This article was first published by Takano Athletics