I want to tell you a little story about something that happened in my weightlifting career a long time ago. I can apply it to every single one of you and it’ll help you make your own careers better, so you better friggin read it.
I bombed out of the American Open two years in a row, 1994 and 1995. Not too many people know that. Those of you in the US lifting community know about the Open. For those of you who are overseas and don’t know about the American weightlifting scene, it’s the second most prestigious meet in the country after the National Championship.
My two bombouts happened when I was 22-23 years old, which was a time when I was expecting to have a lot of success. I had made a big impact on the national scene in 1993 with silver medals at the University Nationals and American Open. I was supposed to be establishing myself as a top competitor, which made those two bombouts sting even worse. And on top of the personal disappointment of it, I was lifting for one of the top teams in the United States and we needed everybody to score points. My bombs punched a big hole in our team scores.
Long story short… this was one of the worst time periods of my life as an athlete.
Fast forward to now. I went to the 2015 American Open last week as a coach. There were 955 lifters competing in this meet, which made it the biggest contest in US history. And you know what? Of these 955 athletes, there were 105 bombouts. In other words, 105 lifters trained their asses off all year, devoted themselves to hard work and sacrifice, spent a lot of money to travel to this meet and compete under the spotlights… and they walked away with the worst result you can have in weightlifting. Complete disappointment. Failure. Misery. Pain.
So I’ve been thinking about these poor suckers, and I have a few thoughts.
I don’t know most of the people who bombed at this meet, but I’ve been around thousands of weightlifters over the last 25 years and I’ve learned a few things. One of them is this… some athletes go into competition with a I just hope I don’t bomb out mentality. Hell, I’ve even had a few lifters openly say this to me before game day. In other words, they’re not thinking about succeeding. They’re thinking about trying not to fail.
Let me tell you something right now. There’s a pretty big difference in the ways you use your body and mind when you’re thinking about trying not to fail instead of thinking about being successful. One of those mentalities makes you aggressive. The other one makes you cautious. Now you tell me… if an aggressive weightlifter competes against a cautious weightlifter, who do you think is going to win?
As I said, I don’t know the people who bombed at last week’s meet, so I don’t know how closely this applies to any of them. But this ain’t my first day at the rodeo, so I’m willing to bet my buttmajigger there were at least a few people who fit this description.
That was my first thought about the bombouts at the Open. Here’s my second one.
Listen, bad performances can happen sometimes when you’re pushing the limits of your physical ability. Most of the best weightlifters in the world have bombed out at some point. Or maybe we’re not talking about a bombout. Maybe we’re just talking about a lousy 2/6 or 3/6 day.
When you have a bad performance, you should be pissed off. Pissed off… but not discouraged. Pissed off is okay. It makes you want to fight back, which is a good quality for an athlete. Discouraged is not okay. It makes you want to quit trying.
In the big picture of your weightlifting career, bad performances are good for your development because they make you want revenge. They make you a little meaner and nastier. And there’s nothing better than a weightlifter with a nasty streak inside. You don’t want to turn into an insufferable jackass that everybody hates. That’s not good. Outwardly, your attitude towards the people around you should always be cool and positive. But inwardly, where you prepare your heart for your performance, it's a good thing to have a chip on your shoulder.
The most perfect mentality a weightlifter can have is a combination of relaxation, confidence, and a desire for vengeance. You’ve had failures. You’ve been kicked in the teeth. And now you’re ready. You believe in yourself, you know it’s going to happen the way you want it to happen, and you can’t wait to get your hands on that barbell and make it pay for what it did to you.
That was my second thought about the bad performances at the Open. Here’s my third one.
After I bombed at the 1995 American Open, I walked out of the building into the parking lot. I was so disgusted and pissed at myself, I took my weightlifting shoes off and threw them over a fence into a field. I think it was supposed to be a symbolic act that I was finished, something like that. And after I tossed my shoes, I turned around and saw my dad standing behind me. He had followed me out into the parking lot. He didn’t say anything to me. He just walked around the fence, picked up my shoes, walked back, and handed them to me. That’s all. Without speaking a word, he was telling me to pull myself together and go back to work.
So I did. And after those two bombouts, I came back and medaled in four more American Opens. Bronze in 1997 and 1998, silver in 2003, bronze in 2004 at the age of 32. I was one of the top competitors at that meet for over ten years.
My final thought is this. When you’re around weightlifters who have bad performances, help them out the way my dad helped me. Support them. Do something encouraging, even if they’re too disgusted to acknowledge it. We’re all in this thing together, and there are times when we all need a little help from our friends. It’s the right thing to do, and it’ll come back around to you eventually.
And when the bad days happen to you (and they will), just pick up your shoes and go back to work.