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Coach Shopping, Dropping, and Hopping Your Way to Mediocrity

There are certain types of behavior in competitive weightlifters that reflect attitudes and habits most coaches recognize as predictive of eventual success in the sport: consistency; low emotional volatility; work ethic; patience; ability to tolerate pain and boredom; commitment to the coach and the program. Conversely, there are behaviors predictive of failure or a career-ending stall. A breakdown in the relationship between coach and athlete that causes the athlete to leave is a solid predictor of the decline or end of a weightlifting career.

There are several reasons weightlifters leave their coach. Short of emotional or physical abuse, most of them reflect, to some degree, a loss of faith in the coach’s ability to keep adding kilos to the athlete’s total. Like any relationship, the coach-athlete relationship needs to be a healthy one to be productive. Also like any relationship, there are ups and downs. When problems aren’t worked out or talked about openly and honestly, athletes may start quietly shopping around for another coach, consider dropping their coach and training without one, or begin the nearly-always-disastrous process of hopping from coach to coach.

I’ve had several athletes leave my club for another coach or no coach at all. I bore no animus toward them (with a notable exception or two) and wished them well. Sadly, not one so far has had more success with another coach or on their own. Some dropped out of weightlifting competition entirely, the rest failed to make much or any more progress. Their expectation that a change in coach would lead to renewed or faster progress was an attractive distraction from the self examination and honesty required to surmount often self-constructed obstacles.

There are no perfect coaches or perfect programs, just as there are no perfect athletes. Problems that affect progress are constantly being worked out by coaches and between coaches an athletes. Problems are not a bug in the program, they are an unavoidable feature. In fact, this problem-solving, cooperative approach to programming is the only way progress is made beyond the beginner stage. Some things will work and some won’t. Coach and athlete adjust and try again. They keep what maintains progress and discard what does not. This process requires constant and honest communication between coach and athlete. Without this frank and ongoing discussion, the coach-athlete relationships is certain to break down, progress end, and results in the athlete leaving the coach. It does not end well for anyone, but especially the athlete.

Before you leave your coach, ask yourself if you’ve been honest with yourself about problems that have stopped your progress. Have you been honest with your coach about your concerns? Have you tried to pin down which problems are yours to fix, which are your coach’s, and things neither you nor your coach can control? Talking to your coach and trying to work through problems together, no matter how difficult, will always be more likely to renew or maintain progress than leaving for another coach or no coach at all. Your coach will appreciate it and you’ll be a more successful lifter for it.

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