This past weekend I had the chance to sit and spectate at several sessions of the USAW National Championships. I was sitting with former colleague, Dr. Charles Scott, the author of the Ask the Doctor column in International Olympic Lifter magazine. While reminiscing we commented on the lifting taking place. I normally go to meets and spend my time coaching, but this time I had the luxury of just being able to spectate.
I couldn’t help but watch the coaches as they came out with their athletes. I observed the reactions to the lifts whether successes or failures.
One thing that I find irritating is the tendency to always high-five or congratulate no matter the outcome of the lift. Unless a lift is executed nearly perfectly, the athlete needs and wants feedback to make the next attempt better. A successful lift is not necessarily executed perfectly. There are errors that may be exacerbated with a slightly heavier weight and those errors need to be addressed with appropriate instruction, not a high five. This is even more true for failed attempts. Furthermore after each first or second attempt, the athlete’s psyche needs to be re-directed toward the next attempt. I can watch a coach’s behavior after a lift and determine whether or not he or she is experienced and staying on task.
Some coaches stare at the athlete with a blank look after a failure. The athlete needs to know what correction to make. The coach needs to tell them.
Other coaches will immediately address the situation and this can be observed by paying attention to the gestures and expressions. A postural change might signal the athlete to keep the back straight. A raised elbow could reinforce the top portion of the pull. Plantar flexion of the ankles and hip extension can emphasize a completion of the pull. No matter what the correction cue is, some advice must be provided.
On other occasions the athlete might have let the mind drift at a critical point in the lift, and the job of the coach is to emphasize mental focus.
By the end of a session I could tell which coaches had been athletes before, which understood the function of their role in the process and which ones were just standing there because they knew that that was the apparent function of a coach.
Now if I am coaching against another coach, I pay attention to many of these body language signs as they provide me with some concept of their strategy or the lack thereof. If we are contending for placings I know that the deciding factor could well be the capacity to keep the athlete focused and aware of creeping technical errors.