USAPL Coaching Primer
by Alex Galant and Larry Maile
Copyright 2000, Alex Galant and Larry Maile
We wrote this article for those who are planning to coach at the national or international level. While these strategies have been developed through or experience of nearly 20 IPF World Championships between us, they are directly applicable to coaching individuals and teams at National Championships, which use IPF rules, and to a lesser degree, to State and local level meets. These may use IPF rules or not, but will still involve preparing the lifter or lifters for the individual lifts, managing numbers, and determining strategy to maximize each participant's performance.
Before the meet:
Probably the most important piece of knowledge before you get to the meet is summed up in the statement, "How did your training for this meet go?" We each use coaching systems in which the lifter logs important information, such as repetitions on the competition lifts, weight used, and your bodyweight when you did those lifts. It is also important to know what level of gear you were using, i.e. loose, tight, competition fit, etc. Most lifters decrease repetitions, while increasing weight. Knowing how much you increase with decreasing reps allows us to generally gauge what your strength curve is doing, or put more simply, how fast you are gaining strength. Comparing this with your body weight gives us some idea of how much strength you lose as you lose body weight. Some lifters are fortunate in that they tend to retain a higher level of strength with weight loss. Others have a predictable, and often linear decrease in strength with every pound lost.
Meet with each lifter individually, or in small groups based on their lifting day/flights, and go over all their lifts planned for this competition. For those new to this level of competition, we both recommend lower openers than they took at the meet qualifying them for this championship. Even a very seasoned competitor is a rookie when they are at their first Nationals or Worlds. A 5-10% decrease should allow them to get a comfortable opener, and it is VERY important to be comfortable after the first lift. Get their ideas about possible second and third attempts at this time. You will not have time to discuss it during the meet. We both get a high and low attempt, and ask the lifter's permission to call the next attempt based on this information, and our judgment of how the last lift looked. Prepare them for one or two words of discussion at most, such as, "here's what you put down. Higher, lower, or the same Also, find out how long (minutes) they like to rest before their opener and how long it takes (minutes) for them to warm-up, and how long it takes to put on their gear. For most lifters coming to an IPF style meet, with the exception of the squat, they will not have sufficient time to take all the warm-ups they are used to. Find out where you can cut warmups if you need to. For those who use very tight gear, the time left for warming up decreases. At some meets, they may have not much more than 10 between squat and bench, and bench and deadlift to change gear and warm up.
When you arrive at the meet, have your lifters check their weight on the meet scale. The rules say it should be available at least 24 hours before the competition begins. Knowing what weight your lifter is at when he or she arrives will guide when and how much they will be able to eat and drink before they weigh in. The average lifter can lose 1 � lbs. the night before the meet. Most lifters who are over weight stop drinking water between three and six p.m. for a morning weigh in.
Ideally, these should happen before the after all the team members have gotten in, and before the lifting starts. The afternoon before the Technical Meeting is usually a good time. This is when you should get commitments from team members about availability to help with warm-ups, wrapping lifters, working the scoring table, etc. The monitoring of the scorer's table, and following the progress of the meet is vitally important. This will be discussed in some detail below. The team meeting is also a good time to give an overview of the competition, offer any words of encouragement, and clearly define what behavior is not acceptable or which will get the team in trouble. The veterans usually have good input and their comments will go a long way toward making the new lifters feel comfortable.
The Technical Meeting:
All international meets include a technical meeting, which is where any changes of time table for the meet, changes of classes, and where each coach/country officially declares which lifters are present for the meet. Most coaches try to attend, but some are unable due to late arrival time, airline delays, etc. You must assume that the lifters nominated from countries that are not present will attend. They may still enter the meet until their weigh in is completed.
National meets generally do not include a technical meeting, but the same information, lifters, timetable, etc., is available from the meet director. You may ask for a list of lifters entered in the meet prior to weigh in, and those who showed up after the weigh in. This last information is called a "start list," and should be available to coaches from the scorer's table shortly after the close of the weigh in for a given class. You must go and get it. No one will give it to you. At this time, the final determination on flights and which lifters are in them, will be made public.
Be at the technical meeting 15-20 minutes early, so that you can get all the paperwork. You may also have a chance to pay lifter and participation fees before the meeting starts and avoid the line after the meeting. The current fees at IPF meets are 45 Deutsch (German) Marks (DEM) for participation, and 30 DEM for doping control, or 75 DEM per lifter. Always pay in Deutsch Marks even if the General Secretary allows you to pay in U.S. dollars, because the exchange rate is generally favorable, and because you will have to pay an exchange rate surcharge if the IPF officials have to exchange it to deposit in their bank account.
Pay close attention during the Technical Meeting, including taking notes on changes. These most important changes for you are any changes in weigh in time, and changes of weight class of lifters other than yours. This will allow you some insight into strategies of the other coaches, and let you know the strong and weak classes. You may choose to move a lifter who is close to the weight class limit into a weak class, to maximize scoring potential. But, keep in mind that other coaches are thinking the same thing.
Also, remember, not all the numbers submitted on nominations are correct. Some lifters and coaches submit number that they wished they had done. Some put in lifts that are lower than they are capable of to "lull the competition to sleep." It is best to focus on what you do know, and what your lifters are capable of. At some meets, and now with the availability of the nominations on the internet, your lifters may have access to the prospective lifts of their competition. You must assure them that this data is only general.
How to handle nominations numbers:
Most lifters want to try and project how they are going to do in the competition. Nominations are laid out just as the competition results will be. The important difference, as discussed above, is that the numbers are projections, and not always accurate. They do not reflect how the lifters will do actually do at this meet. At IPF meets, the numbers submitted are the lifter's best at national or international competition in the past year. They are not checked for accuracy, however. Many coaches submit their lifters best lifts, ever, and sometimes the numbers submitted are just for impact. They are consistent with the coach's strategy. Reassure the lifters that the numbers are not generally predictive of this competition. What is important is how they lift tomorrow. Also have them keep in mind that U.S. lifters tend to move up in the competition from where their nominated totals placed them.
Weigh-in and equipment check:
Weigh in and equipment check occur two hours before lifting is scheduled to start. At some competitions, there may be early or continuous equipment check. If available, lifters should try to have their gear checked before the weigh in starts. There are several reasons for this. Perhaps the most important is that if a lifter opts to check gear and his or her name is called to weigh in, they will be passed over if they are not present. Lifters who do not come when called into the weigh in room must go to the end of the line. If it is a large class, that may be an hour or more, leaving little time for rest, rehydration, and warmup.
As a coach, you must remind the lifters that they must present their passport during both equipment check and weigh in. If they do not have it, they must get it. In the U.S., proof if identity may be by driver's license or birth certificate, or, if lucky, the person weighing you in may know you. Don't count on it, and in international competition, you must have your passport even if they do know you. Lifters must have available every article they intend to wear on the platform. This may include undergarments, although all referees do not check it. Following gear check, the items which haven't been checked should be taken out of the lifter's gear bag. If equipment which hasn't been approved is used on the platform, the lift will not be counted, and the lifter may be disqualified from the competition.
Coaches should go to the weigh in early, to ascertain the order of weighing in, and to precede the lifters who are participating. This is a good time to assess the lifter's level of confidence or nervousness and gives you a chance to start to intervene, either to calm them or assure them that you both understand their lifting plan. The lifter, or coach, will be asked to submit opening attempts. Make sure these are the ones you have agreed on and either you or the lifter will sign both attempts and body weight, as reflected on the scale, are correct. The officials should give you the attempt cards at this time. If not, ask for them. Do not lose the attempt cards. You may not get any more. Have the lifter fill out his or her name, weight class (in kilograms), and country, and get them back. Do not lose the attempt cards. If you are able to get extra packets of attempt cards, do so, in case you lose them.
After the weigh in:
As soon as the lifter completes weigh in and equipment check, have him or her go to the warmup area and begin resting and rehydrating. Lifters prone to nervousness will probably want to walk around. They may be called to set squat rack and bench rack heights. This, and trips to the restroom are all the pacing they should do.
Most of the lifters we have worked with have some particular food/fluid regimen they follow. It is generally agreed that potassium, sodium, and easily digestible carbohydrates are most helpful in preparing the lifter to perform. Heavy foods, and those high in fat tend not to be digested completely and may detract from the lifter's performance. Overeating may prove irritating to the stomach if the lifter has been restricting food and/or fluids prior to weigh in.
Either you, or someone whom you trust should watch the lifters' warming up. If the lifter is struggling, you must discuss lowering openers. A missed opener decreases the possibility that later attempts will be made, and robs the lifter of confidence. Make sure your lifter completes his or her opener easily. We don't recommend lying to a lifter if he or she is not getting down, pausing long enough, or locking out. Some lifters may insist that they always warm up with poor form. Unless they are someone you know well, and who is a seasoned competitor, make sure they warm up in proper form. While we don't recommend making adjustments to technique this late, if the lifter is unable to perform correctly, do whatever is necessary. Be especially careful of brand new suits/shirts. They often keep the lifter from lifting properly.
Always keep track of the time until the competition. If you have to change an opener, you must do it either five minutes before the announced start time (if lifting is not occurring) or five lifts before your lifter's flight starts. If you miss these important deadlines, you may not change his or her opener. Nothing is more heartbreaking than having a lifter have to take an attempt that neither you or the lifter believe he or she can get. Pay attention.
How much is too much warming up?
Both of our philosophies include minimal warming up. Perhaps that is because both of us are OLD, but is also based on our experience that most lifters tend to use too much energy preparing, leaving an insufficient amount for performing. National and international competitions are very intense affairs, and when following IPF rules, may proceed very quickly. If your lifter is in a small class, he or she may have a total of 1 � hours from the first squat to final deadlift. This commonly happens to those in the lighter and heavier weight classes. Excessive warming up can make this, functionally, an hour and a half aerobic workout. Most powerlifters have not developed that level of conditioning. Because of this, we recommend warm-ups that are sufficient to prevent injury and no more. Both of us, and the lifters we prepare for competition, do triples or below in warmup sets. We do fewer than five sets, and stop well short of our opening attempt. Again, the focus is on making preparing the muscles to lift the opening weight, rather than mimicking a gym workout.
Your meet staff:
One of the most important people on the coaching staff is the person who keeps track of the overall lifting, and who monitors the scorer's table. This person has several important tasks. These include: watching the lifter cards so that you know when the lifter is up; observing for any changes in the order; and, monitoring any changes of attempt (on the final attempt of deadlift in a three lift meet, and the final attempt of bench in a bench press meet). It is very important that you communicate with you table person so that you understand what he or she means. "Three out" may either mean the lifter is up third, or that there are three in front of him. Be clear what your signals mean before the competition. Your table person may also keep running totals for lifters who are close in ability to the one(s) you are coaching. This is less important during the squat and bench, but vital for strategic positioning in the deadlift. This person must have an eye for detail and be able to keep track of multiple lifters.
Another person who is responsible for your lifter's success is the person wrapping and doing "hands on" of your lifter. This person will be responsible for preparing the lifter's gear to go on the platform. You and he or she must communicate about when to start wrapping and when the lifter is going to be up. Generally, there is too much noise and confusion in the backstage area for the hands on coach to hear the announcer, so you will be responsible for making sure they have enough information to have the lifter ready on time.
Both of us believe that if a lifter misses an attempt, the same weight should be taken over. In national and international competition, every kilo toward total makes a difference. Going up when an attempt is unsuccessful increases the possibility that the lifter will miss it, even if the prior attempt looks easy. You must keep in mind that if the lifter misses his or her opener, and goes up and misses the next attempt, the chances of making a third attempt to stay in the meet decreases significantly. In IPF style competition, very few lifters are able to make a third attempt after missing the first two. Energy level decreases through the attempts when things are not going right, and greater concentration is necessary to make adjustments to technique with succeeding attempts.
More attempts are better:
It is a truism that lifters who make more successful attempts do better. Consider this when advising lifters about attempts. Be aware of the lifter's energy level. It may be better to make a smaller jump to allow completed attempts and more weight forward to the total, than to make bigger jumps and miss the attempt. A missed attempt is always harder, both physically and mentally, than a successful one.
One factor that impacts this is the lifters state of mind. Many lifters, especially those used to coaching themselves, will worry over their placing and what their competitors are doing. In IPF style competition, this is usually counterproductive. Under no circumstances should a lifter try to go to the table to "see where he is." It is physically exhausting and more often than not, the information gained will not be an accurate reflection of the intangibles of the competition, such as how the other lifters "look," what they have been capable of in the past, who goes before whom, and what weight changes are upcoming on the bar. Most lifters will do better focusing on their performance, and not others'. That is your job.
Working with difficult lifters:
The suggestions above work with most lifters. Unfortunately, you will encounter some competitors who do not accept your coaching advice. Both of us strongly believe that you can't coach the uncoachable. Some lifters need to fail at their own strategy to begin to accept yours. Also unfortunately, these same individuals will probably be the one's to blame you for poor performance. While it is not usually appropriate to argue with them about what happened, neither is it appropriate for you to accept abuse. Straightforward feedback about your view of what happened should suffice. After that, leave it alone. Also keep in mind you might be coaching them again next year!
The 60 second rule:
There are really three places where time is important to you as a coach. The first the 60 allowance to begin the lift after the bar has been called "ready." That means that the lifter must get the "squat" signal in the squat, the "start" signal in the bench, and make a genuine effort to lift the bar in the deadlift. The lifter should be ready to approach the platform as soon as his or her name is called. If they are not, and accept the bar with little time left, they will not have time to make adjustments, or to replace the bar if it is not positioned correctly.
The second time-related rule that occasionally causes lifters difficulty is the allowance of 30 seconds to leave the platform. Long delays can result in disqualification, but are really most problematical for you as you try to get their next attempt in. Under no circumstances should the lifter remain on the platform to question or argue with the referees over a call. This is grounds for immediate disqualification. If you see a situation like this developing, call the lifter back to you. You may not go on the platform to get the lifter, however, unless an injury has occurred and the meet is suspended.
The final situation in which time is important to you is in getting the lifter's next attempt in within 60 of the completion of the last lift. The attempt card must be turned in to the scorer's table within this period or the next attempt if forfeited. If a lift is forfeited because the attempt was not submitted in time, the 60 period starts for the succeeding lift immediately. Many lifters have lost both their second and third attempts by not getting the second attempt in in time.
A final comment: When you get to third attempts in the deadlift, you will want to consider adjusting the lifter's final attempt to affect his or her placing in the competition. Keep in mind that you will probably not have adequate time to figure strategy prior submitting the third attempt. Rather than risk losing the attempt, it is far better to submit the attempt you have previously agreed on. You will still have two changes of the final attempt to maneuver for position.
While it would be desirable to keep the placement of all lifters in mind at all times, this is often not realistic. In a large competition, and especially those in which many competitors are evenly matched, there may be many more lifters vying for medals in each lift than you can adequately keep track of. Keep in mind that while individual medals are nice, it is overall placing that most helps the team and the lifter. Both of us enter a meet with some prior knowledge of the lifters from other countries that our competitors will be facing. Other than periodic checks to see if they are performing as we expected, we don't follow them closely. We definitely do not pick attempts in the squat and bench press based on what others are doing. Rather, we try to maximize our competitor's performance. That is, get the most out of them that we can. After the bench press, we check subtotals and deadlift openers. The real strategy, however, comes after the second deadlifts have been completed. You may make adjustments to the third deadlift two times, and should do so based on what the other lifters have submitted. This is where your table person is priceless. He or she should keep running totals based on deadlift attempts submitted, so that you know what attempt to select for your lifter. At the same time, you must gauge the condition of your lifter so that you know what they are capable of doing. Both of us ask lifters how much they can do it they have to. We will go up to that weight, if necessary, to allow the lifter to place as high as he or she can.
Protests and coaching demeanor:
Never, never, never lose you composure. Sometimes calls go your way and sometimes they do not. You do not have the right to protest what is a judgement call on the part of the referee, i.e. as in a depth call in the squat. You may protest wrong interpretations of the rules or mistakes by the table, loading the bar, or on the part of the spotter/loaders. All protests must be addressed to the jury. IPF rules state that a protest must be accompanied by a $100 fee. If your protest is upheld, the $100 is returned to you. If not, you have made a donation to the IPF. While this rule is not always enforced, it may be, depending on how many protests are being submitted and whether they have merit.
Feedback on the nature of an infraction in a failed attempt is most easily gotten from the paddles that each referee has. If you are not familiar with this system, ask the jury for a handout which explains it. Do not approach the referee to for an explanation. While this has been acceptable in domestic competition, especially those where a jury is not available, it is not tolerated in under IPF rules.
Finally, behave appropriately and courteously to all officials, coaches, and other lifters. Failure to do so may get you ejected from the meet. If you refuse to leave, the whole team may be withdrawn. While this rarely happens, the rules allow it. Stay in control.
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