What does joy look like to you? To me, my gym time is just one of the many things that bring me joy. The gym is not only the place to release the stresses of the day, it has also been my “playground” to focus on getting better at weightlifting. I usually get to the gym before the crowd of evening classes, and I am usually the only one in the weightlifting room. I turn on my classical music playlist (don’t judge me), and lift for the next 90-120 minutes. Yes, this is joy.
I have been focusing on weightlifting the last 6 months, and I decided to test myself and signed up for a competition (took place last month). And at the meet, I soon realized that despite the months of focused training, I was still unprepared for competition day, mainly because it wasn’t JUST about making the lifts. I learned the value of a coach in this sport of weightlifting. The role of the coach is KEY to the athlete’s success on the platform.
Two weeks later, I joined the coach’s team whom I met at that competition, in part because he was local, but also because he has a great reputation in this sport. I knew that if I truly wanted to increase my competitive edge as a weightlifter, I needed to train with a good coach and a good team.
Since then, I have been reflecting on the dynamics and interrelatedness of the roles between coach and athlete, and in my overall experience and observations, the relationship can be described as a “love-hate” relationship. If you are a coach and/or athlete, I am sure you understand. To explain, I identified some key roles of each that I have observed most recently and over my own years of coaching.
Key roles of a coach:
- Make the athlete uncomfortable. Coaches typically have expertise in a specific area – a skill or sport – and they know how to help you improve in that particular area. They have a process – a training regimen – that will probably make you very uncomfortable most of the time. I know that from day one, my coach pointed out several of the bad habits that inhibited my lifts. I knew some of them, but I struggled in connecting them with the other movements, or know how to correct them. Each week the training program focuses on learning a drill to help minimize these habits. And each week I find myself doing very uncomfortable drills. It can be very frustrating because I don’t always get it right, or I resort back to my bad habits. I will say that I am better at identifying when I do them, and can correct them much earlier.
- Envision the athlete’s full potential. Exceptional coaches can envision an athlete’s full potential. Many coaches go through the motions of coaching – they will cheer, cue, and correct the athlete. But not all coaches can envision the full potential of an athlete, and then also consistently push them to that potential (back to #1). I believe that this ability comes with experience and coaching diverse athletes. As an athlete, I want to know what the coach thinks, and will simply ask them, “What do you think I can do?” It may take a coach some time to get an honest assessment because part of what goes into this equation has to do with how the coach views the athlete’s coachability and their willingness to push themselves (more below).
- Eliminate distractions on game day. Coaches are true enablers. On game day, they enable the athlete to focus on what they need to do. It is the coach who works behind the scenes to ensure all the unnecessary distractions and stress is eliminated for the athlete — from the warm up to managing the clock — in weightlifting, someone needs to ensure the athlete’s numbers gets to the right people and they also get adequate rest time between lifts. As with many sports, I am sure weightlifting is not the only one, but there is a whole other “game” (i.e. strategy) that the coaches play, and I was completely unaware of t until I observed it at competition. [I am so grateful for the kindness and willingness of coach Phil Sabatini to take me under his wing that day.]
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list but merely some key roles I look for in a coach and try to emulate as a coach. As the athlete, I put my trust in the coach and their process to get me where I want to be. Ultimately, it is up to you — the athlete — to set your goals, then to reach them. Oh, and do what the coach tells you to do (this includes follow the programming)!
Roles of the athlete:
- Get comfortable being uncomfortable. If you want to get better at anything, you MUST go beyond your comfort zone. Yes, it’s cliché but true. It will probably require you to do some unlearning, so that you can relearn it. For me, I had to unlearn cues, “weight in the heels” and “drop under the bar” in order to correct some bad habits I developed. Relearn with cues, “use the whole foot” and “pull under the bar.” It may seem like just a change in lexicon, but if you can make your body do it what its told, then it will make a world of difference! It is not comfortable at first, and much like developing the bad habits, doing the corrective drills over time will also develop the muscle memory needed to correct it. So get comfortable being uncomfortable!
- Push your limits. All too often we hold ourselves back and we will never know our 100% level of effort. This goes for almost every area in life, but I definitely witness it in the gym. Here are just a few reasons: 1) I don’t want to injure myself; 2) that’s going to hurt; and 3) what if I fail? Few of us push ourselves any further than we absolutely have to even reach our limit, let alone pushing past it! It is NOT comfortable! Yes, you might actually get hurt or injured if you go for a record… As an athlete, you need to come to grips going for it and possibly failing. Yes, that risk, it might be painful… lifting heavy weight does not feel good, even with all the right mechanics, especially the next day or two later. Your body will feel it. I am NOT saying to go all out on every workout every day, but I do recommend establishing your limits once in awhile. Do you know your pain threshold? Have you really tried to push past it? You can use competition day to test yourself, but don’t let that be the only time you test yourself. Competitions aren’t for everybody, but everyone should know their limits.
- Game day is YOUR day to shine. No matter how much the coach and your team is key to your success, it still comes down to you. All your hard work and progress will be revealed on this day. In weightlifting, the performance is literally on a platform under the spotlight. The pressure is on! Your sole job is calm your nerves and clear your head. Visualize your success. Then go out there and execute. Afterwards, get feedback from your coach – know what you need to do next and/or what you did wrong. And at the end of the day… CELEBRATE …both your wins and failures. Game day is your day to shine no matter if you win or lose, get on the podium, or set any records. Celebrate and own it!
I began this post describing what joy looked like and weightlifting is just one instance for me. I truly enjoy the activity, and it is a skill/sport in which I know I can excel. Joy is the outcome. The process of the getting to that state is hard and uncomfortable, and not always enjoyable.
It seems counterintuitive that the path to joy is a path of difficulty, uncertainty, and doing things that make you uncomfortable or vulnerable. However, if I really think about it, the things that have brought me the most joy are those where I had to fight for it, it was not easy, and there were a lot of mistakes and failures along the way.
So, throughout 2019, I am making JOY worth the struggle.
- What does joy look like to you?
- Is it worth the potential struggle?
- When was the last time you deliberately did something that made you uncomfortable?