By: Julianna King & Savannah Kaminski
What is the most important thing when hiring a powerlifting coach?
Is it the programming?
Is it the support system?
Is it the money?
Is it the guidance?
When it comes to a coach-athlete relationship, every duo is going to be different. People begin looking for coaches for several different reasons. Not everyone is going to be lucky and find their perfect fit on the first go. Even if they do, that coach may not work for them forever. This is something that a lot of athletes don’t realize.
To a lot of people, a coach-athlete dynamic may seem very transactional. It’s someone you pay to give you a program so you don’t have to think in the gym. In reality, it is a lot bigger than that. When you hire a coach, you are opening up a new relationship in your life. It’s a relationship that relies on trust, communication, and consistency.
Whether online or in person – the coach you pick needs to be someone you can trust. It needs to be someone who you can communicate with through not only the good lifts but also the bad. The coach you choose should be one that you respect, so you don’t roll your eyes if they tell you that your squats are too high. This establishment of respect and trust works in the opposite direction too – coaches need to have athletes that they feel best represent their character. For example, if an athlete is disrespectful to judges after getting red lights on a lift, those actions often reflect back on the coach and what they stand for.
In the powerlifting world, coaches are not hard to find. There are coaches willing to program for as little as $15 to as much as $500 a month. Of course, the quality you are getting may be a little different, but the point is that there is something for everyone out there. You just need to find the dynamic that works best for you.
Powerlifting is a sport that you can easily enter into and be self-coached. It is no secret though – having a coach is heavily encouraged (and I promise that’s not just because I am in the coaching world). A coach can often make or break your feelings on the sport. Powerlifting is no exception to that. This is why in a world full of easily accessible coaches, it is important to know how to find the right one.
So how exactly do you go about making sure a coach is right for you?
The first step as either a coach or an athlete is to take a step back and decide what qualities you think are important. As an athlete, think about why you are looking for a coach in the first place. Do you feel lost in the gym and need direction from someone? Do you feel alone in the gym and need a support system? Or maybe you are afraid of hurting yourself and just want someone to make sure you are doing everything right? Do you simply want to take your training to the next level? Whatever the reason I’m sure deep down there is a big one that stands out from the others. This is a big thing to consider when you start looking for a coach. Coaches often niche down in terms of the demographic they work with or what they market themselves on. Looking for a coach that markets to what your wants and needs are will help support a compatible relationship before you even reach out.
After you take the time to decide what’s important to you, here are the three things to look at to make sure you and your coach are going to be compatible. Jowett & Cockerill (2003) encompass the key portions of a coach-athlete relationship.
- Closeness: the emotional connection between the coach and athlete – trust, respect, and gratitude are the types of things that help to build closeness in the relationship
- Commitment: the intention of the coach and/or athlete to maintain the relationship they’ve created long-term.
- Complementarity: cooperative and effective interactions between the coach and athlete – being responsive during training and being friendly each highlight a positive complementarity.
The first thing to look at is closeness. How someone finds their coach varies from person to person. Some people turn to online and find well-known coaches on the internet. This has its pros and cons. For example, these coaches have tried and trued programming that is known to work, but on the other hand, they may have a lot of athletes on their roster, so they may not have much time to invest in the relationship beyond the bare minimum. Others may just know a friend or significant other that offers coaching and may jump on that offer. This could save a lot of money for some and be convenient, but it can be hard to draw the line between friendship and professionalism. The line can be blurry and often friendships can take a hit if lifts aren’t going well or someone isn’t fully listening.
Closeness is critical to every coach-client relationship and it’s important that trust and respect remain intact throughout the entire coach-athlete relationship. No matter the circumstances if you have a good stable base of these qualities, it’s a good sign that you may have a good coach. Outside life affects lifting and vice versa, so often as an athlete, you are going to find yourself telling more to your coach than you would have imagined. This communication is important though, because big life events can determine things like lifting schedules, competition schedules, and lifting capabilities (check out our blog here on that!). You need that foundation to make sure that you can trust your coach with this information.
The next thing to think about is commitment. Finding the right coach-athlete relationship is important but sometimes you need to give these things time.
Commitment is something that can be improved and grown over time. One cannot expect to develop a trusting and cooperative relationship without ever talking to someone. It takes time and effort to develop this positive relationship.
From a coaching perspective, this looks like investing in communication with the athlete. Taking the time to ask about how they’re doing, what they enjoy, etc. Providing support while also giving feedback. Executing things when promised or aiming to have all properly set up for them for the week. Understanding what is important to that particular athlete and how you can better support them. This may look like adapting the programming to fit certain needs an athlete may have. It may be showing up for them whenever you can in any form you can. It may look like taking the time to reconfigure form and be there to talk them through all the ups and downs that come with being a long-term lifter. It’s important to show that you are willing to invest time in them for them to invest in you.
From an athlete’s perspective, this looks like having regular communication. Uploading all videos and comments about the week so that the coach can respond. Trusting what your coach is doing and following the program helps eliminate potential riffs in communications too. This may mean trusting in your coach even if they are doing things differently than you are used to. They may see something you don’t see. You have to remember you hired them for a reason. It looks like being able to communicate when you feel things are or are not working. Putting your best forward in communication will only help to enable the coach’s own support for you.
With my own clients, I recognize that everyone makes mistakes, we all give in to pressure sometimes, and ultimately things happen. But at the end of the day, I aim to give my best to my clients and expect the same from them.
The third and final thing to look for is complementarity. At the end of the day, powerlifting brings in a lot of different characters. As human beings, it’s just a fact that you may not mesh well with everyone. The first step of deciding what is important to you is so critical for this reason. You may start working with a coach and notice you often just don’t see eye to eye. There are going to be coaches that offer more hype than others and for some lifters that can make all the difference when meet day comes around. There are going to be coaches with views on lifting you may not agree on. There are coaches that bring forward more modern techniques of lifting and some that are still very old school. These are all preferences that are going to vary from athlete to athlete but can make or break that athlete’s success.
It is also important to realize that we grow both as human beings and as athletes. The things we like to do during lifts are going to adapt and change. The programming we need may adapt and change and as hard as it can be – it is possible to outgrow a coach. This doesn’t mean anything negative about the coach or the athlete, it can just mean that a change of pace is needed, and its time to move to the next thing that better aligns with the goals of the athlete and the coach.
There is a lot more to the coach-athlete dynamic than one would think when they originally sign up. Some may think it is just commenting on a video or writing down exercises and sending them over, but since life plays a tremendous role and individuals are all so different, that means your relationship with your coach is one that will play a vital role in your success as an athlete.
References: Jowett, S., & Cockerill, I.M. (2003). Olympic medallists’ perspective of the athlete-coach relationship. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 4(4), 313–331. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1469-0292(02)00011-0