Articles




When It Might Be Time To NOT Trust Your Weightlifting Coach
Matt Foreman

God, even the title of this article gives me the heebie-jeebies.  I'm a weightlifting coach, you see. That means I expect my athletes to trust me, all the way. When they trust me, we soar through the air with exhilaration and success. When they don't trust me, the plane crashes into the side of a mountain and everybody dies.
 
So the thought of suggesting that there are moments when athletes shouldn't trust their coaches... yeah, that's a little spooky to me.
 
However, I've also been an athlete for a very long time, so I understand both sides of this dynamic. From the time I was 13 years old until I was around 32, I had coaches who played a huge part in my life. Some of them were good, a couple were great, and a few of them probably shouldn't have even been coaching.
 
Did I trust my coaches? Yeah, I did. But they were all different situations. I trusted many of them to develop me properly as an athlete, but that was as far as the relationship went. I trusted a couple of them with my entire future because it was the right time in my life and they were the right people. And I trusted a few of them for a little while... until they did things that made me lose all faith in them and jump ship. 
 
By the way, trusting people isn't my strongest quality in general. I'm a little suspicious by nature, for better or worse. So when I decide to trust somebody, it's a pretty big deal. I imagine many of you can relate.
 
You have to remember one thing... deep down inside, athletes WANT to trust their coaches. Don't let anybody tell you any different. People have an internal desire to follow strong leadership, until the day comes when they’re ready to become the leaders themselves. If you’re a coach, you can be certain your people want to believe in you.
 
So, back to the title of this article. Are there times when athletes should NOT trust their weightlifting coaches? Yeah, I think there might be a few. Here’s a list:
 
When the coach is treating the athlete like garbage: Just because somebody is in a position of authority over you, they don’t have a free pass to treat you like trash. And I’m not talking about a coach being strict, demanding, and stern with you. That’s their job, and it’ll be good for you if they’re that way. I’m talking about if your coach has an overall attitude of disrespect, abuse, or rudeness. You don’t have to put up with that, because that coach doesn’t have your best interest at heart. They wouldn’t be acting like that if they really cared about making you a better athlete. If they’re crappy to you, it’s because they’ve got dysfunctional personalities and you’re just a paycheck to them. You don’t want somebody like that in your life. There are lots of other coaches out there who would love to work with you and they’ll give you a great experience through support and enthusiasm. Go find one.
 
Note: If you suspect you’re being treated poorly, make sure it’s not just you being a little beeotch before you pack your bags.
 
 
When the coach clearly isn’t qualified to take you where you want to go: I think it’s smart for athletes to take a look at their coach’s past experience and track record. Ask yourself the right questions:
 
  • What kind of background does this coach have in the sport?
  • Has this coach accomplished anything significant?
  • What do other athletes say about this coach?
  • Has this coach been to the level I want to go? Or have they taken anybody else to that level?
  • What is my gut instinct about this coach?
 
(Make sure you’re careful with that last one. I saw a great John Cusack movie where he said, “I’ve been listening to my gut since I was 14, and I’ve come to the conclusion that my gut has shit for brains.”)
 
Note: It’s possible for a person with minimal weightlifting experience to be a good coach. It’s extraordinarily rare, but possible. And there are plenty of World Champions out there who couldn’t coach their way out of a wet paper bag with their hands on fire.
 
 
If the coach is a complete train wreck: Listen, you might find a situation where you’ve got coaches who care about you, work hard, and actually have some accomplishment on their record… but they’re still Wacky McWackerson. They’re disorganized, they can barely manage their own personal lives, they’re inconsistent and undependable, maybe a little crazy, etc. Make up your own mind how many training sessions you want to piss away because the person who’s supposed to be guiding you through them has the life habits of Jeff Lebowski.
 
Note: Have a certain level of understanding for people who go through rough patches in life, including coaches. We all have them. Just be wary if the rough patches last 15 years.
 
 
And there might be a few other reasons why you need to seriously question your coach, but I don’t think there are too many of them. If you’ve got a coach who’s a proven expert, likes you, cares about you, and has the skills to take you a long way… you probably need to pull your head out of your butthole and just trust them. This is especially true if you’re in a situation where your coach has years and years of successful production, and you’re an intermediate lifter with a list of accomplishments you could fit on the back of a postage stamp. They know a lot more than you about how to get good at this stuff, you know? If they tell you something, you should probably listen.
 
When I was writing this article, I showed it to a very successful coach I know, and she added the following thoughts. I’ll paraphrase her words because I don’t want to take credit for her ideas:
 
“This is a tough topic because you see two extremes in this generation: 1) Athletes who stick with coaches when they shouldn’t because they have low self-confidence and lean towards dysfunction in their lives, and there are more bad coaches out there now than ever. 2) Athletes who have no loyalty at all and think they’re experts after two months in the sport.”
 
Very true, and this definitely is a tough topic. I don’t have answers for everything, just ideas. Give them some thought. And if you try all these things and you’ve still got a wonky relationship with your coach, try prancing around in the forest with them singing This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius! Why the hell do you think Greg Everett moved his whole gym up to the woods in Oregon?

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Matt Foreman is the football and track & field coach at Mountain View High School in Phoenix, AZ. A competitive weightliter for twenty years, Foreman is a four-time National Championship bronze medalist, two-time American Open silver medalist, three-time American Open bronze medalist, two-time National Collegiate Champion, 2004 US Olympic Trials competitor, 2000 World University Championship Team USA competitor, and Arizona and Washington state record-holder. He was also First Team All-Region high school football player, lettered in high school wrestling and track, a high school national powerlifting champion, and a Scottish Highland Games competitor. Foreman has coached multiple regional, state, and national champions in track & field, powerlifting, and weightlifting, and was an assistant coach on 5A Arizona state runner-up football and track teams. He is the author of the books Olympic Weightlifting for Masters: Training at 30, 40, 50 & Beyond and Bones of Iron: Collected Articles on the Life of the Strength Athlete.


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1 Comments
Katherine Derbyshire 2016-09-20
A subset of the "treating athletes like garbage" group: if the coach says or implies that doing sexual or other favors for the coach will have any impact whatsoever on the athlete's success. Run. Run far far away.
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