When people start they often have a great hesitation to immediately compete, which is fair – we always want to see our clients do well.
What we also need to understand is that if a client can reach the minimum standard for each competition lift and they have the desire to compete long term then desensitizing them to the competition environment is a crucial element of their development.
It is not your role as coach to be gatekeeper, but rather provide the guidance necessary to see the best possible result for your client/athlete at the time.
They don’t need to ‘earn the right’ to compete, they simply need to be prepared.
There are undoubtedly lifters that do better in high pressure environments, but in my experience as a coach they are few and far between or have simply been lifting for a long enough time that they now know how to channel anxiety into energy.
When most lifters start out, they place an immense amount of pressure on themselves to do well, to win, and to set obscenely huge records in their very first meet.
If you are capable of actually doing this, then kudos to you – you’re a part of a very exclusive club.
This pressure often leads lifters to make numerous mistakes such as opening too heavy, pushing too hard for a PR without evenly pacing their energy throughout the day or simply placing too much expectation on their lifts & performance to the point where they find themselves unable to relax into the meet.
The biggest focus as a coach must be on how replicable the competition experience can be for your lifter.
Does their first experience need to feel like a do-or-die situation?
The evidence says no.
As I have referred to in previous posts, while winning is great it’s still a relative term – the true win for the client in the first 1-4 meets is executing the training plan at the highest possible level to string together 9/9 attempts at each meet.
Winning creates the habit of winning; through the development of this habit we are then able to create the conditions under which a lifter’s optimal performance is more controlled and quantified.
You need to explain to your client that there will always be more meets and that this is simply a prelude to future success.
The more specific the stimulus, the more specific the adaptation.
When you compete, it’s about more than showing up and doing your lifts.
You need to get used to the flow of the day:
All of these factors and more contribute to your overall success on the day, or when poorly controlled will send your nerves absolutely sky-rocketing as you stress & pace all of your energy away.
The only way to understand the minutiae of these details is to compete more often, including your own experience as a coach – you need to compete regularly in order to guide your own lifters through this process, have a sound understanding of the rules and expectations and what the lived experience of your athlete is each time they approach a competition setting.
Moving outside of the environment, the skill of competing and stringing together 9 heavy attempts across three disciplines over a matter of hours is an essential skill that simply cannot be replicated in training due to the sensitive nature of peak-performance.
Whilst you can provide lifters with test days and program squat, bench and deadlift volumes to get a fair approximation of what their performance will LIKELY be, the only thing that will tell you what it ACTUALLY IS is the competition floor.
Programming for powerlifting athletes should be no different to programming for any other athlete – strength athletes should regularly be practicing the precise action that is required of them.
This is not to say that a 1RM should be attempted every week or that singles at high RPEs should be given regularly, but certainly that lower rep ranges at a variety of intensities should be used in programming to simulate competition environments and the relative skill required of hitting a heavy lift.
When we are able to combine that expression of skill with the calmness that develops from regular competition, then we start to see exponentially more success.
Perspective is a wonderful thing, and a fairly necessary one when it comes to strength training.
When we confine ourselves to the echo-chamber, it can be easy to begin thinking that we are training at a much higher intensity than our competitors and rivals – we have an innate ability to make strawmen of others whilst simultaneously making ironmen of ourselves.
This will only come from competition.
One of the many hesitations that newer competitors and even intermediates have is that there is a very real possibility that they may train as hard as they feel they can, they may prepare as well as they are able, and still show up on the day and lose.
This is competition. This is powerlifting. This is life. This is reality.
If you compete enough times, you are going to lose. You are going to have a bad day. You are going to have calls go against you. You are going to feel treated unfairly.
And you will be better for it.
Understand that in choosing a competition for yourself, there is no one single competition that will suddenly tie everything together for you – success itself is not a destination but rather the growing distance between two points.
Competing only on the promise that you win is to not compete at all.
It sets an unachievably high obstacle to competition.
By excluding yourself from losing you also completely eliminate the likelihood of ever winning.
The most essential piece of information here that carries across all three points is that you must compete for yourself.
Competition is not the result. It isn’t the end product or the goal.
Competition represents a moment in time and a snapshot of your progress that should be utilised to drive your training forward, to clarify where you currently stand and what needs to be addressed in order to see you continue to improve and grow.
It’s not a do or die situation; there will always be more competitions, so take the pressure off and start giving yourself permission to actually enjoy your training, enjoy the environment and see where you can grow long term with a different approach.