You’re in the gym or on the platform, and you’re setting up for a big lift. You’ve been hunting this one for a long time, and you’ve thought about it all week. Your warm ups moved well, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to lift that bar. I mean, your warm ups felt alright. Mostly good. Maybe a little heavy today. You probably should have slept a little better last night. Pretty hungry at the moment too. Man, that’s a lot of weight. Feeling a bit shaky. Maybe you could go sneak in another coffee. You should’ve brought snacks. Why didn’t you bring snacks? Maybe you should wait another day for when you’re feeling better.
And so on it goes ad infinitum.
I think that as a coach it is important to foster an environment of self-belief and self-actualization in your lifters, but simply being able to picture a positive outcome rarely does enough to actually achieve that outcome. There has to be a series of steps in place that we are able to take athletes through in order to reconcile a positive mindset with reality, and in my opinion that can only come from their experience under a bar with heavier loads.
In this article I will expand on these ideas of why I think a positive mindset is important and how implementing evidence & structure around your lifter’s performances will begin to establish a replicable system of success
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs describes the process by which we move ourselves from our most base needs to our most exalted or transcendent actions. It’s something that I have used for years in assessing my lifters for competency and where their potential roadblocks to success may be. The key understanding here is that one cannot progress up the pyramid until the foundation preceding it has been created and maintained. Furthermore, moving up the list of needs is rarely as linear as the model implies, and most people will find them regularly moving up and down one or two levels, and sometimes taking a good slide all the way down the outer edge of that pyramid and ending up at square one. If you’re curious at all, you can also look at the Transtheoretical Model of Behaviour Change, though for the sake of aesthetics and ease of explanation I am going to go with this one.
Understand that lifters, like all people, are highly complex emotional beings that also have undeniable physical requirements that must be satisfied in order to see them progress. You cannot simply treat someone as an emotional being, or a physical being; you must reconcile both in order to see the best results, and this takes time and patience on behalf of the coach
Desire to become the most that one can beEsteem
Respect, self-esteem, status, recognition, strength, freedomLove and Belonging
Friendship, intimacy, family, sense of connectionSafety Needs
Personal security, employment, resources, health, propertyPhysiological Needs
Air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing, reproduction
Also see: things we all need to survive.
You must first address, and then constantly re-address, the needs of your lifters and make sure that they physically feel safe and have a sense of security in their dealings with you and in their life at large. A failure to satisfy this in your capacity as a coach is, in my opinion, the cardinal sin of training. Yes, I also understand that we can only operate within our professional scope as coaches and I am not sitting here trying to argue that you need to take care of everything for everyone; rather what I am advocating for here is that we as coaches must recognise that in our professional capacity we still have a large scope of influence over creating a sense of physical safety and providing psychological & emotional structure for our lifters.
TYPICALLY however, most people that are in a position to employ you as their coach will likely have a base level of physiological needs satisfied, though I think the idea of ‘shelter’ is a little more complex than implied in this model and will be something we jump into in a short moment.
This means that one of your largest priorities when starting with someone new, or working with anyone for any period of time, must be providing security needs – personal security, health, a sense of belonging and worth.
The first step in creating this is to have a uniform approach to your lifters. Not robotic or devoid of emotional connection, but simply uniform. All of your clients and lifters are treated with the same regard and worth, and these values are clearly communicated, indicated and displayed by you so that the lifter can always have an understanding of what the expectations for their behaviour are. You cannot fly off the handle at them one day, and be Mr. Cool the next. There has to be a large amount of competency and consistency in how you communicate to your lifters, and through this will begin to develop a sense of personal & psychological security which then creates a sense of esteem and bonding.
Resist the urge to reply when you are emotional or annoyed
Yes, you get annoyed with lifters/clients sometimes, and no, you will almost NEVER give a good response when you are in this sort of state
Clearly identify & express what your core values are as a coach and how that relates to the people you work with
Spend enough time on identifying the critical behaviours and values that are important to you. Once you have these, take the time to be able to express them to the people that you work with
You must embody and act with these values in mind
Take your role as their coach with some degree of gravity. It’s an important job, and you need to be mindful of how you speak, which includes not only how you communicate to your lifters privately via feedback, but how you interact with others personally and over platforms such as social media
It’s important that we identify what constitutes psychological safety so that we can also identify the things that harm, damage or destroy this. We know that without this sense of consistency and dependability that creates community we will never be able to progress to higher-order thinking & therefore increased capacity for performance in all aspects of the lifters life. This is what also makes identifying core values, behaviours and critical drivers incredibly important because it creates a sense of transparency and accountability
This, as if it needs to be said, is honestly a key aspect of why my business and coaching system is called Ethos Strength. Integrity is everything as a coach because this is how you begin to model behaviours to the people around you, and they begin to understand that they will find physical and psychological safety with you. I guarantee you that understanding these core concepts will make you a better communicator and coach – there are far too many coaches in the industry that feel it acceptable to simply treat their clients as objects, or deem it acceptable to swear, harrass or otherwise demean them in the name of ‘fun’ without realising the impact of the behaviours that they exhibit, and it is my intention that by writing this article you become informed enough to develop a deeper understanding of the needs of the people that you work with so that you can create lasting, radically powerful belief systems.