Coach Hatch

July 06, 2015, 12:53 p.m. (ET)

Completing the Circle

By Ryan Lucas

The latest curve in the long, rounded line of Gayle Hatch’s legacy is about to meet the point from which it began.

Like the creation of a perfect geometric sphere, on July 10, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the world’s leading expert organization in the field, will honor Hatch with the Alvin Roy Award for Career Achievement.

Six decades ago, Hatch’s illustrious career as a weightlifting and strength and conditioning coach started under the auspices of the NSCA award’s namesake, who is considered one of a few select trailblazers in the strength and conditioning movement.

“It’s like completing a 60-year circle,” Hatch (Baton Rouge, La.), 76, one of the most decorated weightlifting and strength and conditioning coaches in the United States and founder of the renowned Hatch System, said. “I mean, if someone had told me I’d receive an award from the NSCA and not have it be the Alvin Roy, then I’d be thrilled to death, but for me to get the Alvin Roy Career Achievement Award, it’s almost like a movie script.”

The first act of Roy’s and Hatch’s legendary pairing began in Louisiana in 1955, when Hatch, then a standout prep athlete, trained under Roy’s tutelage. Working alongside Billy Cannon, Louisiana State University’s lone Heisman Trophy winner, and several members of LSU’s first national championship football team, Hatch and Roy cemented a bond that lasted until the latter’s passing in 1979.

Roy, who in the 1960s helped break down national barriers of resistance to weight training in athletics, later becoming the first strength and conditioning coach in National Football League (NFL) history, charged his star pupil in those early years with the energy and savvy necessary to later spread the benefits of Olympic weightlifting across the country.

“When Alvin got ready to sell his club in 1979, he told the group of owners that if they wanted to keep the strength and conditioning program going, then they should talk to Gayle Hatch,” Hatch, a member of the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame and head coach of the men’s U.S. lifting team at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, said. “They talked to me, and I ended up becoming the manager and strength coach, and I also added Olympic weightlifting to the program, which was the first Olympic-style weightlifting program in a commercial gym.”

Using the techniques his longtime guide had developed, Hatch forged an inimitable system for strength and conditioning. Over the years, he cauterized many of his own ideas to the well-known method, refining a system that he’s passed to his countless protégés, several of whom have led the strength and conditioning programs for eight National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) football teams that won Bowl Championship Series (BCS) titles.

“They call it the Hatch System, and it’s made up of Olympic lifts and their connected exercises, plus some basic strength movements and plyometrics,” he said. “Out of 15 years of the BCS, I had my protégés win eight national championships using the Hatch System. So that success in strength and conditioning and Olympic weightlifting combined is what got me this award, I think.”

Hatch’s ring of influence also reaches to the National Basketball Association (NBA) and major NCAA men’s and women’s basketball programs. But his authority in Olympic weightlifting, however, communicates with the loudest volume.

For decades, many people in all realms of athletics ignored or rebuked the benefits of weight training and Olympic-style lifting. Steadfast in their approach to coaching, Roy and Hatch, among others, were the gurus who eroded that misperception.

“It was just a stigma,” Hatch said. “When coaches back in those days started learning about it they didn’t really know how to teach the proper techniques of the snatch and the clean & jerk, so it took time for them to learn, too.

“I can remember coaches coming to Alvin Roy’s place in Baton Rouge and seeking his knowledge and having him show them how to teach the lifts correctly and how to put them in a program.”

If he could talk to Roy today, Hatch said he’d thank his mentor again for all that insight, but then he’d let the Hatch System’s myriad feats take over with the speaking.

“It’s just amazing. If Alvin could come back today and look up at the walls where we now train to see the 54 national championships that our junior and senior teams have won, to see the posters of our four weightlifting Olympians on the wall, I’m sure he’d be quite proud,” Hatch said. “Without Alvin Roy, I wouldn’t be a weightlifting coach or a strength coach today. He was my mentor, and I owe him so much.”

Roy also relayed to Hatch the importance of a hands-on style in coaching. In turn, Hatch has infused that wisdom in his innumerable coaching students and athletes.

“One of the first things I teach a coach, whether he’s a weightlifting coach or a strength and conditioning coach, is that you’ve got to stay in the eye of the storm,” he said. “You cannot be sitting in your office and trying to sell vitamins or something, with the program written on the wall out in the gym, and expect to get any results whatsoever; you have word to do out on the platform: supervising, teaching, motivating and making corrections.

“My protégés know that if I show up at their offices, and they’re on their phones or something while guys are out there training on the platform, I’m going to chew their butts out.”

Beyond his tenets of discipline and structure in the weight room, manipulation of volume and intensity in cycles, constant learning with new information—and toiling through all the accompanying sweat and pain, setbacks and successes—Hatch has also strived over the last 60 years to spotlight a canon of morality, both in sports and in life.

“While I’m developing talent, my goal is also to teach these young men and women about values and responsibilities and try to prepare them for the world,” he said. “After they reach their success as athletes, I want them to go out and be productive citizens and try to give back in some sort of way.

“If I’m going to be remembered in some sort of way, I want to be remembered as a good family man, a good coach and a good citizen.”

“Coach Hatch is very well deserving of the NSCA Alvin Roy Award,” NSCA President Dr. Steve Fleck said. “With his history as an Olympic weightlifting coach and as a coach of other athletes, he has had an outstanding career.”

As the NSCA award suggests, Hatch is—and always will be, much like Roy—noted as one of the greatest leaders in Olympic-style weightlifting and strength and conditioning for a multitude of reasons.