Jobs and Responsibilities of Coach and Athlete

by Matt Foreman

Have you ever played a team sport where your coach yelled at you? Many of you probably come from some kind of athletic background, but I wonder how many of you have played football, basketball, baseball, or something else where the occasional locker room ass-ripping from your coach was a part of the routine.

I was a football player, so I’ve had plenty of these. My coaches were all older men with that hard-edged nastiness to them, the kind of stuff you see when you watch football movies and the coach is some rowdy veteran with a southern accent who gets in players’ face masks and screams. I’ve had coaches blow up at me in practice, games, etc. Back when I was a kid, coaches could still grab you and rough you up. One of them threw a football full speed at my head (I had my helmet on) from about ten feet away once, just because I was doing a drill incorrectly.

Culture was different back then, and physical punishment wasn’t off-limits as it is now. This stuff always happened after some kind of mistake or screw up. When I was playing in one of my first varsity games as a junior, I blew it on an important play and my coach yelled at me from the sideline, “FOREMAN!!! DO YOUR DAMN JOB!!!”

People like to talk about jobs and responsibilities a lot. Being a weightlifter or weightlifting coach is a lot different from football in many ways, but one of the things we find most common in all sports is the basic idea that everybody has a certain job to do. There are two main questions that often pop up when this subject is getting kicked around:

1) What are the jobs and responsibilities of the coach?
2) What are the jobs and responsibilities of the athlete?

There are unlimited ways to analyze the answers to these. I could talk about them until the cows come home, and many of my previous articles have explored certain aspects of the coach-athlete relationship. But this time, I want to take a look at a few basic rules of the responsibility issue. In other words, we’re trying to establish some fundamental requirements that apply to you, regardless of what sport you’re in and regardless of what your position in that sport is.

What is your job? What should be expected of you? What kind of results are you supposed to produce? I honestly think some people miss a lot of these things simply because they don’t know the answers. To state it more simply, some athletes and coaches don’t do their jobs because they just don’t know what their job is. If you don’t come from background with a lot of sports experience, it’s reasonable to assume some of this stuff might not be familiar to you, and it’s got nothing to do with stupidity or negligence. Because of this, it’s worthwhile to get a few reminders…and possibly even some new ideas you’re never heard before. 

Basic plain vanilla concepts

First of all, there are some jobs and responsibilities that never change. These are a few things that should be expected from both parties (coaches and athletes) regardless of experience level, expertise, etc.

COACH

Technical instruction
When athletes are new, the coach has to build their technique. In Olympic weightlifting, this part of the process is far more challenging than some other sports because the Olympic lifts, as you well know, are fantastically difficult to learn and master. First, the basic teaching process has to take place. Then, as the lifters continue on throughout their careers, the coach has to keep refining and sharpening their technique, along with making sure new bad habits don’t get started. This is made even more problematic because many athletes aren’t going to have the physical skills to perform every movement the way they’re being taught. To state it as simply as possible, technique is an uphill battle that lasts the entire duration of your time in weightlifting.

Programming
It’ll always be the duty of the coach to design effective training programs. Putting routines down on paper that will lead to progress and improved performance is probably one of the two or three most crucial jobs of the coach. If you’re a coach and you’re not good at this, your athletes won’t get better and they’ll probably get injured.

Personality management
From the first handshake until the end of the road, the coach has to do all the intangible stuff…being a positive source of energy, helping the athletes through tough times, teaching them about how to mentally approach weightlifting, etc. You know the kind of stuff I’m talking about. It’s a permanent part of the job. Many coaches have described their professions as though they’re part-time therapists. I think this is totally legit, and there are very few successful coaches who don’t have outstanding people skills. 

ATHLETE

Training consistency

Showing up on time and putting in the work. Plain and simple. If you’re a lifter and you can’t be consistent with your basic attendance habits, it’s a deal-breaker. It demonstrates a lack of discipline and seriousness on your part, and it’ll quickly cause your coach to lose interest (and probably kick you out, eventually). What’s that old saying? “80 percent of success in life is just showing up.”

Effort

It sounds silly to mention this, right? Well, maybe. But you’d be surprised how many different types of effort are required in weightlifting, and how quickly athletes can lose sight of some of them. The basic point is that you can’t just try hard when you’re IN the gym. You’ve got to be willing to try hard when you’re OUT of the gym too.

Coachability
Athletes have to listen to their coaches and follow instructions, plain and simple. If this doesn’t happen, there’s practically no reason for the coach to even be involved. If you’re an athlete and you won’t listen to your coaches, why should you expect them to keep wasting their time? Like most veteran coaches, I have very little tolerance for disobedience. That doesn’t mean I’m a megalomaniac who whips lifters with a coat hanger when they do something stupid. But it does mean I don’t take any bull***t from my athletes. From my experience, most good coaches are like this.

These are the jobs that never change. They’ll be required every step of the way, and you’ll improve in them as you continue to gain experience. Don’t freak out if you read these lists and said to yourself, “Crap, I’m not doing a good job in one of these areas.” Trust me, we’re all in the same boat. Whether you’re a three-month newbie or a 10-year veteran, you’ve still got areas where you need to strengthen your skills. None of us have every bit of this stuff nailed down 100 percent. We’re all trying to get better, and that’s just how the game works.

Competitive development


This is an area where I think there’s some transformation as time goes on. When athletes are new to competition, coaches basically have to teach them everything. The athletes don’t know what they’re doing, they’re unfamiliar with how contests work, and they don’t understand how to mentally approach a competitive situation. In this stage, coaches have to help them build their entire understanding of the process.

However, as the athletes gain experience and move further into their competitive careers, the responsibility shifts more onto their shoulders. At some point, they reach a stage where they aren’t rookies anymore. They’ve competed a lot and they’ve probably graduated to a higher level, maybe even national or international. When you get to this advanced level, the job of the coach actually becomes more functional. Coaches have to manage the logistics of the competition, such as:

- Getting the athletes where they’re supposed to be on schedule: weigh-ins, warm-up room, etc.
- Counting the athlete’s warm-up attempts correctly and getting them to the platform for their openers on time.
- Watching the competition, making the right calls on 2nd and 3rd attempt weights, putting the athlete in the right position to be successful, handling strategy.
- Giving the athlete the right kind of feedback and input.

These are the things a coach has to do at the upper levels, and they’re clearly important. We’re basically talking about the nuts and bolts of supervising a competition. But once you get to this level, the performance element transfers entirely onto the athlete.

In other words, the lifters have to get on that platform and make successful lifts. This is one of the biggest things I learned during my own career. The coach has to run the show, but the athlete is the one who has to lift the weights, deal with the competition stress, etc. In other words, the athlete has to COMPETE. I’ve got a lot of experience as a competitor. I’ve lifted in eight National Championships, 10 American Opens, four University National Championships, two Junior National Championships, the Olympic Trials, the World University Championships, the Olympic Festival, a handful of national masters competitions and dozens of local contests. As of the time of this article, I’ve competed in 107 weightlifting meets. After all this mileage, I can tell you 100 percent that the burden of performance is solely on the athlete when you get to the upper levels.

As you progress throughout your career as a weightlifter, you have to accept more and more of the responsibility for your ultimate success. Coaches are important, and they practically have to hold your hand in the beginning. But by the time you get some experience under your belt and possibly make it to the national level (or higher), the hand-holding starts to lessen. To state it very simply, you’re the athlete, and you have to deliver. There are often growing pains during this process. I don’t mind telling you it took me a while to develop into a tough competitor. I got roughed up a few times in the early years of my national-level lifting. The pressure got to me, I freaked out, I didn’t prepare myself correctly, blah blah blah. None of this was the fault of my coach. It was my fault, and I had to accept responsibility for it. Once I grew up and figured out how to handle myself, I started kicking ass. 

Now don’t get me wrong…

I’m not saying coaches are irrelevant once you hit the big time, and none of this is meant to minimize their role. Coaching is, and always will be, one of the main components of successful competition…regardless of the size of the spotlight in front of the platform. Also, as we said in the beginning, there are several other angles to this conversation that could be included. I’m not covering every aspect of the coach-athlete relationship, obviously.

But we coaches sometimes overrate ourselves, know what I mean? We make the mistake of thinking it’s all about us, like we’re the whole show. We aren’t. Sure, we play a huge part in the game, but we don’t play the deciding part. The athletes do. At the end of the day, this sport is always going to be about a weightlifter standing on a platform with a barbell. One of them is gonna win, and the other one is gonna lose. The coach stands next to the chalk box and watches. After all the training and coaching and preparation, it all comes down to this one simple truth.

To finish this up, I think we need to go back to the point that this whole thing is a work in progress for both athletes and coaches. For example, let’s say you’re a weightlifter with six months of training under your belt, and your current personal record in the snatch is 175 lbs. You’re going to continue to train and work, trying to improve your strength and technique. It’ll be a long, arduous road, but you’ll gradually move forward. After another year of training, you’ll probably be snatching 185-195 lbs., or maybe you’ll even be over the 200 lb. barrier. It took a long time and you dealt with pain and frustration along the way, but you finally improved. You’re a better weightlifter after two years of training than you were after six months of training.

It works the exact same way when you’re a coach. You’ll be better after five years than you were after one year. Instead of improving your snatch record like the athlete, you’ll improve your teaching style, programming methods, interpersonal skills, technical eye, and all the other components of the coaching job. If you take an honest look at your current coaching ability and you’re frustrated because you know you’ve got some imperfections, don’t get too discouraged. Just like that athlete who’s fighting to improve that 175 lb. snatch, you’re fighting to improve your coaching. Trust me, I’ve been in the game for over 20 years and I still have plenty of areas where I need to make progress. I’m a good coach and I’ve had a lot of success, but I had to spend years working on it and struggling to advance.

You’ll make mistakes. You’ll have setbacks. You’ll get frustrated and you might even have to make some drastic changes along the way, possibly even life-changing ones. Nobody gets to avoid these, just so you know. It’s all just part of learning how to do your job. To quote a line from The Godfather II, “This is the business we’ve chosen.”

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 Bones of Iron: Collected Articles on the Life of the Strength Athlete.

The views expressed in this article may not be that of USA Weightlifting. Publication of all articles is to share different opinions and viewpoints. For instruction on the lifts from USA Weightlifting visit www.usaweightlifting.org.

 

                                       

 

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