For some readers, this subject may be a sensitive one: I am writing my thoughts on what the role of the coach should be at an international competition.
As an individual that has been an international competitor, and coach to international competitors, I believe that I have a unique insight into the incompetence I see in my sport and will air my frustrations in this article.
Athletes train hard – the bigger the goal, the more effort necessary to achieve it.
To fulfil the dreams of international competition requires commitment over a long period of time, as well as focus, discipline, motivation, and just a little bit of support on competition day.
I trained the majority of my 22-year career on my own, with just the radio for company.
Day-in and day-out I would spend 2-4 hours per day slogging through relentless, intense programs. There wasn’t much else in my life apart from training and work.
I endeavoured to reach competition day in the best possible shape, having left no stone unturned and a no-excuses attitude.
In an individual sport, the buck ultimately stopped with me: I took full responsibility for my performances and dealt with the highs and the lows that came with them.
This wasn’t a hobby or just for fun: I took my performance on the big stage seriously, far more seriously than the amateur attitude so common in Welsh Weightlifting today.
Several times in my career, I have come unstuck because of poor coaching support. I would like to share two of those occasions. The first was in 2003 at the European Championships.
I entered the competition with best lifts of 92.5kg Snatch and 112.5kg Clean & Jerk. Having equalled my best snatch, I began to warm up for the Clean & Jerk.
I had discussed, well before the competition with the coaches the weights I would like to start on. (90kg Snatch and either 107.5kg or maybe 110kg Clean & Jerk depending on how the warm-up went.
I remember having taken 102.5kg C&J in warm up and had just chalked up to take my last warm up on 107.5kg before deciding a starter.
As I approached the bar, the then ‘Team Manager’ shouted across the warm-up room that I was next on. When I asked what the weight was, I was stunned (to say the least) that it had been increased to 112.5kg.
Too late to do anything about the situation, the bar was loaded, and I had been called.
Without getting flustered, I convinced myself I had nailed 107.5kg comfortably before approaching the platform. (Mind games!)
I succeeded with 112.5kg on my first attempt (10kg increase from the warm-up room) to start on my personal best. I subsequently failed the next two attempts as didn’t have the leg strength to stand with 115kg.
The question still hangs in my mind: how on earth can this situation happen?
I understand that mistakes are made, but this is one example of incompetence and inexcusable ‘coaching’ I have had to deal with.
How often does a coach do run-throughs?
How often do they practice what might happen?
How often is their mental arithmetic tested?
How often do they spend time with the athlete pre-event?
If an athlete relies on a coach to make the right call, how can this happen when they don’t seem to prepare at all?
If a coach is to expect an athlete to be seriously-dedicated to their success, each athlete should be able to rely on their coach showing a similar dedication.
More recently at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, I came out of retirement to once again do Wales proud.
Aged 35 years, most doubted I could even get close to best. I prepared the best I possibly could and, again, left no stone unturned.
3 complete blunders were made on competition day. As an experienced coach myself, I picked up on two of them just in time.
Mistake 1: To read a scoreboard is fairly straightforward with a bit of experience.
To take into account, other lifters moves, athletes failing lifts etc comes with some practice.
But to read a board just before I start warming up with the bar and calculate 14 lifts was simple.
Within 2 minutes I was told there are now only seven lifts. This meant I had to respond quickly and rush through a few weights with zero rest to be where I needed to be in terms of timing my warm up.
After the initial panic, I went myself to the scoreboard to see how many lifts to work it out as 13!
It seems unthinkable to me that an ‘international coach’ could possibly be so wrong.
After taking my last warm-up weight in the snatch and being happy to adjust my recorded starting weight, the so-called coach sauntered to the table to change the weights, completely oblivious to the fact the clock was counting down and approaching 30 seconds. (If you fail to change your nominated weight before the clock runs 30 seconds, you are not allowed to change it)
I proceeded to shout down the length of the warm-up room and only because he ran did the change get made in time (2 seconds on the clock).
The blunder that cost me: having my first clean and jerk completed successfully on 108kg, bar automatically increases by 1kg, I sat down to catch my breath and recover from the first lift.
Instead of changing the weight to 113kg, the coach just stood there waiting. I could tell what was about to happen, but it was too late:
I was forced to take a ridiculous 109kg on a second attempt. The lift was (obviously) successful, but now I had been stifled by a nonsensical 1kg jump between my first and second lifts: anyone who has competed knows that this is an awful situation to be in.
It’s quite reasonable, I think, to expect a sincere apology for this level of incompetence but I was met with nothing but denial: that anything had happened or that this particular ‘coach’ had any share of the blame.
This same coach made exactly the same omission of judgement with another athlete at a Commonwealth Championships the following year – at an event at which I was coaching, no less.
Having spotted his mistake, the situation was saved by the fact I made it back to the table to change the weight for the poor athlete with a second (literally) to spare.
The simple question: why has nothing been done?
Why has no reflection taken place?
Why are Welsh Weightlifting Coaches not held responsible for their actions and the effects that they have on athletes?
In a world of professional sport, where athletes give their all, it is unacceptable that coaching staff still feel it appropriate to consume alcohol on training camps and internationals and ruin an athlete’s competition, but cut funding of athletes when they underperform.
Why is a ‘Performance Manager’ trying to change roles and be a coach?
Where is the accountability to Sport Wales for the lack of results and lack of athlete personal progress?
These are all pertinent questions, and I can only hope that they are met with serious answers and reflection by those in the seats of power, as so far there has been no change.
These are personal frustrations, but they hint at a larger, more systematic problem that we should all be concerned about.
There is no excuse for this kind of poor coaching: athletes who underperform have their funding cut while the coaches responsible for these performances are never confronted and remain comfortable with their own funding having no accountability to their actual competence!