Alright people this is the day like two of you have been waiting for. I am Matt Goldsmith, Canadian national team coach for 2016, 2017 and 2018. Over the last 5 years I’ve coached at dozens of meets from the local to world level and have developed what I believe is a pretty good system for meet day coaching (call it handling and I’ll cut you). We’re just going to dive right into it starting below. All of these items will be in the context of coaching someone that you do not train with or see on a regular basis. Handling athletes you do know will follow the same pattern, you just have a little more freedom since you understand how to work with their personality and confidence levels.
Here is a link to our meet day coaching service for anyone who would like a personal coach at any Ontario meets.
I like to get into contact with an athlete at least 6-8 weeks before the scheduled meet. This is to get a feel for their personality and to keep tabs on training. This also lets me observe how they move through each lift and what their technical inefficiencies look like (assuming they send you videos/IG, etc..).
6 weeks to 1 week out:
As a meet day coach you should be in weekly contact with your athlete and keeping tabs on their training to observe what each of their lifts look like. You should take this time to gather any info on injuries or any training complications that may be occurring before the meet. This is the opportunity to have the athlete begin to set potential meet goals, things like preferred 3rd attempts or any records the athlete wants to break. I have a lot of newer athletes come to me with problems like going 3/9 or bombing out at previous meets. Find the reasons behind the poor performance and start planning on how you’ll plan to prevent this (lowering opening attempts, making different jumps, building mental confidence etc…). Lastly double check the athlete has all the APPROVED GEAR as soon as possible!
1 week to morning before meet:
If possible, take the time to meet up with your athlete face to face to finalize the game plan for the day. For each athlete I’ll gather all of their opening attempts and preferred third’s, from there I’ll organize their warm up attempts and find out how much extra time they’ll need for mobility/prehab exercises. Secondly find out what cues they want for each lift, yelling “knees out” at a lifter who interprets the cue as “spread the floor” is useless, play to the athlete’s strengths. Finally find out what they need mentally, some lifters want to be left alone in a corner and bothered as little as possible, some want you to hang around and crack jokes; ASK. Also find out what the athlete needs in order to get hyped for each lift, some athletes need to be super hype for everything and some need to be totally calm, however most will be a mix depending on the lift.
Meet day is about the athlete, not you. On meet day your needs come second. The athlete should not even have to consider any game day complications because you’re already taking care of them. Secondly, if you’re frustrated with the meet or an official don’t bring it up to the athlete, deal with it yourself or consult other coaches (unless it pertains to something the athlete actually needs to hear, a technical violation for example). Thirdly, during the competition the officials should not be communicating with the athlete. As the coach you should filter all messages to limit distractions and only relay if it's something that needs to be addressed.
Since you’ve already double checked that your athletes’ gear is all approved, equipment check should be a breeze. If the officials are rushing you through help the athlete pack and unpack all their equipment. If not hang back and let them do their thing. Make sure they have any necessary ID’s and membership cards ready beforehand.
Coaches are allowed into the weigh in room with the athlete. Again your job is to take any responsibility off of the lifter. Have opening attempts ready for the weigh in as well as any necessary documentation (eg. for world’s the lifter needs a valid passport to confirm nationality). Monitor the weigh in and make sure everything is kosher. In Texas last year I had a couple guys who were made to weigh in with their socks on, where as guys who just walked in with flip flops got to weigh in barefoot, voice your concerns but be tactful. Talk to the head referee if anything seems fishy. What this also means is that you need to know the technical rules for all procedures! After weigh in you’ll get your attempt cards, FILL THESE OUT AND SIGN THEM ALL. The coach can fill out the attempt cards for the athlete so do this ASAP. Lastly write down the lot # of your athlete, this determines in what order the athletes are weighed in but it also determines what order the athletes lift if two athletes are lifting the same weight (THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT LATER).
Okay so your athlete is weighed in and ready to go, now what? Well you need to determine which flight they are in. The meet director should already have which age/weight classes are lifting in each flight so ask. This order may change if too many lifters fail to make weight or don’t show up. ALWAYS double check with the meet director to see if the flights will change. In the IPF you can have at max 14 lifters per flight, this is useful info specifically if you’re at a big contest with say 30, 74kg open lifters. In this case you’d likely end up with 3 flights of ten lifters organized by lot #. In this case if you were the 8th person weighed in you’d likely be in flight #1 and if you were 27th you’d likely be in flight #3.
Ok so we’ve determined we are in flight #1, I personally don’t like being in flight #1 because you are at the mercy of how fast the meet crew gets set up. Sometimes you start on time and others you could be delayed 10 minutes to several hours. A good rule of thumb is to get the athlete to start doing mobility/prehab 1 hour to 45 minutes out from the scheduled start time. Forty-five to thirty minutes away from start time the athlete should start getting under the bar for warm ups. During this time continue to check that there aren’t any delays with the meet director.
Now I know what some of you are thinking, how in the hell do I need 45 minutes to do ~5 squat warm up sets?? Good question! You’re organized and prepared and ready to go, the other 10 people also warming up on the same rack as you aren’t. Be prepared to be changing plates on the bar only to have some guy pop out from another dimension with a “Hey can I just hit this real quick first”. It’s going to happen several times, which is why we start warming up early. Don’t be afraid to tell people who are disorganized “no”, your athlete is your top priority. Secondly, find a group of organized coaches who are warming up athletes and discuss who is going when and with what weight.
If your lifter is in flight #2 have them start doing mobility about 15 mins before the first flight is due to start first attempts. Once the first attempts start, get your athlete under the bar for their first warm ups. Now in the second flight you have a very easy time because you can see how much time you have left by watching the attempt screen. Usually you will have 4-6 warm up sets so I try to time 2 warmups per attempt. This means that as all of flight #1 goes through their first attempts I’ll get my first 2 warm ups done. As the flight starts their second attempts I’ll prep to get the next 2 warm ups done. The third attempt is where you need to pay a little more attention, If your athlete is opening up near the beginning of their flight you’ll need to hit the last warm up during the first half of flight #1’s 3rd attempts. If they’re near the end of the list have the lifter wait until the last half of the 3rd attempts or even wait to the very end to hit the last warm up.
Now during warm ups sometimes things don’t go as planned, if your lifters warm ups looks rough or too heavy you can change their opening attempt. These are the rules to changing openers If your lifter is in flight #1 you have until 3 minutes before the flight starts to change your opening attempt. If you are in Flight #2 you can change your opening attempt as long as there are more than 3 lifters left in flight #1.
Ok so we’ve finished warm ups and we’re about to hit our first attempt but first let’s learn about how to pick an opening attempt. A good rule is 89-92% of your max is an appropriate guideline for opening attempts. This comes from USAPL coach Matt Gary from SSPT. Essentially your max triple is a good opener weight. An opener should be a weight you can hit no matter what happens prior.
The athlete makes their opening attempt and now we need to make some decisions. Compared to your earlier research on the athlete, did this attempt move well in comparison to other opening attempts from previous meets? How much faster/slower was this than the last warm up? If all these things are good we can make a decent jump to the 2nd attempt. Both SSPT and MYSTRENGTHBOOK place total difference between 1st and 3rd attempt on average to be around 7%-11% . For example, if a lifter opened with 200kg they would likely hit a 3rd attempt between 215kg and 220kg. The second attempt is a lift that sets you up for a big total without gassing you for the 3rd. A 4%-6% jump to the 2nd attempt is reasonable. This would translate in a 2nd attempt of 207.5kg to 212.5kg 2nd attempt if you opened with 200kg.
So we made a good 2nd attempt and everything is on track. Now we fill up the rest of that 7%-11% jump. Let’s say we hit 210kg for our second. Our likely 3rd attempts are anywhere from 212.5kg to 220kg. From here I would assess how fast the 2nd attempt was and how much the athlete can grind a lift.
Other things that need to be taken into consideration are what kind of risks you can afford to take, and how much you are willing to gas your athlete for their deadlifts. If I have an athlete who is looking to medal, the squat and bench will have as little risk as possible in order to build a subtotal. If our second attempt was 210kg I would rather hit a 217.5kg 3rd that was a little bit too easy than gun for a 222.5kg and miss it. The higher your subtotal is coming into deadlifts means the less you need to pull for your 3rd attempt and the more your competition needs to pull for their 3rd.
VERY IMPORTANT: just because the math works out nicely or the opening attempt was white lighted does not mean that you follow the written plan to the letter. If your athletes 1st attempt sucked don’t make a 6% jump just because 6% is a convenient second attempt increase. Pull the second attempt down and see what happens, if the athlete smokes it then you can make a bigger jump on the third. If they still struggle too much then you can shorten the 3rd attempt jump as well. Champions make more successful attempts than runners up do. Secondly, if your lifter has a very good second attempt do not be afraid to push the 3rd little higher than normal. This is especially true for newer athletes who are more rapidly increasing strength. In this example perhaps the lifter was training with an injury and dropped their planned opener to 200kg but the past training week had gone really well and they felt great on the day. A jump past 220kg may seem on paper to be a bad idea but on the day the lifters max may be sitting around 227.5kg. This is why getting into contact with the lifter and gathering context for competition day is so important. The 7%-11% is an average taken across all lifters, not a hard and fast rule, do not limit yourself to only this range.
Here is an example of how I will write out possible attempt selections prior to the meet. I just circle the attempt I pick for easy tracking.
Subtotals and totals
So as you’re going through 3rd attempt benches keep an eye on the subtotals for your weight class. The subtotal is the combined total of squat and bench. Record your subtotal after your last bench. As you move into deadlifts find the totals that look to be around 10kg-20kg of yours. These competitors will be potentially within striking distance of the placement you are looking to grab. Take your subtotal and add your highest deadlift attempt to determine your total. Most meets should have an electronic scoreboard with a “forecast total” that will add up the subtotal and deadlift for you and your competitors. Assuming you’re looking for 1st place just take note of each lifter who is also close to that position, make note of their lot # and bodyweight so you know how to strategize accordingly.
Third deadlift attempts:
“The competition doesn’t start until the bar hits the ground.” - some old guy.
Remember how you wrote down your lifter’s bodyweight and lot # at weigh ins? We’re going to need them now. First things first, if you’re lighter than the guy you’re trying to beat, you can win on a tied total. Secondly, having a higher lot # means you go last if the two of you are doing the same weight, this is perfect because after they lift you have to opportunity to change your attempt to sneak out a win.
Lifters with big deadlifts will always be at a competitive advantage to lifters that don’t, simply because they have more room to play around and they can always go last in the flight. This is why not missing squat and bench attempts is so important. Lifters who rely more on the squat and bench will need to make extra smart squat and bench attempts to increase their total as much as possible. The strategy here is to force your competitor to make a pull that is beyond their capacity.
Play your lot #
Your athlete will lift last if their attempt weight is tied with their competition and the athlete has a higher lot number. So assuming its practical keep your deadlift weight tied or above your competition’s. This is called being in the driver’s seat, because after they lift you are free to change your attempt to out total your competitors. If you have a low lot # you are a little more restricted and your third attempt will have to be inflated as much as possible to force your opponent to overreach.
Attempt changes, Be Sneaky:
You are allowed to change your 3rd deadlift attempt twice while in contest.If you need to make a change don’t make a big show about it. It’s especially good to be sneaky if you notice a competing coach isn’t super on top of the scoreboard. Secondly, if there is another coach or lifter who will work with you, you can get them to submit the attempt for you. A huge part of making attempt changes is to throw off the timing and hype of other lifters. You are allowed to change your attempt as long as your bar has not been loaded. You will literally see guys submit a change as their bar is being loaded. This can be used to screw with a guy who has a higher lot # than you. If you are both lifting a 270kg third deadlift and you change your attempt as the bar is being loaded you may be able to get the bar loaded for your competitor before their coach has a chance to re-change their own attempt. This puts you back in the Driver’s seat and you can now change your attempt one more time to pull for the win.
Here are some some legal yet underhanded tactics for you. You are allowed to protest the jury on an opponent’s lift in an attempt to get it disqualified. Another instance where knowing the technical rules comes into play is “reminding” referees to watch for specific infractions (eg; if a lifters butt comes up off the bench).