By Jason Clarke
After attending my first IPF world championships where I was part of the NZ coaching team I thought it may be of interest to some to note down the things that I learned throughout the 2 or so weeks in which I was in Calgary. Firstly, it was an awesome experience and one that I can definitely use to better myself as a coach, not just on game day but overall as well. Also, a big thanks to those lifters who let me be part of their handling team and also to those experienced coaches (Angus, Rory, and John) whom I was able to bounce ideas off and learn from.
Just to outline my role – I was an assistant coach on the team, I head coached one session and helped out on 6 other sessions (mainly just loading and lending a hand where possible), when I was not helping out I was doing my best to attend as many sessions as possible. Those in which I didn’t attend I generally live streamed. So as you can guess I spent a lot of time observing and subsequently critiquing, so here are the main 5 things which I learned from my first time at an IPF world championship.
Lesson #1 – Always be willing to adapt to the circumstances.
Those of you who were lucky enough to attend the world championships or streamed the event will be aware of the level of strictness amongst the judging, albeit fair, in my opinion, it did manage to catch a lot of lifters out who regularly push the boundaries of the rulebook. Now, this level of judging surprised many lifters, however, those that managed to get through it were those which had the ability to adapt to the conditions. Too often were lifters getting red lights on openers for depth then coming out for their second and third and executing the lift in exactly the same manner and somehow hoping for a different result. This – in my opinion, is largely a fault of the coaches handling the lifter, if they aren’t observant enough to watch your warm-ups and compare them with how other sessions have gone and call out the athlete on whatever fault they are having then you could benefit from better game day help. Now as responsible as the coach is for ensuring the lifter adjusts to the conditions, this obviously also fall upon the lifter also. A coach can only tell a lifter to squat deeper so many times, but the lifter must be willing to execute the lift in a different manner whilst having the resilience to do so. Yes, your lifts should be part of a process that should be repeatable, however, if you’re on the verge of bombing out of an international competition you need to be able to adjust.
Lesson #2 – Take what’s there on the day.
I guess this one kind of falls under having a similar mindset as lesson #1, regardless I think it is still important to mention. Yes, ideally we would all make progress competition to competition and that taking at least 2.5kg more than your previous competition best should be a minimal goal for the lifter, however on the world stage this wasn’t always an option. NZ based lifters for example largely struggled to put together total PB’s, now don’t get me wrong there were a handful of lifters who did manage to have spectacular days and put PB’s on the board, however for the majority that wasn’t quite the case. Now, this was not necessarily against neither the lifter or the lifters coach/programming more so it seemed it may have been a by-product of numerous other factors. The main factors in this case that pop to mind would no doubt be:
Travel – most NZ lifters traveled over 15 hours to make it to Calgary and many of them were caught up with multiple flight changes and delays. These conditions are far from ideal and more than likely affect performance.
The occasion itself – a lot of lifters from the NZ team were lifting in their first ever world championships so as expected, nerves were at an all-time high for a lot of people. These nerves for some helped them rise to the occasion but for others was detrimental.
The timing of our regional competitions – Most of the regional competitions in the NZPF were roughly 7-9 weeks before worlds, which leaves lifters/coaches with a tough decision to make. On one hand the plan could be to take regionals lightly and focus more so on the peak for worlds and on the other hand, the plan could be to try to make the most of both competitions and hope for the best. However, the majority of lifters in NZ aren’t overly competitive on the world stage so getting them to sacrifice a proper peak for a regional meet in which they could compete closely with the other lifters isn’t so easy.
I guess all of the above is going the long way about saying how important it was for lifters and coaches to all manage their expectations and adopt a flexible gameplan throughout the competition based on the external factors involved in a world championship competition. Those lifters that did their best had smart coaches that were willing to adjust their openers and attempts based on how the lifter was performing on the day, not how they had been performing in training. It seems the importance of “taking what’s there” is only increased at the international level.
Lesson #3 – Let the coaches do the coaching and the lifters do the lifting.
It may seem obvious but having a handler on meet day at the world’s level is a necessity and having more than one person helping is optimal. Obviously having too many cooks in the kitchen can be detrimental to the dynamic however, if you can get a smooth working unit behind you it makes life much easier for both the coaches and the lifter. Importantly though at the world’s level is that the lifter focuses on doing the lifting, the amount of considerations that go in to attempt selection is 10-fold compared to that at a local level. So having the lifter trying sitting there doing the math to figure out what weights need to be put on the bar is in my opinion almost definitely going to be detrimental to the lifters performance. In short – organise a trustworthy team to be around you well beforehand and trust them to do their job. Ideally, you’d someone who knows the lifter and what they’ll have left in the tank after each lift and someone who can help crunch the numbers.
Lesson #4 – Powerlifting is much more of a sport at the international level.
This is probably one you’ve more than likely heard before, but it became much more apparent to myself after experiencing how the higher level of competition changes the overall sporting feel of powerlifting. When in local competition the main focus is usually on the lifter putting themselves in the best position to hit a personal best and possibly jostling for a place if the weight class is competitive enough. Yet, at the international level there are so many more factors to consider such as; overall placing, individual medals (something I never thought much of until witnessing how much it means to some lifters) and building a total for a position and not a PB. These extra factors undoubtedly increase the feeling of competition and definitely add to the intensity of the environment and make in turn make it much more exciting and enjoyable from a coaches perspective.
Lesson #5 – The way the competition ran, was not all that different from a local competition.
Yes, this final point seems a tad contradictory considering what I have mentioned above, but let me explain. Now when I say that the competition ran similar to that of a local level NZPF competition what I really mean was that I didn’t really encounter much-unexpected scenarios. The scoreboards were the same, the screens out the back were the same, the attempt cards were similar (if not worse), gear check and weigh-ins ran the same (as far as I could see), the warm-up room was more equipped and larger (so this was an advantage for the lifter) and there weren’t even any ridiculously strict rules around the warm-up area (although this sort of developed throughout the week). What I guess I’m getting at with this all is the fact that the NZPF does a pretty decent job in my opinion of emulating a word level competition. Now if this level of familiarity could be focussed on by lifters it could most definitely be beneficial in easing some of their nerves.
So there they are a few lessons that I took away from my first experience at an IPF world championship, there were definitely many more takeaways from the competition however, I thought that perhaps these would be the most interesting and potentially beneficial to the reader.
Now here’s my best shot at answering a few questions I fielded on Instagram about my experience (excuse the paraphrasing).
1. Did you prefer the international level competition to the local level?
As a coach and as a coach wanting to get better, yes I did – although every competition is an opportunity to develop my own skills I think they developed the most working at that level, not to mention the different types of coaching and lifting strategies you get to observe. However, I do love the local level as it is always a great experience due to the tight-knit community.
- When it comes to attempt selection, are you more on the side of being more conservative or aggressive at the world’s level?
I think this has partly been answered above, however in case you didn’t pick up on it I more so lean to the side of being more conservative and using the “take what’s there” approach. However, if there’s an opportunity that arises which puts the lifter in a position to jump a spot or have a run at a medal, then I’d be inclined to let them have a run at it if I feel it’s within their range.
- What was your most exciting moment?
Coaching John Strachan to 4th place, although things didn’t go exactly as we hoped we managed to put John in a position to end up in 4th place and he pulled it off. Also helping John with Evie Corrigan’s winning performance was certainly up there.
- What was your biggest disappointment?
Probably not seeing Stanley Cocker and Joe Whittaker fulfill their potential, these guys will both come back better though and both have the ability to be on the podium for the total. Also definitely Krzysztof Wierzbicki’s poor performance.
- Biggest fanboy moment?
Getting to have a chat Mike T and buying him a beer, probably the only person I did fanboy (powerlifters are just regular people).
- Favourite country to watch?
Probably Ireland, they were loud as fuck and gave awesome support every time one of their lifters was on the platform.
If anyone, has any further questions or comments please feel free to leave them below.