Learning to Perform
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at 08:41PM

It happens to athletes of all sports, at every level of training and competition. In the weight room, effective utilization of the weightlifting movements (commonly referred to as the Olympic lifts) arguably suffers more than that of any other exercise. This ineffectiveness is due to a critical error in the way the lifts are treated: ignoring the learning phase. The coach does not adequately consider whether the athlete is “learning” or “performing.”

It is true that it takes time for an athlete to become proficient in the snatch, the clean, and the jerk. However, there is lots of research supporting the use of the Olympic lifts in training in order to improve power and explosiveness. If you care about your athletes improving, you owe it to them to have this valuable tool in your arsenal.

Quite simply, there is an ethical demand for the coach to ensure the efficacy and effectiveness of his or her training regime.

In subsequent posts, I will show you how variations of the weightlifting movements can be used to accommodate individual needs, allowing you to use lifts that meet the abilities of the athlete while providing an appropriate training stimulus. Before we get into the technical aspects of the lifts, I want to discuss a crucial factor to guide your approach when working with your athletes.

Learning vs. Performing

Especially when working with youth and high school athletes, an important distinction must be made when evaluating an athlete’s execution of a movement or skill. One must consider whether the athlete is still learning the movement, or if the athlete is performing the movement. There is research in the field of sport psychology that explores the differences between the two states. I’ll follow up in the future with a post to discuss attentional demands/focus, the different cognitive processes that occur in each state, as well as the coaching implications each state has.

Very generally, it is common for someone new to a task to break the task into smaller components. The individual is able to focus her attention on the smaller components, making the whole movement more manageable to execute. At first, the entire movement may appear slightly disjointed or choppy, typically coinciding with the mental transitions between the smaller components.

With practice, these transitions become more seamless, and components are combined. Eventually, the athlete is able to perform the desired movement without having to break it down into smaller parts. The movement becomes fluid and somewhat automatic. It is at this stage that the individual has shifted into “performance” of the movement.

Teaching vs. Coaching

We can’t honestly expect an athlete to perform a new skill fluently on his very first try. The learning curve—an athlete’s progression from learner to performer—for a particular skill will vary based on the complexity of the skill and the individual athlete.

If the athlete experiences these dual roles, then it only makes sense for the coach to assume different approaches for each situation. An effective coach must know how to teach an athlete to execute a desired skill or movement. Once the athlete gains a certain amount of proficiency, the coach must know how to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of the athlete’s execution of that movement.

In an upcoming series, I will break the lifts down into a teaching progression I find effective for teaching the weightlifting movements (snatch, clean, and jerk). Each part will examine a specific position/variation of the lifts and discuss how to properly perform each movement, the rationale for its use, along with when it might be appropriate to use. These posts should help you understand and be able to teach the lifts, as well as refine the technique of athletes who are proficient in the lifts.

Check back soon for Part 1 of “The Position Statement,” where we’ll explore starting the snatch and clean from the “power position.” Usually, when we use the term power in conjunction with the snatch/clean/jerk, we are implying the bar is received in a partial squat at or above parallel. However, in this instance, the term “power position” refers the position of the lifter‑barbell system immediately preceding the second pull of the snatch or clean.

Reasons for using this designation versus an anatomical designation, such as hips, mid-thigh, above the knee, etc., will be discussed in Part 1. More importantly, we’ll take a detailed look at how to properly set up for this position, how to perform the lifts from the power position, and common flaws athletes may exhibit from this position.

Article originally appeared on Five Rings Athletics - Excellence through Sport (http://www.fiveringsathletics.com/).
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