No coach is good at everything. We all have more to learn. For a decent coach to become good, and a good coach to become great, you have to set aside your ego and be willing to learn continuously, from whoever has something valuable to teach. Especially since starting up my own club again (Rubber City Weightlifting, Akron, Ohio) I’ve been trying to learn from a couple of proven coaches I’ve come to trust: Don McCauley and Glenn Pendlay. So after giving Don and Glenn fair warning, I loaded my car with lifters (Jon Dawson, national qualifier at 85kg and Phil Martter, future +105 hiding in a heavy 94’s body) and headed off Friday morning to Savannah to visit Don.
Coach Don McCauley manages to look skeptical and happy at the same time.
We met Don at CrossFit Savannah, where he coaches with his wife Suzanne, and followed Don to their house. (I should note that following Don’s driving is a difficult task under any circumstances, but doing it through Savannah is hazardous to your health. We passed at least three accidents on the way and just dodged a couple ourselves) Don and his wife Suzanne could not have been better hosts. We each had our own beds–and our own cat–waiting for us. We spent the evening knocking back a couple good microbrews and bullshitting about weightlifting. Only dinner with Hemingway could have beaten that.
Saturday Don and I did a mini-clinic on technique at CF Savannah while Jon and Phil trained. We only had three people show for the clinic, but they were good athletes and learned fast. I think several PRs were hit, which you’d expect with a coach to athlete ratio of 2:3. They left happy, anyway.
Don spent some time helping Jon and Phil through their second workout of the day while I sat back and watched. Don is a huge proponent of “touch cues.” I’m a fairly articulate guy and use mostly verbal cues. I get frustrated when they don’t work well or at all, and I wanted to see how and where Don implemented his tactile cues.
After another evening of good beer and more weightlifting talk, we once again followed Don on the four hour drive up to Muscle Driver USA, just outside Charlotte, in Fort Mill, South Carolina. We got there in time for the morning workout. Glenn was kind enough to open up a platform for Jon and Phil to train alongside the rest of the MDUSA crew. The morning training session is not normally heavy, and usually serves as more of a setup of the afternoon workout. I had the guys snatch and Don helped out Jon with one of his more unconventional cues. It seemed to work as Jon’s pull was markedly improved and he finally felt like he got all of his “legs into the lift.”
“The Beard” Coach Glenn Pendlay
Glenn’s coaching style is the polar opposite of Don’s. Don is constantly patrolling, going from platform to platform watching, making corrections where he sees the need, or spending a while with a lifter who has particular trouble that day. Glenn sits back and watches. He wants to see if the problem he sees is an anomaly or a consistent problem. For the most part Glenn likes to fix technique problems within the context of the program, with complexes that address the problem, fixing it more with focused reps than with many verbal or tactile cues. The combination of Glenn and Don’s styles seems to be sitting well with the lifters at MDUSA, as PRs and huge lifts are as common as dirt at the MDUSA gym.
Between the atmosphere and Don’s help with his jerk, Jon hit a 5kg PR 155kg in the Clean & Jerk in the afternoon workout. I missed it, of course, and got no end of shit for that from Don, Glenn, Phil and Jon.
At the end of the afternoon session we all went back to Glenn’s house. We were greeted by Glenn’s giant-headed rescue pit bull, whose tongue, I can confirm from up close experience, is as wide as a human face. Glenn fed all of us, and food at his house is every bit as good as it looks in his blog posts.
After dinner and more bullshitting about weightlifting (is there a theme here?) Travis Cooper, Glenn’s tech guy and Pan Am Team member, set us up for a podcast, where I took some more shit for missing Jon’s PR C&J.
All of us Rubber City guys had a blast, truly a great road trip, but it was much more than fun. I not only learn from trips like this, but I hope I bring something as well. Don pointed out early on that Jon had the bar too close to his shins in his starting position. I pointed out in the clinic that Don hadn’t shown one of the attendees how to tighten his upper back. I spend so much time with beginners that I skip over some important nuances of the lifts because beginners can’t use them yet. Don spends so much time with advanced lifters that he sometimes skips over small basics that he unconsciously assumes the lifter knows and does. We both developed “holes” in our coaching eyes out of habit. Trips like this serve as reminders and refreshers for everyone. This kind of informal coaching summit/visit/seminar is an essential part of the mentoring and developmental process for new coaches, too. It has been my experience that most high level coaches are very approachable and would love nothing more than to share what they know with other coaches. As a younger or newer coach, to not take advantage of that impulse and soak up all you can is to hold yourself back, but worse, to hold your lifters back.