“Everyone has a plan ’til they get hit.”
Mike Tyson said that. I’m not sure if it was after he won or lost. It doesn’t matter. The wisdom stands. We all make plans. Rarely do those plans play out the way we assume. Of course lifters and coaches should plan training. Of course many lifters will have a rough path to the Olympics laid out in their heads. But there are a lot of shots to be taken between making the plan and reaching the goal.
If you want to qualify for Nationals, make it on an international team, or even stand atop the podium at Worlds or the Olympics, you have to possess qualities of character that are indispensable to that kind of success. Foremost among these, I think, is resilience. You have to be able to handle what seem like endless setbacks. You have to bear up under the weight of failure again and again. You have to keep coming back and keep pushing and adjusting to each new obstacle–each new reality–that presents itself. It’s what old guys call mental toughness.
I have run into far too many psychologically fragile athletes. Missed lifts are the end of the world, or at least the end of the workout; as if there will not be thousands of missed lifts in their careers. Altering the plan to train around an injury or family crisis makes the training they can do seem useless. Not hitting the meet lifts they programed for at the end of a lengthy training cycle has them questioning the entire training philosophy. They don’t handle bad days well, leading, inevitably, to more bad days.
A mentally tough athlete does not plan on results, but on work–long, monotonous work–with all the attendant ups and downs of a very long job. They don’t get too emotionally invested in a 120kg PR snatch they know puts them in the B session at Nationals. Nor do they get hung up on a few misses in a month of hundreds of lifts. They attach to the work. As long as they have shown up and worked to the best of their ability, they go home satisfied they are still on the path, good days and bad days both. They don’t start questioning the program or their coach. They don’t blame a miss on a teammate who accidentally walked in front of them during a PR attempt. They don’t allow themselves the out of writing off their own potential or running themselves down.
My grandfather had six kids and three jobs for a good bit of his life. The stakes were high. Whether or not he would put his head down and work until the job was done was never a question in his mind. He knew what had to be done for the well being of his family. Good days, bad days, and downright shitty days, Jack Boone could be found doing the work that he knew needed to be done. He didn’t have the luxury of being fragile.
Can this mental toughness be taught? Learned? I don’t know. Maybe. But I have seen people who I didn’t think had any resilience in them dig down and find it. I have seen lifters who suffered daily frustration one day hit a dogged groove and just start grinding away at the tens of thousands of lifts they needed to become great technicians, to become truly strong. Their minds changed somehow; it would not be long before their bodies had no choice but to follow.