Competing Well

Originally Posted on Monday, January 30, 2012 1:06 PM
I learned a lesson in High School that I carry with me to this day.  That lesson  is that to compete with the best, you must compete against the best.  My wrestling career was marked by disappointment at the end of each season simply because I didn't know how to wrestle tough matches.  Ever since those days, I've found myself- and placed myself- in the most difficult competitive situations I can find. In each situation, my goals are different, but my objectives are the same:  to lift well, to make lifts, to succeed under pressure, and to take advantage of opportunities which present themselves.  My goals differ from meet to meet; at times the goal is simply to win.  Other times, the goal is to total.  And at other times, it's to beat the obnoxious people.  

Competition, however, is the primary goal of my lifting.  If you lift to just get in shape, or even if you just enjoy the training, then go ahead and chill out for the rest of this post.  No worries at all.  However, if you claim to want to compete, or if you do compete, please get settled in and dig deep into what I'll say.  Competition is not about winning, competition is about testing yourself.  

When you enter competitions, you should consider three types:  ones which will challenge you, ones which you can win, and ones where you might get your butt handed to you.  Why enter all three?  Well, an easy competition does a few things for you.  First of all, it lets you focus on yourself, and it allows you to help others and build a community around your lifting.  Better yet, you're able to focus on the rhythm of a meet without worrying about your performance in the face of external stress.  Please, however, don't do what Kramer does:

Yes, that's right.  Don't go and think big, cool things about yourself because you beat people much worse than you.  Just show up, handle yourself with honor and dignity, and be cool.  

I know many people who will only enter meets which are easy.  For some, they do it because the meet is local and they have fun seeing people.  others are just too nervous to go lift on a big stage.   If you're one of the latter people, then you MUST challenge yourself with difficult meets.

A difficult meet is one in which you have to fight for position or to get a medal.  In the last year, I've seen two people come through big in their competitions and get a medal when they had to.  Pat Rawle did so at the East Coast Classic in October by nailing his third clean and jerk after missing his first few, and in the Maryland State Championships, Ross Burkholder hit some PRs to win the meet on bodyweight.  Both these guys did well in these meets due to the competitive drive.  They'll have easy meets down the road, and they'll have meets where they don;t have a chance at all.  But they went to the competition, and faced it, and won.  Sometimes we don't win in the face of adversity.  I've certainly faced tough situations and lost or not come through, but I've done the comps and learned from them.

My third argument is to always go to the big meets you qualify for.  I've heard people say they "aren't ready yet".  Bullshit.  You qualify, you're ready. It isn't your fault the qualifying total was set so low.  if you're competing, and you qualify for a big meet, go.  When I qualified for the State Wrestling Tournament, did I decide to not wrestle because I wasn't going to win it all?  Nope.   Going to the big meets is an honor to you, your coach, and the sport.  Honor them with your presence (financial difficulties and family engagements often prevent your going to the big meets, but that's a different story). Standing on the platform with the best in the country or the world measures you against those people- you are there for a reason.  No, I wasn't going to beat Shane Hamman at USAW Nationals, but did I give a crap?  Nope, I went.  And I did well, hit some PRs, represented myself well.  and looking back on my career, I competed twice against a national coaching and strength guru and beat him both times.  Was I a better lifter?  No, I was a better competitor.  

Being that better competitor is what going to these meets is about.  Handling myself well and knowing what to do when I needed to do it enabled me to win some medals, and knowing I could stand up to the test helps me in the gym every day. getting hammered by the competition, being faced with others, in front of a crowd, having people strive for you and root against you, changes you as a person.  It also changes your training in light of that moment. The continuum of training and competing complement each other and enhance each other, and you become a stronger person for it.  

In order to prepare yourself for the competition, especially if you have severe anxiety, you must compete often enough that you have an easy routine; you must also have a support network around yourself to take away the external distractions, and you must train and compete with the same mindset.

Since we talked above about competing often, I'll address the need for a support network to take away external distractions.  Having a coach and a team help you at a meet is vital, since distractions will occur.  You'll forget tape, food, your uniform might be illegal, whatever.  But you need to know that your only concern is lifting.  In order to ensure your focus, get your lifting bag ready a day in advance of traveling , and double check it.  Always carry your singlet and shoes in a carry-on if you're flying.  Bring some food and snacks in your bag, and some extra cash.  And most of all, just listen and focus.  let someone else do the worrying and thinking. Also, be single-minded.  Smile, be nice, but you are there to lift, not to worry about other people's lifting.  Once you're done your session, you can help others.  Before your session, help out a bit, but don't worry too much about others.  During and before your session, make your lifting the focus of why you're at the meet.  

Training the way you compete is a simple concept.  You always approach the bar the same way, have the same simple cues in your head, and you always focus on what will be the one constant in your competitions:  your feet and your body.  Take the cues form how you feel, not what you see.  Lift with intensity in training, and lift with confidence in the meet.  Training in a busy gym is awesome for meet prep, as people will walk in front of you, there's going to be noise, and you will be confronted with sensory distractions.  learning to focus only on your body in the face of these distractions will help you in a competition.  Also, train on different platforms, turn yourself around on a  platform, go to other gyms and train.  

Michael McKennaComment