Credentials Don't Make Coaches

By: Edward Baker

The past few years have been excellent for the exposure of Weightlifting. Membership in USAW has almost doubled in the past year and with that almost double the number of USAW certified coaches. Thanks to CrossFit and social media the popularity of this sport is growing and more gyms are becoming interested in learning more about Weightlifting With the booming interest, more people with certifications and degrees are coming out of the woodwork proclaiming to be coaches. And unfortunately, there is a tendency for consumers to assume that those who possess letters after their name are automatically good coaches. Credentials don’t make coaches.

That last statement isn’t to say that there is no validity in possessing credentials. Quite the contrary, obtaining a formal education in the basics of exercise physiology and biomechanics can give an individual foundational knowledge to build upon, and attending different certification courses or seminars can provide new information, or remind and reinforce what an individual has already learned. One criticism of using a formal education to coach, is that much of the literature used is derived from a Physical Therapy setting, but what is applicable to a PT patient does not necessarily apply to a lifter. For example, Karl Klein’s ‘The Knee is Not for Bending’ article featured in Sports Illustrated back in 1962 misled many to believe that full squats caused laxity of ligaments in the knee. While this has been refuted, many exercise science programs still teach this as dogma (including the University of Georgia). Sure, a full squat wouldn’t be advisable for a soccer player who’s doing physical therapy after an ACL surgery, but a hammer thrower would be missing out on the benefits of the development of the glutes (important and powerful hip extensors) that would only help them in their athletic endeavors.

Lacking a formal education in exercise science means it is up to the individual to properly educate themselves on training methodologies, and there are plenty of Weightlifting coaches in this country that have done so. My coach and mentor, John Coffee, is a prime example. While he doesn’t have an Exercise Science degree, he has definitely read his fair share of literature so that it doesn’t hold him back. At 68 years old, he’s still making strides to educate himself on how to be a better coach.

Notice that I stated ‘foundational knowledge’ earlier in the last paragraph; While credentials can provide an excellent basis, a prospective coach must not stop striving to educate themselves. I feel that too often there is a tendency for people to either go into certifications or seminars just to obtain a credential, rather than aiming to further expand their knowledge on training methodologies.

Just as bad of a sin is that one stops trying to learn after completing the certification/seminar, with the mentality that most of what a coach needed to know was within the course material. And there are those individuals who completely scoff at certifications, seminars, or formal education altogether who, ironically, are the ones that would most greatly benefit from each.

Foundational knowledge serves as a great starting point on how to go about training an athlete, but truly learning to be a coach requires actively learning with each athlete you’re entrusted with. Everyone is different and everyone will need to be trained differently. At the end of the day, a large part of coaching is making lots and lots of educated guesses based on education and experience. When you provide a technical cue for an athlete, experience will say that it will correct a problem, but there’s no surefire way of knowing what we say will 100% work. This goes for programming as well. When I started training at Coffee’s, I hung around the gym everyday and got to see John work with people on a daily basis. This has tremendously helped me in my own coaching endeavors. The mark of a good coach is how well they convey the knowledge they possess to their athletes. Anyone can memorize a biomechanical analysis of the execution of a snatch, but that is only half the equation. If a coach can’t give the information to the athlete in a way that they can understand and execute the proper movement pattern, then it’s useless information.

In conclusion, coaches are made by education and experience. From my own personal experience, if you are aspiring to be a coach, find a well‐established, knowledgeable coach and ask if you can shadow them to see how they work with their athletes. “One can never know it all, and one should never stop striving to learn more.”