My Most Proud Moment Ever as a Coach

Written by Dave Thomas
Owner, Performance360

This past weekend I coached two of our athletes and supported another at the USPA Smash Weight Open, a local powerlifting meet here in San Diego.

It was my first foray into meet coaching, and it was an entirely different animal I will write about separately. I learned a lot and had a blast.

But I want to share a quick story from the meet that in the span of fifteen seconds, gave me the most pride I’ve ever had in owning Performance360.

Coach Julianne was one of our athletes competing. It was her first powerlifting meet and she busted her ass for nearly two months in preparation for the day. She dialed in her diet to a level like never before and got down to a lean 138 pounds. She hit 260#, 355# and 115# in her squat, deadlift and bench in training leading up to the meet and was feeling very strong and confident heading into the day.

After two long months of grueling commitment, she suffered a setback less than one week before the meet, straining her lumbar by accidentally letting her air out at the bottom of a squat on her last training day before the meet.

Things were grim.

Rather than quit or use this as an excuse heading into the meet, she worked even harder on her recovery (shout out to Crystal) and refused to let the setback get in her way.

Never once did she make this public. Never once did she use this as pre-qualification for under performance in case things didn’t go her way.

After five days of dedicated rehabilitation and recovery, she still didn’t know. Leading up to Saturday, she still had no idea if she could compete but she didn’t let that stop her preparation at all.

Driving to the fucking meet the morning of, she still had no idea. 

Warming up on the first lift, the back squat, she realizes she can go. She ends up with a 259# best squat, not what she hoped for but considering she couldn’t do a burpee seven days ago and didn’t know if she could put weight on her back two hours prior, this was a huge success.

Taking it one event at at time because she has no idea if she can do them until she starts warming up, bench is next. Things go fine in warm ups. Lift goes off without a hitch and she ends up with 115# best bench.

On to the final lift of the day, the deadlift. The usual bread and butter for Julianne as her training PR is 355#.

Still not knowing if she can go, she begins her warm-up. Each set I check in, “How you feel?”.

“Good.”

“How you feel?”

“Good.”

“How you feel?

“Still good.”

Things are looking pretty good heading into the lift. Everything but the weight she was set to open with.

As a coach, I failed her here. She wanted to be aggressive and selected 330# as her opener leading up to her injury.  Your opener should be something you can roll out of bed and hit any day of the week.

Since you can’t go down in weight, if you miss it, you are relatively fucked because you have to try it again on your second and third attempt. And you can imagine the difficulty of trying to re-attempt a failed 1-R max after six hours of lifting and maxing in two other events, followed by standing and sitting in a stuffy gym with terrible music playing all day.

You’re absolutely fried. Physically and mentally.

Throw a shaky back into the mix and things were looking, well, not good.

330# was to much despite it being a five rep max in training. Being a rookie coach, I lost sight of this in the management of the day.

I tried to go behind her back last minute and reduce her opener since I felt it was the right move after consulting with Brenna, one of our very experienced lifters who won Best Overall Female Lifter of the day and the Gold in the 148#.

I was ninety seconds too late as her flight already started.

I did not feel confident going into her first attempt, but I of course didn’t let her see this. She was unaware of my attempt to reduce her opener, so it was all about going in with nothing but confidence.

“Let’s go, J. You got this shit!”

The barbell did not move. She missed. Bad.

I felt legitimately sick.

At this point, she is dominating everyone in her class other than her teammate, Brenna. If she takes a zero on the deadlift she doesn’t medal, but way more important than that, she comes away from the day mentally defeated. The worst thing for any athlete.

Now, here’s where the rubber meets the road when it comes to character and what someone is fucking made of.

Let’s quickly remember that driving to this meet she was unsure she could compete. We’re six hours in and everyone is depleted. She just tapped out her CNS trying to pull 315# on a back nowhere near 100%, and missed. Missed as bad as you can miss on a deadlift where the barbell just says, “Nope”.

With physiology doing all it can to prevent her from hitting the lift, at this point most people check the fuck out mentally or just throw in the towel altogether.

She regroups, throws on some headphones and goes into the corner until her next attempt. She gets her mind right and goes back up.

Drills it.

704# total, Silver in the 148# (behind Brenna) and I am pretty certain, the runner up to Best Female Lifter of the day (also behind Brenna).

After that lift, she was in tears coming off the platform. My guess is the emotions of the day and hitting that lift, the feeling of overcoming and mental triumph.

I gave her a hug and what I was unable to express at that moment was that I had never been more proud of another athlete or person I’ve worked with in my entire life.

Julianne was given every single opportunity to withdraw, quit, pout or throw in the towel and blame circumstance.

She did not. And she prevailed.

This is why she is my unofficial head coach. This is why she is my friend.

I’m sure not one observer there had any idea what was going on with her behind the scenes.

A small local powerlifting meet, yes. Perhaps insignificant to most readers, but a microcosm of life and how you play cards when the dealer gives you a bad hand.

This was the best example of that, for me, I have witnessed in person. It’s efforts like this that makes me proud of Performance360 and the people in it. I can’t say what other lifters there would have done, but I have a decent guess.

This entry was written spur of the moment with very little time on my calendar today, so apologies if the read was scatter-brained.

My coach and friend needed to be recognized, though.

Hope you can take some lessons from it. I know I did.

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