Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Three Reasons Why I Failed the Coaching Platform Evaluation

by Robert Lee | February 22, 2018

After three long, arduous days, I was exhausted. The Starting Strength Seminar had earned its reputation. Each day at the seminar was filled with emotional highs and lows, successes and mistakes. At one moment, I was convinced that I would pass. And at another, I wallowed in my shame for failing. The suspense aroused inordinate amounts of stress. To make matters worse, they don’t send out the results until Tuesday at midnight. Hence, Monday night I barely slept, and Tuesday I counted the minutes until midnight as if it was New Year’s Eve.

Then, the email came…with one attachment (not a good sign). As I read, “Robert, you did not pass the Starting Strength Coach platform evaluation,” my heart sank into utter disappointment. I spent the last year and a half reading, studying, and coaching. I even took a semester-long intermission from college to intern at a Starting Strength Gym. I ate, slept, and breathed Starting Strength (ask my wife!). Nevertheless, I still failed. To spare you this experience, I’m reporting the three reasons for my failure so that you can learn from my mistakes.

1. I didn’t slow the lifter down. This may be the first time your lifter has ever performed the lifts under the eye of a coach, let alone a group of strangers judging his every movement. People on the platform are often nervous and jittery. This results in them rushing through their set-ups and lifts, leading to improper technique. As coaches, it is our job to make them slow down and focus. You must understand that your staff coaches will very quickly notice any deviations from proper technique in your lifter, and they are looking to see that you also see them and can fix them in the correct priority, in real time. 

For example, during my deadlift coaching evaluation, I did everything right during the five-step process. I enforced proper stance, grip, hip position, and back-extension all while ensuring the lifter kept the bar over mid-foot every rep. However, when it was time for my lifter to perform a set of five without standing up and resetting, (out of nervous timidity) I allowed him to let the bar down in such a way that he pulled his next rep slightly forward of mid-foot. Immediately, Nick Delgadillo reprimanded me.

Lesson learned: I must stop the lifter as many times as necessary until he or she does it correctly. Future SSC candidate, don’t hesitate to halt your lifter at the sight of the smallest deviation from proper set-up. Indeed, after learning this lesson, I must have stopped a gentleman 30 times during the power clean platform evaluation, forcing him to set up correctly every time. I failed the deadlift, but passed the power clean platform evaluation. I suggest you start demanding perfect technique from your current trainees now in order to come prepared for the seminar. Be critical and relentless, because that’s the standard of coaching you will be expected to uphold at the seminar.

2. I let the environment change my coaching habits. Most seminars are held at relatively smaller facilities. It is likely that you will have limited space to observe your lifter. Moreover, there will be dozens of people scattered all over in a buzz of energetic movement. As a result, you might not have the amount of space you’re accustomed to when coaching. For example, on most lifts, I normally maintain a distance of 3 to 5 feet as I walk around the lifter, methodically scanning his or her entire body from top to bottom. This permits me to observe a broad range of angles and prevents me from missing small aberrations. But at the seminar, I was about 2 feet away the entire time.

To compound the situation, I had the pressure of a staff coach watching, who despite the unfavorable work space, missed nothing. Unfortunately, on account of the combination of nerves and differences in environment, I didn’t perform my typical full-body scans. Consequently, I neglected to notice the lifter shifting his weight forward of mid-foot on multiple occasions during the squat. Of course, Niki Sims didn’t miss it. Learn from my mistake, future SSC candidate: don’t allow the environment to alter your normal patterns of observation. Instead, continue to systematically survey each facet of the lift every rep, cueing the lifter as necessary.

3. I talked too much. I am extremely passionate about the Starting Strength model. I deeply appreciate that every aspect of the model is informed by biomechanical analysis and logic. Hence, teaching people the reasons why we perform the barbell movements in the manner we do brings me great satisfaction. Indeed, for trainees to consistently work hard at pushing their knees out, contracting their abs, setting up properly, staying off their toes, etc., even when I’m not present, I believe it helps to know why these actions are important.

However, in the beginning stages, unloading this much content onto trainees only increases the chances of confusion, distracting them from correctly performing the lifts. Three of my staff coaches mentioned that I was too wordy. Future SSC candidate, don’t make the same mistake. While at the seminar, refrain from giving any detailed explanations. Remember that everybody at the seminar has heard the same explanations you have. Instead, limit yourself to only using clear and concise cues that the lifter can understand without having any prior exposure to the model. Explain less, and you’ll coach better.

Overall, despite the painful disappointment of failing the coaching evaluation, I’m sincerely grateful for its effects on my life. It’s truly shocking how much my coaching improved by spending two days near some of the best coaches in the world. For this reason, if you are interested in refining your coaching ability, attend a seminar. You will not regret it.  For those of you reading this article who have failed the platform evaluation, I encourage you not to give up. Many of the current Starting Strength Coaches didn’t pass their evaluation on the first time around. That’s what makes this credential worthwhile: only the truly competent and dedicated obtain it.

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