by Matt Bosack
In my years of coaching, there is one thing I have observed that affects athletes more than anything else: attitude. And when I’m referring to attitude, I mean the approach you take towards your training. Some people are super intense. Others are laid back. And others, quite frankly, are neurotic and hard on themselves. The right attitude makes good athletes great. The wrong attitude can make the best athletes mediocre. It’s something we should all be aware of, because attitude is rarely consistent. It is affected by our successes and failures, by our stress in and out of the gym, and any number of other factors. But what’s consistent is that it impacts our training. Sometimes, the difference between a missed lift or a poor performance in a WOD has almost little to do with technique, skill, or strength, but all about the mental approach.
What I really want to focus on is negativity in your attitude. Look, some people like to scream before they go for a 1RM – cool. If it works for them, go for it. Some people are more Zen-like in their approach. Yes, that’s attitude, and it’s important to find what headspace you like to get in before you approach a task. But within that, there’s something else – the belief that you can or can’t do something, as well as the thoughts that circle your mind after you have successfully completed or failed that task.
I’ve seen it before – that look on someone’s face when they’re looking at the rig. I know they’re thinking, “man, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to string these pull-ups together.” And if you look at the task at hand with such a negative attitude, chances are, you won’t be successful. And sure enough, that person fails to find a rhythm in the pull-ups. As a coach, I’m not going to lie – it’s frustrating to look at an athlete you know is completely capable of doing something and seeing them fail because they don’t believe in themselves. Now, it’s my job to figure out ways to get that athlete to believe in themselves, whether it’s breaking down the movement or having that person do some accessory work to get more comfortable in a component of that movement. But really, what I’m doing isn’t so much about getting them to improve, but building trust in themselves that they can actually do it.
Sometimes the athlete starts to compound negativity, and this is when attitude becomes a serious problem. The cycle goes something like this: they haven’t PRed in a while or they feel they haven’t been performing well, so they approach the lift or WOD like they NEED to hit it or do well to prove they’re making progress. They end up underperforming or missing the lift, and so now they feel like they’re regressing. And from that point on, everything they do is a measure of their worth and the value of their training as a whole. They won’t be satisfied until they’ve hit that PR or killed that WOD, and they sink deeper and deeper into a funk. If you’re guilty of this, acknowledge it and work hard to change your approach to one that’s more positive. Just showing up at the gym consistently is a win. Putting in the work despite how crummy you may be feeling is an even bigger win because you’re making an effort even when it’s difficult to do so and when most people would rather give up. That’s a significant success in its own right.
I try to instill in my classes and especially with my weightlifting team (as weightlifting is all about mindset) a positive attitude. I want you guys to be loose and have fun. If you place too much value and importance on any one lift or WOD, you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. And we all know that one lift or WOD isn’t representative of who we are as athletes.
The athletes who I have seen most successful are the ones who put in the work, have fun, and just respect the process. There isn’t an emotional attachment to any single task, but to the process as a whole. They want to come in and do the work and have fun doing it, and so when there are failures, they don’t feel bad, and when there are successes, it’s a feeling of excitement and never of relief. Here’s the thing – if you’re an athlete, you’re going to have bad days, bad weeks, and hell, even bad months. That’s just part of it. But if you put in the work, you’ll improve. And as soon as you just let yourself be positive, you’ll be surprised at how fast and how often the PRs come.
Matt Bosack is the Head Coach of Downtown LA Weightlifting and Trojan CrossFit.