Should You Have Your Athletes Compete Right Away?

Well, just like any question pertaining to health, fitness and nutrition (I’d argue almost anything in life) the answer is a resounding, “It depends.”  I know that isn’t the sexy answer you were looking for, but the reality is that competition, while a simple concept in general, does not mean the same thing, or serve the same purpose for everyone. There are considerations to be made before advising your clients one way or the other. At the end of the day, you want to be able to lead your client in the right direction for them and avoid any potential negative ramifications from that decision. 

Does that sound familiar? It should because as a coach this should be your intent when guiding your athlete in any decision-making process. A coach does not make decisions for the athlete and their journey. A coach educates and provides the athlete with the best information they can to make the most appropriate decision for themselves. We lead horses to water and show them how to drink, but we don’t hold the water in our hand for them – they should be empowered to do that on their own. It should go without saying that knowing to whom you’re giving advice is important, but in this instance, it is the only factor to consider. Ask yourself, “given what I know about this client, is competing the best thing for them and their longevity in the sport?”

Knowing the athlete’s psychology and the context of their life is paramount. Unless competing serves towards qualification to future meets, competing serves a singular objective purpose for the coach – to get up to date data on where your athlete is in terms of their progress using your services. It serves as an evaluation measure of the work you’ve done to date and provides information towards where the work should be emphasized moving forward. For the athlete, the meet can serve a multitude of purposes. Why does this athlete compete? What is their motivation to get onto the platform? It could be for fun, excitement, community, progress, PR’s, pride, self-esteem, confidence, ranking, money etc. While not all “healthy” reasons, they are still motivators for that athlete. Knowing where your client lies within that spectrum should be considered.

Given the current world social and political climate, what the athlete has been doing the last 3 months training-wise. Did they have access to a barbell and traditional training means during the pandemic? Were they doing home workouts? Were they sedentary? Further to the training, has their body composition changed? Gained or lost weight? If the person’s training was unaffected, this is a non-issue, but if that wasn’t the case, these factors are important to consider. If this client has been working with you for some time and you kept them active and training in some capacity, that may affect the timeline for them to compete. The fact remains that placing the body under maximal loads when unprepared can pose a significant risk towards injury. We want to mitigate as many negative repercussions as we can.

What about their personal situation? Are they working? Financially stable? Have child care responsibilities? While you may be reading these points, and think to yourself, “if they want to compete despite these factors, who am I to deny them that?” Well, you’re not denying them that, you’re simply letting them know that the circumstances are what they are and may affect their outcomes at the competition – we educate and inform. In many instances, as a coach, we have the pleasure to work with some extremely motivated athletes. They may attempt to make decisions without considering the broader impact. They see the pebble drop into the pond, but you as the coach need to see the ripples all the way to the edges. That’s your job.

As you can see, the question of “should I have my clients compete right away?” cannot answered in a blanket statement. Factors relating to motivation, training status, preparedness and lifestyle should all be considered and weighed against each other. Ultimately, it will be the choice of the client whether they want to compete or not. As a coach, you need to look at the big picture and think long term. It may be as simple as letting them compete for fun, or hitting some submaximal numbers, or you might advise them to build back up and wait until they’re ready for some PRs. Take the blinders off the athlete and show them the possible downstream outcomes. Be the voice of reason, not an enabler.