One of the beliefs I have albeit an old fashioned and out dated one, is that all lifters who compete should give something back to the sport of powerlifting. If you lift in a competition, large or small, you should at some point spot, load, judge, or do something at a contest to make it run more efficiently. Some men and women are obviously not capable of spotting safely due to their physical stature but anyone can load a bar either on the platform or in the warm-up room. For reasons I do not understand, this task, especially in the warm-up room, is often seen as “peon work” on the list of meet day tasks, yet it is vital. While most lifters have a coach, there are not enough bodies around to load, or load quickly in the warm-up area, leaving some lifters rushed or short on their warm-up attempts. Some meet directors are experienced enough to know that having a few “attendees” in the warm-up area available to assist loading if asked or if needed, makes for a much more efficient meet. I believe it is assumed that “there are plenty of guys with each lifter or team who could be doing this” but that just isn’t true. Especially in smaller contests that host primarily inexperienced lifters, many competitors might arrive by themselves or with a training partner serving as their coach or handler. A handful of lifters like this are the antagonist to the slick, fully staffed teams that show up with designated loaders and spotters of their own, lifters who will not be in competition on this specific day who are present to do no more than serve the needs of their teammates whose every warm-up attempt is carefully scripted and scrutinized.
On the platform, it is vital to have efficient loaders and safe spotters. Having “big guys” spot is not enough. Having “strong, experienced” spotters makes them safe spotters. Of course, one cannot be experienced without first spending time in the gym spotting and then offering their services to do the same in a contest. We were very fortunate when Kathy and I had our Iron Island Gym because we constructed a spotting/loading crew that was eager and willing to do both tasks in an exemplary manner and became so proficient that they were asked to serve in that capacity at the major national contests of almost every lifting association active during the 1990s. They weren’t all large but all were strong enough to spot 900 to 1000 pound squats well on a lift-to-lift basis. Our crew had little ego involved in their task which is a necessary quality. I can recall smaller, local meets in the 1960s when a coach or friend of a national level lifter who was competing, would come into the audience and ask another “known lifter” if they would mind coming up to the platform, with the meet director’s approval, to spot a particularly heavy attempt due to a lack of confidence in the platform staff. In almost every case, the other big time lifter would leave the audience to insure a safe lifting environment for the competitor. However I recall one incident where the competitor had consistently challenged and was about to overtake the lifting feats of the one in the audience and he would not provide any help, stating, “Why would I want to spot a guy who’s going to break my state record?” He lost the respect of everyone who witnessed his selfishness while two other large, strong looking men whom few knew offered their services and exited the spectator area to do so for the record lift. Again, at any meet large or small, there is no “unimportant job” if it is related to lifter safety or meet efficiency.
At our annual (yes, after two enjoyable July driveway contests, everyone involved always refers to it as our “annual contest”) summer powerlifting contest held in our driveway, as described in previous blog postings, we noted that in addition to our former platform crew using the occasion as “reunion time” and thus providing a very safe lifting experience, we also provide the highest quality of judging. One of the advantages of being older or just plain old and being involved in the sport of powerlifting since its inception in 1964 as an official sport and prior to that in odd lift contests, is that one knows a lot of people also involved in, and thus very experienced in all aspects of the sport. We have a number of lifting friends and acquaintances who hold or held national and/or international judging cards, often for multiple organizations and with specific organizations as they changed their affiliation and name over the decades. Thus the judging is fair and in my opinion, as accurate as it could be. Absent the gray slacks, blue sports jacket, and white dress shirts required by some organizations, our judging standards are as stringent but fair to the lifters as one would find in any contest. This is exactly as it was at our Iron Island sponsored meets and we ran on average, five major meets per year for a seven year period. The reputation our contests had carried through all of the different organizations (making one specific organization hesitant to ever ask Kathy and me to sit for their major meets because they did not want their lifts judged strictly!), our core group of judges were known nationally for their fairness and precision, and we all held cards with most of the organizations, lifetime cards for those organizations who authorized those at the time.
My former training partner and lifting protégé who far surpassed any success I had in the sport of powerlifting, Linda Jo Belsito. LJ is currently with the Office of the Surgeon General of the United States as a Senior Regulatory Research Officer in FDA/CDRH/FDOI Branch. She has won numerous national and world championships in both powerlifting and Olympic Weightlifting yet gives freely of her time to coach, judge, load, and spot at numerous meets. She is the epitome of one who has benefited and then given back to the sport
Some of the women that Kathy coached had such a grand time lifting in their first contest at the July meet that they wanted to immediately lift again, as did a few others who asked about a chance to learn about the sport of powerlifting. Thus, we had the first of what will no doubt become another annual “women’s contest” which was a smaller affair. We asked one of our young lifters to sit in the judge’s chair for the specific purpose of literally learning how to judge. He has been asked to judge other lifters during training sessions but as one would wish to gain lifting or competitive experience at a smaller contest rather than at a major national level meet, we believe that the best way to “break judges in” is to have them sit, usually with an experienced judge at their side offering feedback and critique, at a smaller, lower level contest. Our young guy did a terrific job and will have more confidence and be more accurate and exacting the next time he judges. I have been at large regional meets where the directors were still trying to pull people from the audience to judge and this is one of the jobs that has to be done by someone with experience and of course, some sort of certification. “He lifts a lot” is not a criterion for accurate judging!
If one is going to enjoy the benefits of lifting and competition, the realization that it takes many individuals performing many individual tasks to provide for a safe, efficient, and enjoyable contest, should be recognized. Many lifters never think past themselves, their own lifting, their own meet performance, and thus, there is no involvement past their actual meet preparation and competing that interests them. The sport prospers only when all of the major and minor jobs are spoken for and carried out to the best of everyone’s ability. Keep the selfish attitude locked away when it comes to our sport.