A few weeks back I was lucky enough to screen the new documentary, American Weightlifting. You can find my review of the film here. As a follow up, the filmmaker, Greg Everett, sat down to answer a few questions of mine on the documentary, training and coaching. The transcript of this conversation follows.
Heavey Duty: Let me begin by saying the film is very inspiring. Nearly everyone I’ve spoken with that has seen the film said their first reaction after viewing was that they wanted to get into the gym and lift. Of course, these were people that are already involved in weightlifting. What is your desired reaction for those that view the film and have no experience with the sport?
Greg Everett: I hope they have a similar reaction—I’d like to think there’s a chance that people who are seeing the sport for the first time will feel compelled to try it and tell more people about it. I realize that’s pretty optimistic considering the subject matter, and moreover, recognizing that the movie isn’t exactly a stellar dramatic film production, but it certainly has more potential of achieving this goal than anything else out there in the weightlifting world presently. I have talked to a couple athletes from different sports who found it similarly compelling despite not being weightlifters because the ideas and themes are pretty universal for anyone who is passionate and dedicated to something in his or her life.
I think the worst case scenario is that non-weightlifters hate it, but it’s inspiring enough to those in the weightlifting community already to encourage them to put even more work into helping the sport grow. So while it may end up being indirect, I do think it will help the sport one way or another.
Heavey Duty: In other interviews I’ve seen you state that if you had to start from scratch with the film again you’d go about it much differently. Would you ever consider a follow up film, perhaps focusing more on individual athletes or tailored to those with no exposure to the sport?
Greg Everett: I’ve been making notes for a follow up already for about a year. It’s a definite possibility, and focusing more on the athletes would be involved. Any follow up would require more of a traditional story arc. The issue is finding a way to make that happen with zero dollars or time.
Heavey Duty: You’ve stated that your goal with this film was to build awareness around the sport of weightlifting. I’ve also seen you say that, in your opinion, one of the best ways to improve the sport in this country is to get it into the schools. However, schools are consistently slashing physical education programs and reducing all but the most popular sports due to budget cuts. With that in mind, do you feel that getting weightlifting into schools is the most practical approach to build awareness or are there other routes we should be pursuing to get kids interested in the sport?
Greg Everett: I think dismissing a possibility on the grounds of impracticality is a good way to get rid of just about every way to help the sport grow—none of the potential methods are very practical or easy. I think you always have to consider what the best way of doing something is, and then adjust as needed from there, rather than starting at the bottom.
The only way it will get into schools is through the hard work of individual teachers—it won’t be something that originates at the administrative level. This is really not much different from how the sport has stayed alive to this point in the US. Coaches haven’t been coaching because they’re making money and it’s making their lives easier—they’ve been doing it because it’s what they love doing, so they find ways to make it work, and it’s never easy. You don’t necessarily need a formal weightlifting program in a school or even a full unit on weightlifting in a PE class—really all you need is for a PE teacher or sports coach in a school to implement the snatch and clean & jerk in one way or another to expose the kids to it. That alone is a huge step in the right direction.
Heavey Duty: As a coach and someone that cares about the future of this sport, what can I do to help further the cause and build awareness?
Greg Everett: Publishing weightlifting material like this on your website is one way. The more quality information on the sport is made accessible to interested people, the better. Introduce the lifts to every athlete and client you work with when appropriate, and let your enthusiasm inspire them to try it out. I think people are often surprised at how appealing weightlifting is to so many people if they’re just given a chance to experience it.
Heavey Duty: You’ve said the best way for someone to get started or progress in weightlifting is to work with a good coach. In your estimation, what criterion is most important when considering a coach?
Greg Everett: I suppose experience, and that experience should be appropriate to what that individual is expecting to gain from working with that coach. In other words, if you want to learn the lifts and just train recreationally, you want a coach who spends most of his/her time working with people like that—often an individual like that will not have a great experience with coaches who focus on more advanced competitive weightlifters because they’re not interested or are too busy with those athletes to really give the necessary attention and energy.
Heavey Duty: Regarding quality coaching, I believe most coaches truly want to improve their ability but lack the education and experience that make a quality coach. What are the best things one can do to improve their weightlifting coaching skills?
Greg Everett: Apprenticing in one form or another is, in my opinion, by far the best way to learn as a coach. In this sport, I think that means first being a competitive weightlifter under a good coach for a significant period of time—having that experience as a lifter goes a long way with knowing how to communicate to your lifters as a coach in the future. After that, coaching alongside an established coach will help you make that transition from athlete to coach and give you a lot of the basic tools you’ll use in the future as you evolve according to your own abilities.
Heavey Duty: Ok, so now it’s time for me to gush a bit. I’m a super fan. The work you consistently produce is fantastic. I read the performance menu, listen to the paleo solution podcast, read the Catalyst newsletter & blog. So a practical question, how do you find time to produce the aforementioned high quality content AND make a movie, run a gym, train, etc.? You make me feel like a chump!
Greg Everett: It involves a lot of sacrifices and compromises, stress and no sleep. It’s normal for me to be at work from about 8 am to 7 pm every day. My ambition has always exceeded my abilities, but to me, anything but that is senseless. I’m also the kind of person who just naturally does things very quickly—I have found I can do a given task in far less time than the people around me, so I use that to allow me to do what I do. The entire Catalyst Athletics business is built on that ability—we wouldn’t exist and be capable of doing what we do otherwise, because I do nearly everything myself. I’ve always been in a position where I couldn’t afford to pay people to do things, so I was forced to teach myself how to do them myself. As examples, I build and maintain all of our websites, do all our graphic design, build all the handmade gear in our gym, etc. If we had to actually pay people to do those things, we couldn’t afford to be in business. In the last couple years, I have passed more of the day-to-day administrative work to two employees (who are also two of my weightlifters) so I can use my time for more important things (e.g. writing, making movies, etc—the stuff that actually pays our bills). This is very rewarding, but obviously it takes a toll mentally and physically.
There you have it. Great advice for athletes and coaches alike. American Weightlifting is available for purchase beginning November 16th. You can pick up a copy here if you haven’t already!