Lessons Learned from International Competition: Dane Miller of Garage Strength

Dan Miller’s Athlete, Jordan Wissinger, Competing at the 2019 Pan American Championships

With the conclusion of the 2019 Pan American Championships recently, I reached out to fellow coach, friend, and rockstar, Dane Miller, to see what he learned from his experiences coaching at the most successful international meet in Team USA history.

Dane Miller of Garage Strength

For those of you who are not familiar with Dane, he is the owner of Garage Strength in Reading, PA and has developed and coached athletes to international competitions at the youth, junior, and senior level within a relatively short amount of time. Something very few coaches have been able to accomplish.

I love the opportunity to learn from other great coaches and their experiences, so I’m grateful that Dane was willing to share his wealth of knowledge with us! Without further ado, here’s my interview with Dane:

DON: You recently got back from coaching at the Pan American Championships down in Guatemala.  As a coach, what was the biggest thing you took away from that competition?

DANE: There are so many lessons learned on these trips. Lessons that are specific to the sport of weightlifting and lessons that are also related to other aspects such as travel, sleep preparation, nutrition on the road, general organization, etc…Ultimately, the two biggest lessons I see are more from the lifting realm. Every lifter speaking about the future, the lifters discussing their programming AFTER Pan Ams, those were the lifters that didn’t compete as well. Every lifter that was entirely focused on the tasks that were immediately in front of them were the lifters that tore it up!

Cj Cummings is a great example. He arrived in Guatemala the night before he was set to compete. When we ate breakfast the next morning, he wasn’t stressed about weights, he wasn’t talking about how he came in the night before and had long travel, all he was focused on was making lifts. His direct response, “As long as I make my lifts, it will be fine.” That attitude is the “go with the flow” style attitude that creates champions. SO…focus on the task at hand, make lifts and go with the flow. Those are the best lessons.

DON: I want to learn more about your process for evaluating the performance of both yourself and your athletes.  How do you judge and evaluate success and/or shortcomings in a meet, and what do you do to ensure better success in the future?

DANE: Judgement of my performance is based around a few things. I want to see how prepared my athlete was physically, mentally and technically. Did they hit their necessary numbers during the last 10 days of preparation? If so, then we are in a good spot physically. Were they focused entirely on the competition, the task at hand and did they have a clear cut goal laid out in their mind that could be executed? If so, then we are in a good spot. Finally, how was the movement and technique of the athlete. Were their positions solid, did they understand what our technical goals were? These are all aspects I focus on as a coach to ensure that we are clear about where we are heading for each meet, international or national.

As for my athletes, I want to see how prepared they are on game day. Did they pack their food for the meet, do they have their stimulants, do they have chalk, tape, wraps, everything you could possibly use for lifting, they better have in their bag! When we do our meet preparation, are they in a firm mindset, are they confident? That helps me see where they are at mentally. The ultimate benchmark is based around warm ups, how they handle hairy situations where they have to sit or wait for attempts and then how they execute on the competition platform. If they miss lifts they should not miss, then that’s not a good situation obviously. If they miss lifts that I view as “reach” lifts, then I am less inclined to view those lifts in a negative light.

DON: What are the differences in coaching at an International level vs. a national level meet?

DANE: I think there are a few key differences. The equipment at international competitions is almost always a bit lower quality, especially at Pan Ams because the Pan Am competitions are in poorer countries that do not have the funding that we have in the US. That means the bars may not have great knurling, they may not rotate well, the chalk may not be great, the platforms might have grooves in them, the mats on the side might be uneven…but we need to remember that everyone is dealing with the same situation!

Internationally, I have also found most athletes are jammed into one area with regards to their attempts. This can be similar to some National events but I rarely have seen 8-10 athletes open up within 2-3 kilos at a national competition. This past event, Senior Pan Ams, Jordan Wissinger waited 17 minutes from his opener snatch to his second attempt. This is stuff that needs to be factored into preparation. Sometimes our athletes will complain about sitting and waiting BUT, being able to sit and wait and still perform is key on the international stage.

At National meets, all of the hospitality tends to be excellent, the food is normal and the travel is generally simple. This makes for a lot less stress for the athlete. One final difference at international meets is that coaches tend to take more sensible jumps. Usually, the jumps in weight are more calculated and more explainable. Coaches will have a bit more reasoning behind attempts and if they do end up taking a BIG jump, it is likely to jump into a medal spot or to win.

At international meets, everything in my mind is about earning those medals. The more medals, the better. Generally, the total does not matter. If it is a world qualifier or Olympic Games qualifier, the total still matters but for the most part, medals are the number one goal. At the national stage, I tend to focus less on medals and more on specific totals to make international teams. I want to have the best team in America and that means MAKE TEAMS! The more athletes I have get on teams, the better. So my approach at national meets is to make teams, my approach at international meets is to earn medals.

DON: Which coaches were you impressed with the most and why?

DANE: Every coach at Pan Ams is there for a reason. It’s an honor to be at meals and be surrounded by coaches like Max Aita, Spencer Arnold, Tim Swords, Brian Secrest, Dave Spitz and many of the other greats in our sport. Every single coach has an incredible knack for their lifter, their mindset and their movement and what could be bothering them or helping them heading into this big of a competition. Out of those coaches, Josh Galloway, coach of Kate Nye, is the coach that has impressed me the most on a regular basis. This was the third (I think) trip with Josh and just having short discussions with him and watching Kate’s progress, he is impressive. He also has very good energy and is a good dude to be around!

5) When it comes to competition coaching, what are the top 3 most important things you are focused on and why?

I have all of my warm ups laid out ahead of time, I ask the athlete what they want to do if we get jammed up at a weight and the meet slows down and I always make sure the athlete has enough food, pre-workout, tape, chalk, etc. At pre-meet, we always discuss the cues we are focused on, the ritual before lifting the bar, all the way down to asking them if they want back slaps! I believe the three key factors end up being: 1. Have a good loader who is quick and paying attention. 2. Have a coach that is the communicator and does the counting on the table and helps let the other coaches know how far out they are. 3. Have a hype man, the dude that everyone feeds off of and get excited about going out and hitting PR’s!

6) In an international level competition setting, what are you more concerned about – performance or results? Is that different from a national level competition setting? If so, how?

This is similar to number three. In most cases, I am more concerned about earning medals and making lifts. If everyone makes lifts, they earn the medals we want. This is slightly different from national competitions because we often work toward the goal of making teams and may take bigger risks in competition…BUT, the most important aspect behind both situations is that the athlete MUST MAKE LIFTS. That means they need to be consistent, they need to know the technical goal and they need to know the approach to being a champion!


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