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There are two very distinct ends of the spectrum when it comes to how lifters approach competition day from a mental standpoint. Some lifters love tons of ammonia, getting smacked before a lift, screaming and yelling, and other high-intensity ways to increase adrenaline and focus. Other lifters are visibly much quieter, and prefer a calmer approach to each lift. Both approaches work, and it just depends on the individual’s personality and your level of mental discipline.

Chad Aichs was incredibly successful with the first approach, and if you search for any of his competition squat videos online you’ll see what I’m referring to. Other lifters like Casey Williams take a very calm demeanor to the platform, and I know many people ask Casey on a regular basis how/why he seems to calm before a huge lift. The examples go on and on, with successful competitors on both ends of the spectrum.

With my personality, I have found the second approach to work best on meet day. I have tried going crazy before a big competition lift and right away I could tell it wasn’t the ideal method for me. There are a few reasons I think a calm, reserved approach to meet day has its benefits. To explain these reasons, I want to take a slightly different path rather than just listing them out. When writing articles I think it can be helpful to explain principles using analogies and quotes, and describe them in a way that is interesting and relatable moreso than just a bulleted list. One of my favorite books and movie series is The Godfather, and we’re going to use the approach the Corleone Family takes with their business and apply it to the subject of meet approach.

The 1972 crime classic The Godfather tells the story of the Corleone family as power shifts from Vito Corleone to his son, Michael. The story details the transformation of Michael Corleone from a reluctant member of the Family to ruthless Mafia boss. Michael is cold and calculated, and approaches situations with an almost eerie sense of foresight and strategy. He takes much of this approach from his father Vito, whose calm but ruthless approach was key to the Family’s success in moving to America and creating a Mafia empire.

There are many memorable quotes from The Godfather, and these quotes (along with the philosophies behind them) can translate to the platform.

“A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.”

The business advisor and lawyer (otherwise known as the Consigliere) for the Corleone Family is Tom Hagen. While the Family uses violence to achieve much of their objectives, strategy and effective negotiation play a large role in their success. Vito Corleone speaks highly of Hagen and his role in the strategic success of the Family.

While the Corleone Family has the ability to inflict plenty of violence against their enemies, they recognize that intelligent strategy can be a much more successful approach. There is equal importance in intelligent strategy on the powerlifting platform. Just because a lifter is the strongest going into the meet doesn’t mean they will win at the end of the day. The technical and mental aspects of lifting play a huge role in a lifter's success, and this role is amplified on meet day.

One area that this is extremely important is in picking meet attempts. Using a realistic opener and taking wise jumps from one attempt to another is imperative to reaching your goals for competition. How many times have you seen an incredibly strong and talented lifter either bomb out or lose to a weaker lifter because they picked their attempts unwisely?

Having an experienced handler, and trusting them as you go throughout the day, is incredibly important. Know your goals for the meet, have a planned strategy, and follow it with an open mind for adaptation as the unexpected happens throughout the day.

“Never tell anybody outside of the family what you’re thinking again.”

Vito’s oldest son, Santino, has a hot tempter and a tendency to speak his mind without any mark of self-control. Vito has to chastise Santino after he blurts out a question regarding The Family’s plans for the future. Dave Tate wrote an article a year or two back where he spoke on the concept of having goals but keeping them to yourself:

“You can't know where you're going without good goals. However, I just want to mention one aspect of training goals that you may not have considered: your goals can limit you. You should set that goal out there, not to work toward, but to smash. Too many times, I've seen people say, "my goal is to bench 300 pounds." Then when they finally get there, they could have done so much more…

The other thing I suggest when setting goals is to keep your goal specific to yourself and a select few, and general to all others. In other words, if your goal is to bench 400 pounds, keep that as a marker in your mind, but if others ask just tell them, "I'm training for a bigger bench," or "I'm working toward a new PR." Your goal may be to get your bodyfat down to 6%, but all the masses need to know is, "I'm dieting right now."

Just tell 'em you're dieting.

The reason for this is simple: 90% of everyone you meet are negative pricks who will go out of their way to tell you why you can't do something. Once they know your goal, they'll try and tear you down. Just keep it vague, and all they can do is wish you success.”

When you go to a meet, be honest and trusting to your support system. A solid handler who is experienced, knows you as a lifter, and knows your goals is incredibly important. They have to keep you accountable and in order to do that they need your trust. Beyond your handlers, training partners, and close friends, use discretion in what you say and to whom. This isn’t even necessarily that you have a secret to keep, but like Dave mentioned above, the things you say can limit yourself if you start to believe them as your limits.

“Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgement.”

Michael Corleone feels strongly that emotion should be left out of strategic decisions when it comes to The Family. On more than one occasion Michael makes it clear that a decision, “isn’t personal, it’s strictly business.” Santino Corleone’s emotion and temper put him in more than one tough situation, and Michael’s calmer demeanor provides larger success for The Family.

Emotion and passion for competing is a great thing and should fuel your decisions, but not to the point that you start to let irrational emotions affect your strategy. The past two points on strategy and having a handler you can trust feed into this point as well. You should be intense, but in a way that still keeps intact the technical and mental components of your performance. Bob Youngs once told me, “your excitement level can never exceed your ability to keep your technique.” If you look at those that take a more expressive approach to the platform, the most successful lifters still keep their emotions in check with a disciplined attitude.

These philosophies that made the Corleone Family successful also translate to what can make many lifters successful on the platform.  This was a different twist on explaining these basic principles that hopefully you enjoyed. The characteristics that make one group or person successful in many cases can also translate to other areas, and sometimes looking at things through a different lens can help drive these points home. When you approach the platform next, make your passion and emotion be an asset, not a limitation. Strategy, wisdom , and calculated decision-making will ensure success on meet day. And if your competition shows jealousy towards your success, you can tell them, “It wasn’t personal. It was strictly business.”