| | Redefining Weakness Training: Approach

Author / John

3 - 5 minute read

Your athlete’s (and your own) weaknesses are not improving.  Why?  Your use of the word, weakness.

This word is not empowering performance, it’s enslaving it.  This isn’t to protect egos or coddle youth athletes.  We want to bring the attention back to the limiting factors affecting athletic development and performance.


My athletic and coaching journey has sent me up and down the competitive ranks of sport. I’ve trained in an array of facilities all over the globe, from off the grid rustic iron jungles to the chrome plate kingdoms of Division I football.  Moreover, I’ve observed and experienced a skill level bell curve of coaches attack weaknesses through varying practices.  However, not all of these practices were effective.  These observations led me to identify three major faults in the use of the term ‘weakness training’:

  1. Approach – the self fulling prophecy
  2. Programming – structure and placement that set the athlete up for failure
  3. Progress – nothing in place to measure competency

“Weakness” already has a set definition in the mind of many athletes, especially when it comes to training.  Many of you even thought of one or two components you loath as you clicked on the article!  This perception is exactly why we must redefine this integral part of training and correct the faults listed above.  Change “weakness training” to: 

Skill Practice: dedicated, targeted training that drives prudent application which yields accelerated returns.

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My epiphany occurred while working under Raphael Ruiz.  He stated, “Identify and correct what is limiting an athlete, not what they’re lacking in.”  The terms ‘limiting’ and ‘lacking’ provide a coach an opportunity to identify, measure, and improve.  More importantly, this approach directs the coach to take an honest, complete look at their athlete.  Not looking at athlete performance as a checklist, but searching for what is preventing them from reaching their full performance potential.

Zach Anderson Power Athlete Weakness Training

Based off observations and countless of conversations, and more importantly, on field execution, this article will build a case for skill practice and change the perception of weakness training, beginning with approach.

What not to do – The wrong Approach

“Do not think that what is hard for you to master is humanly impossible; and if it is humanly possible, consider it to be within your reach.”

There are two major issues in approach coaches take:

1. Tunnel Vision

Tunnel vision occurs when an athlete only sees a movement as that movement, and neglects the purpose.  A coach needs to see the athlete as a whole and movement as the sum of the parts.  Many of our warm ups breakdown the primary and secondary movements to their most basic concepts and build competency in each portion.  The athlete then has all of the tools in place to execute these major movements.

Chris McQuilkin Footwork Drills Power Athlete RCFNI

When a coach only views the squat as a squat or the snatch as a snatch, their training may still improve, but it dramatically affects the athlete’s performance in their sporting arena.  Coaching and correcting movement is more than barking cues and giving the thumbs up to all the songs on the greatest Power Athlete Spotify playlist of all time.  One must invest in understanding movement and demands of what their athlete’s training goals.  A limiting factor of an athlete can be the coach.  Especially if they lack the assessment tools and corrective/training tools to continually progress an athlete towards their goals.

2. Cattle Branding Prophecy

There are a wide variety of mentalities among athletes; the run-through-walls, the never-satisfieds, the go-through-the-motions, countless others.  A Power Coach adjusts their approach for whichever athlete shows up that training day.  

Lauren Polivka Zach Anderson Power Athlete

The athlete that gets angry at weaknesses and attacks them with intensity in-ten-cities is a dying breed!  Most just want to continue to do what comes easy to them.  When these athletes face a skill that isn’t easy, labeling this as a weakness digs a training hole because whether they admit it or not, they brand themselves “not good” at it.  Come practice time for that skill, their effort is not as focused as when they’re practicing what they enjoy.  They simply go through the motions.

What also plagues an athlete’s development is when they follow routines other athletes have done to improve.  DO NOT allow this.  Athletes that fall into this trap not only ingrain the weakness mentality, but also create a toxic rift of athlete insecurities forcing you to play therapist instead of coach.  If you see this occur, intervene and apply coaching.

Not athlete/member-advice, but coaching.

Rome was not built in a day – the right approach

Turning weaknesses into strengths is a process.  If the athlete does not understand this, they will quickly become frustrated and never progress.  The only real impediment to accelerated returns on dedicated skill practice is an athlete’s emotions.  They must have faith in the process, and by redefining the term ‘weakness’ and applying the practices discussed above and throughout this series, emotions can be managed.

Luke Summers Cali Hinzman Chelsey Haardt Power Athlete

A Power Coach must train the athlete’s emotional response.  Emotionally developed athletes enjoy the process of finding and overcoming new challenges.  Some athletes are born this way, others must develop training patience through skill practice.  

Best way for a coach to learn how to do this? Pick up a new skill and chronicle your developmental process.  Empathy towards your athletes develops quickly as your failure at tedious, minuscule tasks pushes your emotional response.

Empower Your Performance – Evolve Your Practice

“The future belongs to those that learn new skills and combine them in creative ways.”

As one progresses to higher levels, there becomes a greater divide between athletes trained to learn and perform new skills and those that get overwhelmed by them.  Those numbers may look great on Instagram, but how well is your athlete prepared to perform new and novel tasks they’ll face in their sporting arena?

Strength and conditioning programs tend to revolve around what coaches value most.  If they enjoy primarily strength, athletes will find greater pressures to chase numbers, often before they are truly ready.  If they value conditioning above all, athletes will be focused on insecurities and themselves.  You’ll see this in the form of cutting corners or misdirected aggression towards teammates and themselves.  

Neglect for true skill practice will set athletes up for failure down the line.  I’ve witnessed too often the results of devalued skill time: the athlete trains conservatively and cautiously because they think mistakes are too costly.  All they only know is one direction: heavier or faster.

Eventually the time spent not learning skills will pull the rug from underneath, and the fall will be painful.

Every day is an opportunity to gain Power Coaching experience empowering athlete’s performance beyond the training environment or field.  Embrace this responsibility and change an athlete’s life through smart skill practice.

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BLOG: Redefining Weakness Training: Programming by Tex McQuilkin
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John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.


  1. Tony Fu on October 22, 2015 at 8:45 am

    This wasn’t even directed at me but it’s a great reminder. Good stuff Tex.

  2. slezak on November 28, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    I love the new outlook. This almost falls under psychology and positive reinforcement…

    How do you program this skill work? Do you send it out as homework? Do it around warm-up/cool down?

  3. james jaggard on February 22, 2016 at 7:08 am

    What a brilliant article. Love this!

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