Louise Capicotto is a powerlifter and athletics coach based in the UK, with plenty of sporting roles to her name. As well being the 2015 European Squat Champion, she is also an Assistant Athletics Coach and a trainee Sports Psychologist. Louise has also been creating the fantastic infograms highlighting our weekly online discussions #womenswednesday and is a big advocate for women in sport. ?With that in mind, we wanted to ask Louise how on earth she fits her sporting roles into her week and what needs to be done to increase the number of female coaches…
You have quite a lot of different roles within the World of sport, can you tell us a little bit about them all and how your career / interest in sport first started?
Yes, my coaching CV is very mixed and includes a bit of everything really. I’ve always been involved in sport from a very young age playing multiple sports. I was introduced to the throws in athletics, in particular the javelin throw, at secondary school. My school had a throwing club run by the Deputy Headteacher, Garry Power, who threw discus for Ireland and also competed in the Olympics in bobsleigh. I fell in love with throwing straight away and enjoyed the competitions, but when I was 15, I became too unwell to continue my involvement in any sport for about 18 months, which was really hard to deal with. I returned to throwing but I had to start everything again from scratch and that was hard to accept, but my coach was so supportive. From there I started to become more involved in throws coaching. I also started doing some Olympic lifting to support my throwing, which I now also coach.
There are a few weightlifters and powerlifters who train at my local gym, including Derek Ambler who has won multiple World titles in powerlifting, and that?s where my own powerlifting involvement comes from really. I had only been squatting properly for a few months before I went on to break the British Record for the -53kg weight category and I eventually went on to win the 2015 European Single Lift event in Riva del Garda, Italy. I had taken a break from competing since then in order to focus on my career progression but I am back training and looking forward to upcoming competitions.
I am currently completing my Masters in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Loughborough University with the aim of going on to complete Stage 2 with the British Psychological Society in order to become an accredited practicing Sport Psychologist. My ultimate goal is to work with elite athletes in supporting them to achieve a successful and healthy career.
How many hours a week training do you put into your powerlifting and how do you manage this training around your coaching and other commitments?
I currently train five days per week, with lifting taking place on three of these days and focusing on the deadlift, bench, and back squat. My training involves assistance exercises for each of the three main lifts, a lot of mobility work, core work, general conditioning exercises, and the occasional Olympic lifting session for my own enjoyment. My training sessions do not take long to complete so I am managing it quite well. I go into my sessions knowing exactly what it is I am aiming to do and how long my rests will be between sets, and so I am not hanging about too long or else it begins to impinge on my other commitments. I adopt the same approach for everything I do I think.
Can you tell us more about your role as an athletics and weightlifting coach? (What events do you coach, how many hours per week, what level of athlete etc?)
I am an Athletics Coaching Assistant but I am hoping to begin the Athletics Coach qualification with England Athletics very soon. The only barrier that I have faced during my development has been a lack of funds. I do not officially coach at an athletics club and so I cannot access funding to support my own development as a coach, and so I have been trying to save up as I go, but it is definitely a huge barrier for me. However, taking a more flexible approach to coaching has allowed me to pursue university and focus on my own training, whilst not giving up completely on the coaching which I enjoy. For the throws, I help coach a group of youth athletes (all ranked in the top 10 in the UK for their age group) alongside my coach Garry Power ? mainly discus, shot, and javelin. There is a dedicated throwing area at my old school which we have managed to build and maintain for the athletes to train at all-year-round. I travel down to assist coaching 1-2 times per week.
I gained my British Weightlifting Level One coaching qualification primarily to learn more about the sport as I love weightlifting, but also to support the coaching of the Olympic lifts that the athletes utilise within their training for the throwing events.
On top of your Masters in Sport and Exercise Psychology, you are in training to become a Sport Psychologist – is this something you would like to concentrate in the long term?
Yes, definitely. It has been quite a long journey to get to this point with completing my undergraduate degree (over an 8 year period), then a Masters in Psychology (conversion), and now this Masters. Following this, Stage 2 with the British Psychological Society will take a minimum of two years to complete where I will receive ongoing supervision from an accredited sport psychologist alongside working in several different individual and team sports. I think the BPS Stage 2 route is where the real learning and experience will take place for me. I could begin working now as a Performance Psychologist or as a Mental Skills Coach? (as Sport Psychologist is a protected title in the UK) but I want to be more than a practitioner who will be limited to a mental skills toolbox.
Do you think being the successful athlete you are in the powerlifting world has helped you in your coaching life?
I have taken many lessons into my coaching from both my powerlifting and non-sporting experiences. Regarding powerlifting, and it is very much the same in throwing, you are out there essentially competing on your own, sometimes in front of a huge crowd of people with live streams accessible from all around the world and the results are being posted live there is no hiding place. I think athletes are not always best prepared for when they face these sort of pressures in competition and so they cannot cope in the moment. Simulating the competitive pressures within a training environment is so important but it is not always easy to do.
Another lesson I’ve learnt from powerlifting is that the competition starts well before anyone steps onto that platform – the kit check the night before, the queue for the weigh-in I think some people underestimate the importance of these aspects of the event. It is all too easy to get caught up in whatever your competitors are doing, such as taking selfies or dancing around to music. I am all for having fun with your competitors, but all of your training comes down to this opportunity to show what you?ve been working so hard for. The selfies can wait until after the competition. I believe it is during these ?less important? moments that decide how you go on to perform a few hours later. Athletes can be educated about how they can best use these moments to improve their performance
I think the biggest lesson I have learnt that informs my coaching is something I learnt from a young age the importance of recognising when others are imposing their own limitations upon you. There will always be people who will not want to see you succeed, either as an athlete or as a coach, because it will make them feel comparatively inadequate. As a coach, I encourage athletes to focus on what they can control; their own thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. When it comes to their own performance, anything other than these three things become irrelevant.
What are your thoughts as to why there are so few female coaches in athletics and weightlifting and how can we as female coaches change this?
I think in the UK there are so few athletics coaches in general due to the vast majority of us offering our coaching services voluntarily. I think if athletics coaching is ever going to be viewed as equal in the quality of the service we provide to that of coaching in tennis or golf for example, we may need to look at charging for our services, which is hard as many of us now involved in coaching never had to pay for the coaching that we received as athletes and thus it was more accessible to us. My coach always says that just because something is free, it does not mean it has no value? which unfortunately does sometimes have an impact on the attitude and behaviours of athletes. I think there is a lack of female coaches involved with the throws compared to other events within athletics. Encouraging athletes who are currently involved in competing at club-level to consider becoming involved in coaching could be a start. I think there are a lot more females getting involved in weightlifting now which is great. I know a few female weightlifting coaches and we all became coaches for the same reason because we loved the sport. Great Britain have a number of very talented female weightlifters and I know quite of few of those are considering going into coaching towards the end of their competitive career.
What advice would you give to other women and girls who want to become a coach in either of your sports?
First, I think if you are passionate about a certain sport, whether you are good at it or not, it does not prevent you from becoming a great coach in that sport. Having a willingness to learn and the drive to support athletes in whatever it is that they want to achieve, are two crucial things that will make coaching both enjoyable and rewarding.
Second, never stop developing. The coaching qualifications are only the first steps in your journey as a coach. Learning the theory is great, but you also have to learn how to apply it or else all of your knowledge becomes useless. Learn from other sports, not only from within your own. Watch other coaches and how they give feedback to their athletes. Competitions are a great opportunity for this. Chat to more experienced coaches, both male and female. Read across all disciplines such as nutrition, physiology, and psychology. These are just as important as the technical aspects of the sport.
Lastly, enjoy it!