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From Humble Beginnings: The Evolution of East Coast Gold Weightlifting Team

By: Leo Totten, MS, USAW 5

East Coast Gold WL Team Head Coach/CEO

Totten Training Systems, LLC

East Coast Gold Weightlifting Team continues to be one of the largest, most successful teams in the country. We have won 20 Men’s and Women’s National Team titles (and counting) plus numerous American Open, National Juniors and Masters Men’s and Women’s Team titles. We have produced numerous national medalists as well as assisting national caliber coaches reach their highest levels. We even provide many national and international ranked officials to the USAW cadre!

But it has been a long process and certainly not an overnight success! The team started from truly humble beginnings!

During my own lifting career, I pretty much trained alone and taught myself. I started coaching weightlifting right after I hung up my lifting shoes and immediately found out that there were many lifters out there in the same boat – no coach, no team. Those lifters out there seemed to gravitate to me to coach them and I could certainly relate to their plight. It didn’t take too long before one of the athletes I was working with qualified for Nationals. As it turned out, neither he nor I could afford to travel to the meet. It was then that I decided to start the team to be able to attract sponsors to help defray training and travel costs. I vowed to never let an athlete stay home because of finances.

Our very first team entered the American Open shortly after East Coast Gold was created (see any familiar faces??)

And now 28 years later, here’s where we are! National Men’s and Women’s Team Champs – AGAIN!

The team was developed on the premise that the INDIVIDUAL athlete would profit from being on a team. This would be from a lifting standpoint as well as a financial and social aspect. By providing team support, the athlete could perform better if they didn't have to be concerned with many of the small details that the team could help alleviate. From working in the warm-up room, to developing workout plans, to offering nutritional advice, to helping with rooms and flights, the team is there for the individual. It has turned out that many lifters were seeking such support and wanted to benefit from the team concept. By having the team take care of many of the extrinsic factors, the athlete could really focus on the task at hand - lifting bigger weights!!

The social aspect of performing with a team is an incredible boost to the lifters as well. Many lifters are out there training alone and have no support at all. By being a member of a team, they are able to train and compete, knowing that no matter what happens, their teammates are there to help and support. This means so much for the individual performances. And the team dinners after big meets are an added bonus!!

With the TEAM concept that focused on making each INDIVIDUAL better, the TEAM prospered too! Amazing how the TEAM accolades started piling up with that philosophy!

Over the years, the team continued to grow and prosper. We developed our “satellite center” concept where we focused on specific areas of the east coast, in particular, where there were a handful of individuals training on their own. In each of those areas, we tried to create an environment encouraging more and better facilities, developing coaches and, of course, developing athletes. All of the satellite centers trained and competed with the same ECG philosophy and strategies. In fact, many of those coaches were trained by me at USAW certifications.

All the while, the team was providing support for their goals and when national events came around, we were all under one umbrella. The individuals knew that when they came to these competitions, hotels were arranged and taken care of, schedules were worked out to provide meeting times, travel was coordinated, coaches provided, warmup attempts discussed and followed – again, all of the “little things” that the team took care of so that the INDIVIDUAL could focus on what was really important! Making lifts!

All of the organization and carrying out of the team’s duties fell solely on me as the Founder and Head Coach of ECG. From setting up the hotels at national meets to arranging transportation from the airport and back, I was the main guy. Once the meet started, the coaches we had developed at the satellite centers came along and coached in the warmup room but that whole three ring circus was orchestrated by me. Heck, even back before email became the “thing”, I would type up a 2-3 page ECG newsletter, run off copies, prepare the envelopes, lick the stamps, seal them up and mail them out. This happened every month for years!

Then, about 4 years ago, the team took a major turn in its evolution. We needed to continue to grow and prosper and I was looking for someone to delegate the organizational part to assume many of the duties that I had done on my own for years. But it couldn’t be just anyone. It had to be someone I could trust to have the same passion and commitment to excellence that East Coast Gold was known for. It was someone else’s turn to keep the ship afloat and powering forward.

Along came Phil Sabatini and his crew in Virginia Beach at Crossfit Rife! Their program was exploding with great support from owners Jason and Jessica Fernandez and they were all of a sudden our most active satellite center. Phil was quickly developing an awesome, stable environment for training and competing. He was creating the ideal setting for ECG to blossom!

Phil and I started the conversation about shifting some of the control of the team over to he and his crew. Believe me, I didn’t trust my team to just anyone! We worked way too hard to get to where we were and didn’t want to lose the momentum we had created. I was VERY particular about who was going to run things. If you know Phil at all, you will know why this was going to work. Not only is he an outstanding lifter and coach himself, but his passion for doing things “the right way with the right people for the right reasons” convinced me that this was the direction I wanted the team to go.

Quickly after our conversation, the ball got rolling and Phil created what is now our home base for East Coast Gold at Crossfit Rife in Virginia Beach. (Kinda nice to have the address of the team as an actual gym and not my home address!) I am continuing on as CEO and Head Coach of ECG while Phil is the President and Associate Head Coach. He joined forces with assistant coaches Brendan McDaniel and Nicole Foley as well as a full contingent of other coaches, legal help and medical help. They run great training sessions at their location including a continuation of our annual training camps (more about that in another article). They have completely revamped our website and continue to push education as well as competition, a long time tradition of East Coast Gold.

You should see us at big national events now when there are three or more platforms and ECG has 30+ lifters in multiple sessions – the backstage coaching runs like clockwork thanks to their expertise and organization! THE TRADITION CONTINUES!!

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