T Nation

Pretender or Contender? Letter from NPC Chair Chuck Sanow


Okay, folks who frequent other sites or follow the going-ons of the competitive community will know where I copied this from, but after reasding it elsewhere, it really got me nodding my head in agreement.

I've mentioned before that I know and interact with a pretty good number of competitors from my gym, simply being based in NY/Long Island, and of course through various social media and all the contests I go to as either attendee or judge. As such, certain things Sanow mentions in his piece really hit home.


(below line is copy/pasted, please forgive formatting "issues")

Are You a Contender or Pretender at the National Level?

I am writing this article to convey my perception of the direction of the competition at the NPC and National levels and to hopefully encourage competitors to take a different approach to accomplishing their dreams and goals. My suggestions are based on my expertise and years of experience as a bodybuilder competitor, IFBB Pro, NPC Chairman, Judge, Emcee and trainer. I hope that you read this with an open mind and understand that the views, perceptions and recommendations come from a good place.

Itâ??s been disheartening over the last several years to see a dilution of quality competitors at the National Level Shows. Unfortunately, some of those competitors are from our state. As the Illinois NPC Chairman, I feel a responsibility and obligation to be candid. Iâ??m interested in seeing our athletes excel. I do want to see superior competitors from our state at the national levels. That being said, I believe itâ??s time to give some honest feedback about what I see, and how we can all do better as a state.

I. Reality Check
Sometimes, the desire to be a competitor at the National Level clouds our better judgment and willingness to be honest. While itâ??s important to be confident about your conditioning and ability to compete, a lot of us let our ego get in the way of our ability to see reality. There are a lot of participants that do well at a state show, rank in the top 5 and then qualify to compete at the Nationals. However, the true meaning of that achievement misleads their vision.

Just because you do well does not mean you are ready for the national level competitions right away. The written qualifications of the top 5 are set to open doors for competitors to proceed to the national level. But hereâ??s the fact, and probably what you donâ??t want to hearâ?¦Just because you qualify, does not mean you should go to the Nationals or, even more important, that you are ready to compete at the National level.

If you do not dominate in your state, within your class (meaning first or second place) and place first or second in states within your region, or in states with large competitor classes (NY, CA, FL, PA), then you should not go to the National level. If you do decide to go and ignore this advice, you should plan a vacation at the same time because the odds are that it will be a short trip on stage.

II. Control Your Own Back Yard Before Moving to Greener Pastures.
Trying to grow in any sport has aches and pains and ebbs and flows. This sport is growing at a rapid rate, and, as a result, there are more people who are qualifying for the national level shows. If you place in the top 5 in a state show, you have qualified for a national level show. But what makes you think you can win at a national level if you have not won at a state show. If you seriously want to compete at the national level, you should have a proven track record in Illinois and in your neighboring states first.

Otherwise, you really are not doing yourself or the sport a favor at all. One state show win does make you a seasoned competitor. If you win at a state show, you should continue to go to larger state level shows and progress from there. To be the best you have to compete against the best and continue to hone your experience, posing skills and physique. Donâ??t be one and done at the state level and then get discouraged when you donâ??t succeed at a national show.

III. But I want to get my Pro Card!
I understand that a lot of people want to move up to nationals so they have the chance of receiving their IFBB Pro Card. And it is true that the chances of getting one are better than ever before. Not too long ago, it was common that maybe 6 pro cards were given out in a single year!

Unfortunately, it seems like today IFBB Pro Cards are given out like candy on Halloween- sometimes 60 or 70 are given out at just one National Show alone. This fuels the desire to compete at the national level. As a result, many do not want to spend time growing at the state shows working their way up through the ranks so they actually have the experience and physical conditioning to have an honest shot at placing and winning at the nationals.
When you go to the Nationals, itâ??s like going to the Oscars. Youâ??re on the red carpet and youâ??re shining; if you canâ??t do thatâ?¦do not go.

IV. Dominate at the State Level.
Many newly minted competitors are in a rush to get to the Nationals. But unfortunately they are not giving themselves enough time to mature at the state level. When you look at many of them side by side with those who have competed at the state level consistently and ostensibly done their homework, it is evident that they are not good enough to compete at a national level.

Oftentimes, it is not their fault really. They have not had enough time in the sport to be ready to compete against the much more seasoned, well-prepared athlete. When you do go to nationals, if you havenâ??t done the work at the state level shows, then make sure you go somewhere warm so you kill two birds with one stone- enjoy a vacation and get something out of the $3,000+ you may spend to compete.

We are taking first year competitors from the state level, who may have one show under their belt, and then are talking about going to nationals and getting a pro card. By way of example, on Facebook or any social media outlet, this very same competitor is bragging two days before the show and there is radio silence when they return. I wonder why? That was unheard of before, and with good reason. Itâ??s unrealisticâ?¦plain and simple.

When Iâ??m speaking with competitors before a state level show, I tell them they are all champions for getting on stage. But I also tell them to remember, just because you qualify for a national show doesn't mean youâ??re ready to go there. You should stick around and sharpen your conditioning, muscle and posing at the state level before moving on. So when you go to the national level, you are really ready and have the potential to win.

People are unrealistic about their own conditioning, knowledge, etc. and a lot of them come back with their tail between their legs and victim mentality after trying to compete at the national level. If you do 3 or 4 shows, and take an overall or first or send place, then maybe you should compete at nationals. Do not practice at the national level. Practice at the state level. Very few people can achieve the paths of a Kevin Levrone or Phil Heath. Practice makes perfect.

V. Do Not Listen To Your Family, Friends or Trainer.
Family can be wonderful by giving you the support and encouragement you need to compete. But many times, although their intentions are positive, they are either not being 100% honest or simply lack the skills to provide an honest assessment. Frankly, many of them do not really know how to be objective and give feedback that will be really useful to identify weaknesses and strengths.

Even our coaches and trainers keep feeding that fire by telling the athletes â??I can make you a pro in a year. Train with me!â?? But they should not sell the athlete a bill of goods they canâ??t deliver on. Reality dictates that no one can guarantee you that. If you hired an internet trainer, you need to have your head examined. Internet trainers do not see you in person and only receive the best of the best photos that you are sending to them. Further, Internet trainers do not have a vested interest in your success and will treat you as if you are merely a number.

Internet trainers are sending you and 100 other people the same generic email instructions and diets that they send to their other athletes. Save your money. Internet training is a farce.
If you really want to know where you should improve, ask a NPC Official or a trainer who knows what they are doing and has competed or trained numerous professional athletes at the national level. Only they can speak from experience and years of knowledge. Do not underestimate the value of practicing your posing and the impact it will have on your scores.

VI. â??But, I Got Screwed!â??
If I had a dollar for every time Iâ??ve heard someone say that after a show, or heard someone say that about a competitor, Iâ??d be a billionaireâ?¦I am not joking. We all want to believe that it was â??themâ?? not â??meâ?? or the judges, promoter, expeditor, concession worker, janitor, blah, blah, blah. It all goes back to not wanting to hear the truth. You may not have been at your best that day or the competition was better than you for one reason or another (posing, presence, condition, symmetry, etc.)

What you may not realize is that a lot of criteria and variables go into judging. While the judges do their best to be objective, there is an element of subjectivity that comes into play that can make a difference in where someone places in any given show. As a competitor, you have to be realistic and exercise sportsmanship no matter what happens. Of course your family, friends and trainer believe you should win. But the judges do their job to the best of their ability. Several judges score each competitor to arrive at the composite scores. This is done intentionally to give each competitor the best shot at scoring fairly.

The trainers who are encouraging you to proceed to the national level after placing at a state show (or two) have their own motives which may not serve your best interests. Their purpose revolves around the almighty dollar. If you are going solely â??to be seen,â?? it is a waste of time. Nobody will remember you and the judges will not either. At the nationals, the top 15 will compete in any class, but only the top 5 will pose on stage and are actually â??seen.â??

If you really want to know what your strengths and weak points are, ask a head judge, judge or the chairman what they think about your ability to make it at the national level. They have been doing this a long time and will be honest with you. The difference between them and your trainer is that you are not paying them.

VII. The Proof Is In the Statistics
We do not allow first year medical students to perform brain surgery. Why do first year competitors think they are ready to compete as IFBB Pros?
The statistics for the 2014 Jr. Nationals Bodybuilding Show say it all. Illinois had 114 athletes competing at the Jr. Nationals. Of the 114 that competed, only 10 competitors placed. Allow me to define â??placedâ?? for you. â??Placedâ?? means that the athlete came in first through fifth place and received a trophy. Our success rate at the 2014 Jr. Nationals was approximately 9%.

That means that roughly 100 athletes should have stayed at the state level and competed at the state level for a while before attempting another national level show.

Ask yourself: Are you going to be a contender or a pretender?


I thought this was a good read, and agreed with most of it, especially the part about competitors constantly posting on social media leading up to national level contests and then not being heard from afterwards. I disagree, however, with Chuck’s assertion that not placing top 5 equates to failure. Obviously he was being extreme and trying to make a point, but not every competitor can place top 5. This doesn’t mean they weren’t competitive or looked out of place in their class. For some of these athletes, not having a national level show go the way they expected/wanted may be just what they needed as motivation and fuel to take their game to the next level in the offseason


If indeed he is correct; then the issue is with the game, not the player.


While I do understand where I believe he is coming from, I think this raises a question I’ve heard before. At what point is there some type of cut off? I’m thinking back to the short video “The Clueless Competitor”, which basically shows a very out of shape, and I’d say somewhat delusional individual who has taken to competiing in various NPC shows throughout the year. Obviously an amateur, state level show can’t really have any type of vetting process, so what’s to do?

Of course with the NPC guidelines specifically stating how to qualify for National level shows, how do you tell someone who while meeting the criteria, possibly due to a weak show in either quality or quantity, that they shouldn’t be up there?

I know that as a competitor, the quality of people I may beat is just as importanrt as the quality of people who may beat me.



I’d only allow 1st and 2nd place at regionals/provincials(from canada) at national shows, for a start


[quote]zraw wrote:
I’d only allow 1st and 2nd place at regionals/provincials(from canada) at national shows, for a start[/quote]

I think back to what occured when the NPC first started Physique and Bikini divisions. With the notion (I assume) that they had to quickly populate Pro divisions in order to keep the money flowing, cards were handed out much more freely than they seemed to have been in bodybuilding divisions.

Suddenly, there’s this huge influx of new competitors talking/blogging/Fascebooking/Instagramming about going Pro after, or even before, their first contest. While it undoubtedly serves as advertising for the sport, I don’t think many people really grasp how difficult it’s supposed to be to reach the upper levels.

Anthony Monetti is a monster of a Heavyweight Competitor (Wnbf Pro), who I respect a hell of a lot. It took the guy 11 years to win his Pro card, and he’s had a hell of a run in various Pro Shows (2nd at the Universe). So when I hear people talk about how their relatively neophyte competitor friends are “going for their card” at whatever show is this coming weekend, it sounds a little unrealistic in most cases.