Thursday, October 15, 2015

Qualified For Nationals, Now What?

by Kris Pitcher

I'll preface this conversation by saying I grew up in a time when kids earned an allowance, read encyclopedias to get information, and observed curfews. I have an innate respect for mother nature, and by profession practice being a good steward.

With that, I have a healthy respect for the sport of bodybuilding, it's governing leagues, and the athletes who have earned their way to its highest rankings. I carry that sense of respect with me to the stage each time I compete. And when I took the leap to the national stage...I did not take that decision lightly.

I've been competing for nine years. I have done every division, starting with bodybuilding. A tiny 112 pound 5'4" lightweight bodybuilder. In my first competition, I won! And guess what - it was a national qualifier! I was "qualified for nationals"! If I remember right there were three women in my class.

Tiny little bodybuilder, winning Overall
Being qualified to compete at the national level didn't mean I SHOULD compete at the national level. There is a difference. Then I moved to the figure division and won that, in a national qualifier. Was I ready at that time to "go to nationals" Certainly not.

"Nationally Qualified" is thrown out as a personal descriptive left, and right. And that's great, be proud of your win. Just know there are plenty of nationally qualified athletes who have no business showing up on the national stage.

That statement is based on expectations of experience first, and dilution of process second. First, going to compete at that level is very expensive. $300 entry fee, airfare, lodging, rental car, food, upgraded suit (you can't wear that $300 number), a week off of's a $5,000 trip.

There will be 30 women in your figure class, 50 in your bikini, or men's physique class. It's HUGE. Ten girls will get looked at, the rest will be herded and dismissed. It happens really fast. And then it's over. You go home with 16th place...last call out. Classes are so big because many of the athletes just shouldn't be there.

Sure, you're the best in your gym. You even won your local show. You might have even won overall. But do some research and look at the caliber of the athletes placing top 5 on the national level. Appreciate the fact they have shown up for the past 2-4 years. The judges are getting to know the top contenders.

The two granddaddies are the USA's, in July, and the Nationals in November. These are the two largest national level shows. You have the Jr USA's, and the Jr Nationals. Team Universe, North Americans, Teen Collegiate Masters Nationals (did I miss any?).

There are a lot of "national" options. If you want to dip your toe in the water, pick a Jr USA/Jr National show to begin with. Plan ahead, do your research, and look at who's placing top 5. How do you truly compare? What are your weaknesses? What do you need to work on? Get some feedback from your regional NPC Chair, or head judge.

And please don't say you're "Going to nationals!" in June when you're really going to Jr. Nationals. Have enough respect for the process to know what show you're going to. I don't know why this bugs me? You are competing nationally, but you are not going to Nationals - that is in November, in Miami.

This is big business, and promoters want athletes in their shows. But when every "qualified" athlete shows up, there is a diluted effect on stage. People who look ready to start their prep competing on the national level shows lack of understanding of how all this works. Even though they did just win their small local national here they are.

Qualified and ready are two very different places to be. Depending on what kind of experience you want to have, what money you want to spend, and where you truly think you are you could end up really unhappy.

So give some thought to where you think that 112 pound bodybuilder belonged. She certainly wouldn't have belonged on stage at Nationals.

And eight years later, placing 4th at Master's Nationals, I'm just catching my stride at being "ready" to compete at this level. Hopefully in 2016, I'll be more ready.

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