t’s hard to measure just how much a weightlifter goes through when preparing for a competition. Yes, the kilos and reps and sets can be calculated, but there is also the challenge of dealing with the sore muscles after a particularly tough workout, sacrificing time with friends on a sunny day to go to the gym, and the mental hurdle of bouncing back if yesterday’s workout was less than ideal. Let’s just say that this sport requires an awful lot from these young athletes. What I didn’t realize when my kids started lifting is how much preparation a parent must do.
Our preparation begins about a 5 days prior to a competition. I don’t believe in kids cutting weight, but it is important they learn how to manage their nutrition for a slight “dip” in bodyweight. If they can maintain a normal weight about 1 kg over their weight class, then I know that by cutting out the carbs the week of the competition they will trim a barely noticeable amount of weight each day until they compete. They still get plenty of fuel for their bodies, and they don’t feel hungry or deprived.
On the eve of competition, it’s important to gather everything you need for the next day: singlet, shoes, warmups, birth certificates, USAW cards, snacks. Frantically trying to round up these things when it’s time to head to the competition is not a good way to start the day.
Once the weigh in is done, it’s time for breakfast. It’s important to conserve energy at this point, so there’s a lot of just sitting around waiting for warm ups to begin. It can be boring, but reminding kids that it will take all of their energy to set new personal records usually helps. After snacking on some halva, it’s time for a final pep talk and then warm ups.
All of this is procedural, and can be learned and fine tuned fairly easily. The difficult part is managing the mental aspect. Each of my three kids takes a completely different approach to being mentally ready to compete.
My oldest has a very analytical mind, and he felt most comfortable knowing exactly what the goals were and what the game plan was to achieve those goals. We knew the number he had to hit to qualify for an international team, so in the two weeks leading up to the trials we had long discussions about how different scenarios could play out based on what we thought his openers would be. Because he had been so involved in forming the game plan, he knew that there wouldn’t have to be any decisions made at the competition. He was able to relax and lift with confidence, and he qualified for the team!
My middle child has had some outstanding performances when she wakes up on competition day mad at the world. I’ve learned it’s best to just let her be. We don’t talk about weightlifting, or the game plan, or about much of anything at all. She gets into her own little zone, where she stays until shortly before warm ups when we crack a few silly jokes to lighten the mood.
My youngest has had his fair share of struggles with confidence. So we try to his spirits with a lot of enthusiastic positive affirmations. We remind him of how hard he has worked, how much he has progressed, and the challenges he’s overcome.
Finally, it’s important to throw kids an occasional curveball. It’s nice to develop a good routine, but the kids also need to learn how to adapt to unexpected circumstances–like the event running behind schedule or a long line at weigh-in which doesn’t leave much time to eat. Small, local competitions are a great place to introduce minor disruptions to their routines to see how they handle it.
About the Author: Matt Flickner is the father of three USAW youth weightlifters. Matt’s eldest son, formerly a youth weightlifter, qualified for his first international team in 2014. Matt’s daughter holds three current Youth American Records. Matt’s youngest son was the U.S. Youth National Champion in the 31kg weight class in 2016.