hree years ago, my family moved from the United States to Germany. As soon as we arrived, we sought out the local weightlifting club. Weightlifting is what we love to do, and we wanted to jump right into the weightlifting scene in Germany. It took us a couple of attempts, but we finally connected with the coaches at a nearby athletic club, AC Kindsbach. Like most weightlifting clubs, AC Kindsbach is a small club that is only open for a couple of hours each evening.
Upon meeting the coaches, my first question was, “Do you coach weightlifting?” The coach, Ernst Shäfer, responded, “Yes. I was a World Champion in 1988.” Good enough. My next question was, “How much do you charge?” Ernst responded, “Twenty-four euros.” Twenty-four euros is about $26. Per week? Per session? Ernst clarified, “Per Year.” Per YEAR?! I knew we had found our club.
Then, I asked, “Will you coach my son?” At the time, my son was only 10-years old, and I knew that many weightlifting coaches would not be interested in coaching someone so young. Another coach, Marco Walz, who was standing nearby, said, “I will coach him.” Little did I know that Hutch was Marco’s first athlete. I was just pleased that my son had a coach!
And thus began our adventure in German youth weightlifting . . .
Over the years, we learned the ins and outs of the system. Youth weightlifting is quite different in Germany than in the United States. In Germany, a stronger emphasis is placed on overall athletic development and building technical proficiency with the barbell. This is reflected in the competitions.
Up to age 16, weightlifters in Germany participate in a two-part competition, which includes Athletics and Weightlifting.
Each competition includes four athletic events that contribute to an athlete’s overall score. In most competitions, these events are:
Ball Throw: Athletes throw a weighted ball (2kg to 5kg) behind them. Points are awarded according to how far the ball travels. Athletes are given
two attempts to throw the ball as far as they can. This exercise trains explosive hip extension.
Triple Jump: Athletes begin standing still and jump three consecutive times. Points are awarded according to how far the athlete jumps. This exercise trains hip extension and leg strength.
Toes to Bar: Athletes begin hanging from a bar. They must bring their toes to the bar as many times as possible without swinging. This exercise trains core strength and flexibility.
Sprints: Athletes sprint in a pattern, touching an object 5 meters, 10 meters and then 5 meters away. This exercise trains speed and explosiveness.
There are always four athletic events in the competition. However, the events are not always the same.
For instance, at the 2016 German Youth Nationals the triple jump was swapped out for a vertical jump. At the 2017 South German Championships, pushups were substituted for toes to bar.
Technique Points: German weightlifting uses a ten-point system to award points for technique. Referees in youth competitions must know how to score according to this system, deducting points and partial points for deviations from correct technique.
A very good lift receives a score of about 7.0. Here is an example of a lift that received a 7.0.
An outstanding lift may receive a score of 9.0. Here is an example of a lift that received a 9.0. I have never seen a score higher than 9.0 awarded in a competition.
Weight on Barbell: An athlete’s weightlifting score is determined by multiplying the technique points by the weight on the barbell. So, the actual amount of weight lifted DOES matter. However, it is not the only thing that matters.
All of this might be interesting, but why does it matter for youth weightlifters in the United States?
Consider the following . . . What are the benefits of Germany’s Youth Weightlifting System?
- Well-Rounded Approach: The German system requires youth weightlifters to develop overall athleticism. By testing a variety of skills, the system takes some of the focus off of training with the barbell and places it on exercises that will benefit a mature weightlifter.
- Technique Development: Awarding technique points gives coaches and youth lifters an incentive to polish technique, rather than just focus on strength building. “It [also] allows kids who cannot lift as heavy to compete against more seasoned lifters,” explains John Attilo, head of Youth Weightlifting in Rhineland-Pfalz, Germany. “It motivates kids and coaches to pursue the best technique possible.”
- Gentler on Young Athletes: I watched a five year-old compete in his first competition. He had a noticeable press-out on the snatch. But . . . he was five. Rather than giving the child a red light and sending him away in tears, the judge gave him a white light and just deducted points for poor technique.
Could the German system be implemented in the United States? Maybe Not . . .
- No Standardized System for Technique: It would be very difficult to implement the German system in the United States. The United States does not have a standardized system of weightlifting technique. Each coach teaches the technical methods he or she prefers. Without a standardized system, it would be impossible to score lifts for technique.
- Overhaul of Referee Training: Currently, USA Weightlifting trains referees to spot errors that would disqualify a lift, such as a press out in the jerk, or rolling the bar up the arms in the clean. It would require much more training to teach referees to discern smaller points of technique, such as yanking the bar off the ground or lifting the hips too early in the snatch.
Maybe So . . .
- Cutting Edge: Since Phil Andrews became CEO of USA Weightlifting, the organization has transformed from a small, dated sport to a vibrant presence on the world stage. Over the past few years, USA Weightlifting has implemented athlete stipends, athlete development camps, and other tools geared specifically toward producing more elite weightlifters. Clearly, USA Weightlifting is not afraid to tackle big changes in pursuit of a better program.
If the United States did adopt a youth program similar to that in Germany, benefits could include:
- Greater Longevity in the Sport: Burnout is a big issue in youth weightlifting. Many talented youth weightlifters never reach their full potential because they quit too early. Perhaps one reason for this is that weightlifting training is repetitive and involves only a handful of movements: clean, jerk, snatch, pulls, presses, and squats. Broadening the spectrum of exercises to include ball throwing, sprinting, jumping, etc., could keep kids interested in the sport for longer. Plus, these exercises are fun for kids.
- Improved Coaching: U.S.A. Weightlifting could contribute to better coaching through standardized technique. Due to the recent increased popularity of youth weightlifting, many new and relatively inexperienced coaches are training kids. The upside is that new talent is constantly entering the sport, increasing the potential number of elite weightlifters. The downside is that these new coaches could use some guidance. A standardized system of technique could provide this.