large black Labradoodle ambles toward the entrance of Proven Strength and Conditioning, the weightlifting gym co-owned by Jenny Schumacher in American Fork, Utah. Schumacher calls to her dog, Fonzie, and the dog retreats; the dog’s interest in the newcomer is satisfied with a glance at the familiar face.
Schumacher, who coaches six days a week, smiles and greets the new arrival with, “Hi, I haven’t seen you in a while. I’m so happy you’re here.” The cheery greetings continue as other weightlifters make their way into the gym, picking up the week’s programming from a stack of papers on Schumacher’s desk and silently selecting training platforms.
With her dedication and enthusiasm, Schumacher is representative of the fresh, new energy that has infused USA Weightlifting and is ushering in a new era of hope for the sport.
According to Vance Newgard, head coach of the Olympic Training Site at Northern Michigan University, “The largest problem plaguing the sport of weightlifting in the United States today is a lack of hope. People don’t believe that American weightlifters can bring home Olympic medals.”
Coaches like Schumacher are working to change this.
Schumacher began her journey eight years ago when a friend introduced her to CrossFit. She was instantly drawn to the Olympic lifts and sought out coaching and education opportunities. In just a few short years, Schumacher was a certified USA Weightlifting coach with her own group of athletes. She is now the head coach at Proven Strength and Conditioning, where she trains athletes six hours a day, six days a week.
In addition to coaching, Schumacher assists USA Weightlifting at the organization level. She can be seen at most national competitions, serving as a marshall, referee, speaker, timer or whatever else needs doing. Schumacher is a USAW National Level Coach, as well as an IWF National Referee. Recently, she was elected to USA Weightlifting’s Board of Directors, where she serves as the Grassroots Director.
As the Grassroots Director, Schumacher represents the club owners to USA Weightlifting and votes at board meetings on their behalf. Schumacher explains, “I act as a resource for club owners, and I also convey the ‘word on the street.’ People come up to me at meets and give me ideas, which I report to the board of directors.”
Coaching with Confidence
Throughout the self-guided practice, Schumacher patrols the room, attending to lifters as they need guidance. She is particularly mindful of the younger lifters and spends most of her time instructing and correcting their movements. “Weightlifting is an excellent tool for teaching kids how to deal with failure. Many parents are so protective of their kids that they don’t want them to fail. In fact, we want our kids to fail so that we can teach them how to deal with failure in a healthy, positive way. Weightlifting gives kids an opportunity to fail and succeed over and over again.”
Schumacher’s favorite part about coaching, however, is instilling confidence in her lifters: “When you challenge yourself physically, you have confidence that other people don’t have. That confidence can’t be beat. I love the fact that people can find that in weightlifting. For me personally, my favorite part is watching people’s confidence explode.”
After training with Schumacher for two weeks, I gathered the following tips that could be useful to other coaches:
- Use Positivity. Throughout her training sessions, Schumacher remained optimistic and positive, even when her lifters made misses or were having a bad day. Schumacher explained, “Weightlifters are optimists. We always feel like things will be better tomorrow.” Schumacher’s attitude transferred to her lifters, who consistently put their best efforts into each lift.
- Unilateral Work. Schumacher is a big believer in exercises that bring balance to the body. She explained that almost all weightlifters are stronger on one side of their bodies, and that corrective exercises should be performed to bring the weaker side up to the level of the strong side. She uses exercises such as single leg box jumps and single leg triple jumps to achieve this.
- Create Opportunities for Competition. Schumacher pointed out that kids—especially boys—love to compete. Coaches can keep their training fun by creating competitive opportunities for their athletes.
- Volunteer! If you want to be a better coach, you should observe other good coaches. Schumacher explains, “I like working in the back [as a marshall]. It is a great place to learn. I get to watch good coaches interact with their athletes. I get to see how they warm up their athletes and prepare them for competition. I get to see how the best athletes go out onto the platform.”
As I left the gym–ten minutes after practice ended–Schumacher was still working with athletes, intent on helping them regardless of the time required. I smiled, realizing that the future of weightlifting will remain bright as long as coaches like Schumacher are involved.