All weightlifting programs face certain challenges, such as making enough money to keep the gym open, attracting new members, and raising funds to travel to competitions.
Youth weightlifting programs, however, face special challenges. For instance, most youth weightlifters don’t have their own money or transportation. Many youth lifters do not practice good nutrition and some do not have parental support. And then, there is homework—that daily chore loathed by parents and children alike.
I spoke recently to Kerri Goodrich, head coach of Coastal Empire Weightlifting in Savannah, Georgia. Kerri was a collegiate weightlifter and former national team member. She is now a USA Weightlifting Instructor and International Coach with a very successful youth weightlifting program.
Coach Goodrich faces the same challenges as other youth weightlifting coaches and has found some creative solutions:
Finding Athletes. Most of Goodrich’s athletes come from the Performance Initiatives youth program. Performance Initiatives (PI) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to uplifting youth through education and fitness. PI offers an after school program for children, which includes bussing from the school to the center, homework tutors, and even free dinner through a food bank. After kids have completed their homework, they may participate in athletics, including weightlifting training. Most of Goodrich’s Coastal Empire athletes came through this program.
If you are interested in growing your youth program, consider partnering with a community program that offers after-school services to youth. Community programs can help solve problems such as transportation, nutrition, and even tutoring.
Tackling Homework. Before the lifters at Performance Initiatives can lift, they must finish their homework. Goodrich adamantly states, “Homework comes first.” Fortunately for Goodrich’s lifters, PI offers homework tutors to the children who come to the center. In addition, Goodrich encourages her older athletes to help the younger kids with their homework.
Encourage your older athletes to mentor younger athletes—both with in athletic training and in school work.
Providing Athlete Support. Not all of Goodrich’s lifters have involved parents. Goodrich ensures that her kids have plenty of support at competitions, however, by inviting parents, teachers, friends, and even church leaders to attend. Goodrich explains, “Our competitions are always packed because people in the community—friends, teachers, and even pastors—come out to cheer them on.”
Announce competitions within the community and try to get involvement from as many people in your athletes’ lives as possible.
Raising Money. When it comes to raising money, again Goodrich gets the whole community involved. She seeks donations from local businesses and charitable organizations, such as the United Way, the Kiwanis Club, and churches. Goodrich uses this money to fund her program and take kids to competitions.
Ask local businesses to sponsor your youth weightlifting team. If your team is a nonprofit organization, seek funding from charitable sources.
Broadening Horizons. Goodrich uses competitions in other cities as opportunities to expose her lifters to new culture and opportunities. Before traveling, Goodrich researches the universities and places of historical interest in each city. She takes her lifters to visit a university and multiple historical sites in each competition city. Goodrich wants her athletes to know that college is within reach and the world is a wonderful place to explore.
Use out-of-town competitions as opportunities to explore new areas of the world. Prior to arriving, research places of interest—such as universities and museums—and visit these places with your team.
Promoting Good Citizenship. Even more than creating good weightlifters, Goodrich wants to create good people. She requires her lifters to participate in volunteer work and community outreach efforts. For instance, her lifters do weightlifting demonstrations and recently participated in a buddy walk.
Provide opportunities for your youth lifters to volunteer and give back to the community. It will make them better people.
Collaborating with Other Coaches. Goodrich hates to see coaches degrading one another. She points out that different things work for different people and that we can all learn from one another. Says Goodrich, “Coaches would be more successful if they collaborated with each other in growing the sport rather than putting each other down.”
Don’t assume that your way is the best way. Always seek to learn from other coaches.