“Everybody wants to own a forest, but nobody wants to grow the trees,” weightlifting Coach Boris Urman has observed. Every weightlifting coach wants a team of strong, mature lifters, but fewer coaches are willing to work with youth weightlifters.
Consider these facts:
- The average age of a weightlifter in the Olympic Games is 25 for men and 24 for women.
- The average years of training to earn an Olympic gold medal in weightlifting is 10.72 years (+/- 2.45 years).
- So, the average Olympic gold medalist began weightlifting around age 14 or 15.
If our goal as a weightlifting community is to have the strongest weightlifters in the world, the focus should be on developing the younger generation. Sure, it is great to discover raw athletic talent in college-age lifters and channel that talent into competitive weightlifting. However, a lifter who begins at age 20 is behind her international counterparts who have been lifting for 5+ years. This lifter has the potential to become a world class lifter (e.g. Sarah Robles), but lifters like this are few and far between.
Searching for talented collegiate athletes to convert into weightlifters is like panning for gold rather than investing in a gold mine.
It takes time to learn technique, develop flexibility, form neurological recruitment patterns, and build the strength required for competitive weightlifting. It takes time to build maturity within the sport, learn how to deal with the stress of competition, and handle the frustration of setbacks.
The most sustainable way to produce a stream of world class lifters is to develop youth weightlifters.
Take an athletic child with an interest in weightlifting. Start with the hardest stuff to teach–technique–to develop neurological recruitment patterns. Register the young athlete in competitions so he can mature within the sport. Teach him how to deal with the stresses and frustrations of weightlifting. Add in some mobility work, strength training, and fun, and you have an athlete who is primed to compete with the best weightlifters in the world.
How can we promote youth weightlifting?
As a coach . . .
- Don’t turn away kids! Youth lifters may require more patience and creativity, but they will also yield the biggest payoffs down the road.
- Actively recruit youth lifters. If your adult lifters have kids who are sitting on the sidelines watching their parents lift, invite the kids to lift alongside their parents.
- Keep things fun. Kids love challenges and games. Make your training attractive to younger lifters by mixing up the training routine often and creating frequent challenges for your lifters.
As a parent . . .
- Educate yourself. Plenty of misinformed people will tell you that weightlifting is bad for children. Learn the truth. A good starting place is “Is Weightlifting Safe for Children?”
- Speak up. Dispel the myth that weightlifting is bad for children. Weightlifting is more than lifting heavy objects; it builds discipline, maturity and focus.
As a youth athlete . . .
- Invite your friends to the gym. You don’t have to sacrifice time with friends for training. Invite them to train with you.
- Be a good example. Show others that weightlifting positively impacts your life. Demonstrate good behavior in school, dedication to your studies, and maturity.
As a community . . .
- Bring weightlifting into middle schools and high schools. Physical education coaches or teachers with backgrounds in weightlifting can petition for weightlifting teams at their schools. Hasslefree Barbell in San Francisco, California is a perfect example of a successful youth weightlifting program run out of a high school. Hasslefree Coach, Ben Hwa, explains, “Weightlifting is an easy sport for schools. It doesn’t require much space or equipment. It doesn’t even require a team–just a coach and some committed kids. And developing a high school athlete to the level of an international team is completely doable.” It will bring pride to your school and generate even more interest in the sport.
- Support youth weightlifting coaches. Weightlifting coaches–especially youth weightlifting coaches–do not make a lot of money. Any money they make from coaching goes back into their athletes in the form of gym expenses and competition costs. If you have the resources, make a donation to your favorite coach to offset his expenses. Alternatively, support the coach by participating in fundraisers or clinics offered by the team. If you have more time than money, consider volunteering with your local team.
- Support youth weightlifters. Weightlifting competitions can get expensive, especially if travel is involved. Support your favorite youth lifter or team by making a donation to offset travel expenses.
- Keep weightlifting safe for children. With the increased popularity of the sport, USA Weightlifting has taken measures to protect our youth lifters. Some of these measures include background checks on coaches, Safe Sport certification, and rules protecting young athletes at weigh-ins. If you choose to volunteer as a coach, ensure that you follow all of the regulations set by USAW to keep our youth athletes safe.