Preparing for Youth Nationals

Youth Weightlifting Preparing for Youth Nationals - Pic 1

After preparing my son for five USA Weightlifting Youth Nationals, I have become an expert—not because I have done so many things right, but because I have done SO. MANY. THINGS. WRONG.  Let me spare you the agony of my mistakes—

Daytona Beach.  The mere mention of this city sends shivers down my spine.  Daytona Beach is home to beautiful beaches, a world-renowned race track, and one of my worst nightmares.

It all began when my son, Hutch, qualified for the 2014 Youth National Weightlifting competition.  Hutch had worked hard, and we were excited to travel to Daytona for his first big competition.  In planning the trip, I knew I would be traveling with all three of my children, so I wanted to make the trip as cost-effective as possible.  With the competition on Friday morning, I purchased tickets for a Thursday flight.  I didn’t want to arrive too early—that would mean more money spent on rental cars, hotel rooms, and food.

Due to a flight delay, our plane arrived in Daytona Beach at 9:00 PM.  By the time we got our rental car and drove to our hotel, it was 10:30 PM.  I arrived at the hotel to discover that our discount accommodations were shared by a number of partygoers loudly enjoying the beach outside the hotel.  We were exhausted, however, and attempted to sleep through the night.

Hutch’s weigh-in was from 7:00 to 8:00 AM.  To allow the kids to sleep as long as possible, I set the alarm for 6:00 AM.  At 6:30, we zipped through the hotel breakfast buffet, and left the hotel to drive to the venue, which was a mere 15 minutes away according to the Google Maps directions I had printed off.  Unfortunately, I turned the wrong direction out of the parking lot and didn’t realize my mistake until I had driven 30 minutes—in the wrong direction!

When I finally stopped to ask for directions, a kind man explained that I was about an hour away from my destination and that I could not possibly make it by 8:00.  I had an ungraceful panic attack, which was witnessed by my children, who then started crying because they were scared by my reaction.  I quickly turned the car around and sped to the venue, possibly breaking a few traffic laws along the way.

As I approached the venue, I still couldn’t locate it.  The competition was at a school that was tucked away in a residential setting.  After several frantic phone calls to Hutch’s coach, I located the venue.  I sped to the curb, yanked Hutch out of the car and ran to the weigh-in.  I then realized that we had left his identification documents in the car . . . back to the car.  Hutch made the weigh-in cut-off by SIXTY SECONDS.

I heaved a sigh of relief and handed Hutch his breakfast, which consisted of some muffins we had brought from the hotel’s breakfast buffet.  Minutes later, Hutch’s coach called him into the warm-up area to begin warming-up.  Breakfast would have to wait.

As Hutch walked back to the warm-up area, he asked me to get his gym bag out of the car.  I looked.  I couldn’t find it.  In our haste to leave the hotel, we had left his bag—complete with singlet and shoes—in the breakfast room at the hotel.  Hutch entered the warm-up area wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and Crocs.  I sped back to the hotel for his bag.

Fortunately, the story ended well.  I was able to retrieve the bag, and Hutch strapped on his weightlifting shoes just moments before walking onto the platform for introductions.

From this experience, I learned a few things that will make your experience much less stressful:

 

  • Arrive 24 hours early. Arriving 24-hours early—not the night before—will give you time to acclimate to the city and find the things you need.

 

  • Stay in one of the event hotels. USAW contracts with hotels to provide a discount rate and transportation, when necessary, to the venue.  You’ll be less likely to get lost traveling to the venue if you stay in one of the event hotels.  Plus, you’ll be more likely to have considerate neighbors when it is time to sleep.
  •  Visit the venue the day prior. Actually travel to the venue so that you know exactly where everything is located—the weigh-ins, the warm-up area, and the platforms.

 

  • Check weight on the scales. You might be surprised to learn that your home bathroom scale is not that accurate.  Do a pre-weigh on the official “check scales” the day prior to avoid unpleasant surprises on competition day.

 

  • Put your important documents where you’ll remember them.  You will need identification at weigh-ins (a passport or birth certificate).  Don’t leave home without one of these!

 

  • Pack extra everything: socks, underwear, singlets, shoes . . . okay, I realize most people don’t own extra weightlifting shoes, but pack extra of everything else if you have them.

 

  • Know your child. Bring any comfort items your child needs in competition.  For instance, your child may have a favorite pair of socks or a favorite candy bar or he may need headphones to block out the noise of the other competitors.  Make advance preparations for these things.

 

  • Plan your meals. Before you arrive at Nationals, have a plan for the food your child will eat.  You don’t want to spoil your child’s hard work by sending him onto the platform fueled with greasy pizza from dinner and “whatever was on the hotel breakfast buffet.”  Bring foods that will help your child perform well.

 

  • Arrive early to the weigh-in. Weigh-in times are an exact component of the competition.  If weigh-ins begin at 8:00 and end at 9:00, with lifting beginning at 10:00, you will not be allowed to compete if you show up to weigh in at 9:01.

NOTE: Arriving early will ease your stress levels, but it will not put you at the front of the line for weigh-ins.  Names are called from a list.  However, if you are not present when your name is called, you will go to the “back of the line” and weigh-in after the rest of the lifters who were present.

 

  • Feed your child as soon as the weigh-in is complete. There are only two hours between the beginning of the weigh-in and the start of the weightlifting session.  Eating early allows food to settle before warm-ups begin.

 

  • Don’t  feed your child too much. Your child will be hungry after potentially skipping a meal before weigh-ins.  Provide some healthy foods that your child likes, but resist the urge to “make up” for the lost meal.  There will be time for a big meal after the competition.

 

  • Bring some sugar.   I said it.  Normally I’m not a fan of sugary drinks and candy.  However, they do offer an energy boost during a competition.  Just don’t overdo it.  One sports drink and two or three miniature candy bars are plenty.

 

  • Relax! Children can sense your emotions and will mirror them.  If you are anxious, your child will get stressed, too.

 

 

  • Turn your child over to the coach and take a seat. You child and coach have worked hard to get to this point.  Don’t send confusing signals by trying to co-coach your child during the competition—unless you are also your child’s coach!

 

  • Be proud. Your child has worked hard to get to this competition.  Regardless  of the results, take lots of pictures and let your child know you are proud of them.

Finally, don’t worry if it’s not perfect.  As hard as you prepare, something unexpected will always arise.  Fortunately, kids are resilient and can perform well, even in adverse circumstances.  After all of the mayhem in Daytona Beach, Hutch still pulled out an outstanding performance and managed three national records and a first place finish.  Thank goodness for good coaching (Boris Urman) and miracles!

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Combatting Abuse

No parent wants to think that his or her child could be abused by a coach, teammate or even a friend.  Unfortunately, ignoring the issue of abuse will not make it less likely.  In fact, it may make it more likely because your child will not have the tools necessary to identify and expose the abuse.

USA Weightlifting recently made five SafeSport Toolkits available to parents.

The Toolkits explain the different types of abuse prevalent in sports and how to handle situations of potential abuse.  Empower your youth weightlifter by educating yourself and your athlete on this topic!

 

Should I Go To Youth Nationals?

With Youth Nationals a mere five weeks away, and a registration deadline of May 17, 2018, it is time to make a decision: Go to Youth Nationals or Not?!

Participation in USA Weightlifting’s National Youth Championships, aka Youth Nationals, has exploded in recent years.  In 2017, around 900 youth athletes participated in the competition held in Atlanta, Georgia, making it the largest youth weightlifting competition in the world.

For some athletes, participation at Youth Nationals is a no-brainer.  Some youth weightlifters have been participating in the sport for years and look forward to the competition as a time to set new personal records, reconnect with old friends, and buy the latest weightlifting merchandise.  For newer athletes, however, questions remain:

  • Am I good enough to compete at the national level?
  • Will I fall apart under the pressure of such a big competition?
  • Will I embarrass myself in front of a huge crowd?

For parents:

  • Is it really worth the money to attend this competition?

For coaches:

  • Do I have enough experience to coach my athlete in such a large setting?

I spoke to Coach Wes Cravy of Pivotal Weightlifting Club in Santee, California, and his first-time lifter, Teagan, about their decision to participate in the 2018 National Youth Championship.  If you are on the fence about attending this year’s competition, consider their approach:

Set aside your fears, and embrace the privilege.  At only 13-years old, Teagan, has participated in soccer, gymnastics, CrossFit and weightlifting.  She recently qualified for the 2018 National Youth Championships.  When asked about her decision to participate in the competition, Teagan responded:

It is a privilege to attend this competition.  If you have qualified for Nationals, don’t pass up the opportunity to perform on the big stage.  You have worked hard to get to this point.  Don’t take that away from yourself.

Welcome the opportunity to learn new things.  Although Coach Cravy is new on the weightlifting scene, he is not letting a national competition intimidate him.  Cravy says:

Competitions are the fun part for a coach.  They are the payoff for the long hours spent training.

As for being a new coach, Coach Cravy is not worried:

I like to learn from other coaches, but I don’t let their competition strategies interfere with what I am doing.  As a coach, you have to focus on your athlete and your plan.  Don’t worry too much about what others are doing.

Take a leap of faith.  Recently, Teagan made a tough decision to give up gymnastics training to focus more on weightlifting.  She really enjoys weightlifting and wants to see how good she can become once she devotes more time and attention to the sport.

Similarly, the decision to attend Nationals for the first time requires a leap of faith. It may be intimidating to compete against other youth athletes in front of a large crowd, but the feeling of accomplishment once your performance is complete will be that much more satisfying.  Your confidence will grow from the experience, and you will be more motivated to train harder.

Incorporate the competition into a vacation.  Weightlifting offers travel opportunities like no other sport.  Use the trip to Nationals as an opportunity to explore a new part of the United States. Experiencing a new city will create a great memories and inject future training with enthusiasm.  Teagan says:

I am excited about the experience and the travel that Nationals offers.  My favorite part about out-of-town competitions is staying in hotels.

For ways to enjoy Grand Rapids, Michigan once the competition is done, consider these ideas.

To register for USAW’s National Youth Championships, click here.

See you at Nationals!

6 Ways to Avoid Burnout

“Real results in weightlifting are born of longevity,” Ursala Garza, Vice President of the International Weightlifting Federation, poignantly observed during a recent Catalyst Athletics podcast.

History supports this observation.  The average age of an Olympic medalist in the sport of weightlifting is 25 for men and 24 for women.  The average years of training to earn one of these medals is 10.72 years, which means the average Olympic medalist in weightlifting begins the sport around age 14 or 15.

With over 2500 registered weightlifters under the age of 18, USA Weightlifting (USAW) is on track to produce Olympic medalists.  If these youth weightlifters leave the sport before they put in the 10+ years of training required to arrive at the top, however, the effort invested in cultivating the young talent will be wasted.

Youth athletes leave sports for a variety of reasons.  A major reason is simply burnout.

I spoke recently to USAW Senior International Coach, Danny Camargo, about ways to avoid burnout and retain more young weightlifters in the sport.  Camargo knows about burnout from personal experience.  He began weightlifting at age 12, and by age 16 he was invited to train as a resident of the Olympic Training Center (OTC).  Camargo lifted at the OTC for five years, and then retired suddenly at age 21.

Camargo recalls, “I was burned out.  I had been burned out for a year, but I just kept going.  Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.”

Within a year of leaving the OTC, Camargo had returned to weightlifting, this time as a coach.  Today, Camargo coaches some of the most successful weightlifters in the U.S., including Mattie Rogers, who placed third at the 2017 World Weightlifting Championships.

Photo Credit: Ryan Paiva, Lifting.Life

Camargo draws on experience to help his athletes avoid burnout.  Consider some of Coach Camargo’s tactics:

Take a Break.  Include rest periods in each program, i.e. periods of time when the athlete does not lift AT ALL.  These breaks are preventative maintenance for burnout.  Camargo recalls, “In hindsight, if I had been given a month off, I would have returned to the sport.  That wasn’t an option for me, though.”  A great time to take a break is after a major competition.  Camargo says, “My athletes take breaks after each competition.  Depending on the level of athlete and the competition, the break may range from a couple of days to a month.”  CAUTION: Do not wait until your athlete asks for a break.  According to Camargo, “By the time an athlete asks for a break, it is usually too late.”

Change Your Environment.  Take your training to a different location once in a while.  A change of scenery–a different coach, athletes, or gym–can rejuvenate a lifter.  Contact a coach you trust and ask if your athlete can train with him or her for the evening.  I gave this suggestion a try.  I contacted Ed Molinos, a friend and coach, and asked him to train Hutch that evening along with his team.  I handed Hutch his training plan and left.  At the end of the evening when I returned, Hutch was jerking seven kilos more than he had ever done.

 

Bring In New People.  Invite people–friends, parents, neighbors, newspaper reporters–to watch your lifters.  Whether they admit it or not, weightlifters LOVE an audience.  Rejuvenate your athletes by giving them opportunities to show off without the pressure of a competition.  Alternatively, allow guests to drop-in and lift next to your lifters or invite guest coaches to visit.  Any set of new eyes will inspire your lifters train at their best.  BONUS: A training session with an audience is not work; it is a performance.

Program Mental Breaks.  Coach Camargo explains: “I program athlete’s choice days into my plans.  On these days, I allow each athlete to choose a movement to work on.  The athlete can choose any number of rep and sets.  The only rules are that the athlete cannot work on a weakness, and they cannot max out on a lift.”  Camargo continues, “These days are so much fun.  The athletes joke around with each other, cheer each other on, and just enjoy training.  Physically they are training, but mentally they are taking a break.”

 Do Fun Things. A coach of youth athletes must constantly think outside the box.  Youth weightlifters need proficiency in jumping, pushing, and pulling.  An athlete can improve in these areas via squats, presses, and deadlifts.  An athlete can also improve in these areas via jumping onto platforms, performing handstand pushups, doing farmer carries, or any number of other exercises.  Keep things interesting by mixing up the training.  For ideas, see 5 Fun Weightlifting Games.

 

Lighten Up.  Camargo recalls the details of his retirement: “When I retired and returned home, everyone was calling me and telling me that I was making a mistake.  However, I was so happy that I didn’t have to wake up early, skip out on social activities, weigh-in, eat certain foods.  It felt great.  I had freedom.  I don’t think any athlete should experience this, ever.  Retirement should not feel like this.”  Consider the sacrifices your athletes are making.  Are they missing school or family events to train?  Are they constantly on a diet?  Do they have free time to spend with their friends?  Encourage your athletes to participate in activities outside the gym.  And if they are not prepping for a big competition, don’t lecture them about that bag of candy beside their training platform.  

Feature Photo Credit: Ryan Paiva, Lifting.Life

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave