Football, baseball, basketball, gymnastic, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, volleyball, wrestling, and track and field athletes. The explosive power, strength, flexibility, balance and agility developed through Olympic-style weightlifting transfers to almost every sport making weightlifting a great foundation for youth athletes.
What is the problem with this?
Coaches developing youth weightlifters struggle to keep their athletes. Once kids reach high school, the most athletic ones are heavily recruited by high school coaches to join team sports. Peer pressure compounds the issue. Kids want to be with their friends. Since youth weightlifters are more likely to train one-on-one with a coach or with athletes of various ages, they may want to join their peers in other sports.
The result . . .
The sport of weightlifting loses many potential superstars before they are even developed.
Sure, athletes can always return to the sport of weightlifting, but in what condition? Injured from another sport? With reduced mobility? Weightlifters who continue the sport through adolescence will have an advantage over those who leave the sport and return later.
What are some possible solutions?
Ray Jones, coach of 17-time youth American record holder, C.J. Cummings, provides some insight: “Weightlifting offers two huge incentives that other sports do not offer–travel and international representation.”
Travel: Most high school sports teams compete locally. The best athletes may travel to represent their schools at a state championship, but that is usually the extent of the travel opportunities.
Weightlifting, in contrast, offers travel opportunities to other states and even to national and international competitions. It is not uncommon for weightlifters to cross state lines to compete. In addition, a youth weightlifter can qualify for USA Weightlifting’s (USAW) Youth National Championship with a modest amount of training and preparation. Coaches seeking to retain youth weightlifters can make the sport more appealing by giving their athletes opportunities to compete outside of their local area, including USAW’s annual Youth National Championship.
International Competitions: Representing the United States at an international competition is a point of prestige for any athlete. An athlete who has represented not just their school–but their country–is very unique. The biggest promotion USAW can receive is from kids walking through schools wearing their Team USA jackets, which they earned by representing their country at an international competition.
USA Weightlifting can grow the sport and retain its current youth athletes simply by making more international competition opportunities available to more kids.
The United States currently sends delegations of youth weightlifters to the Youth Pan American Games, Youth World Championships and Youth Olympic Games.
While these are fantastic opportunities, they favor 16-17 year old lifters. Younger lifters must beat out older lifters for an opportunity to compete. Unfortunately, many youth weightlifters are lured away from the sport before they ever qualify for these competitions.
In 2017 and 2018, USAW sent a delegation of youth weightlifters to the South American Under 15 Youth Weightlifting Championship. This was a great opportunity for younger athletes to shine. Even more athletes could participate, however, if there was a North American Under 15 Youth Weightlifting Championship. Such a competition, which could be self-funded like the South American Under 15 Youth Weightlifting Championship, would create more youth ambassadors for weightlifting in the United States. Alternatively, USAW could organize smaller invitational competitions with Canada and/or Mexico.
Youth weightlifters make great athletes. They have explosive power, strength, flexibility, balance and agility that transfers to many sports. These qualities, however, make them particularly vulnerable to leave the sport in favor of team sports. To retain these athletes, coaches should seek out competition opportunities outside their local area, including USAW’s annual Youth National Championship. USAW should continue to pursue international opportunities for its younger athletes, including a North American Under 15 Youth Weightlifting Championship.
Cover Photo Credit: Lifting.Life