Coaching Youth in America

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Coaching Youth in America

Yesterday I wrote about building a youth weightlifting team in America. You could easily take that article and apply it to building a youth powerlifting team or simply a strength and conditioning program. Today we are talking about the actual coaching process, and most of this information is going to apply to weightlifting, powerlifting, or strength and conditioning.

Up until just a few years ago, I only coaches youth strength and conditioning athletes with ages ranging from 7 to 19. Organically my club has grown into mainly junior and senior aged athletes with a median age of 20-years-old. Like I said yesterday, our goal is to grow the youth weightlifting program. I want a gym with the following model:

Senior Program>>>Olympic Development
Junior Program>>>University Program
Youth Program>>>At Risk Youth

At each level there will be an alternative focus. At the youth level, I want to coach any youth athlete with ages ranging from 7 to 17. However we will also have a program for “At Risk Youth” where we will set standards to identify “At Risk”. We will also provide weightlifting coaching and an added curriculum to aid them at improving their personal situation. I have been trying to start an outreach for children for several years now. I will give all of you more details when this project is complete.

I have been working on a University program for several months now. We have the ball rolling at one school, and we are starting the process at another school. I want to provide my juniors with ages ranging from 18 to 20 a scholarship based program, so they are working on their future while training. A University Program will provide us with a massive recruitment tool, and more importantly it will help assure that my athletes are working on their lives past weightlifting.

My senior program will apply to all other athletes that have plans of reaching that top stage in the sport. I want to provide all the tools for my athletes like: soft tissue practitioners, nutrition counseling, sport psychology counseling, and a solid stipend program. Coaching and programming is important, but the atmosphere and environment is the key.

However today we are talking about coaching youth. The first question that I am always asked is “what age can they start”. I was talking to Coach Chris Wilkes on Tuesday, and he said it the best. He told me that 7 to 9-years-old is perfect, but the key is waiting until they have shown an interest. If you force an 8-year-old to do weightlifting or powerlifting, you are guaranteeing that they will never continue with the sport. You will make them hate it.

Right now, my son Rock is 17-months-old. My goal is to introduce him to as many sports as possible until he is 15-years-old. At that point we will reevaluate. If he is naturally more successful at one, then we will narrow things down. However, this is only if he loves it. If he doesn’t care about pursuing any one sport outside of high school, then I will let him continue to play as many sports as he choses.


Right now, our focus is on gymnastics and more importantly playing. Gymnastics is simply organized playing with a little instruction, and we have a blast. Rock runs, tumbles, climbs, and jumps. Mr. Jeff, his instructor, spends a few minutes each class teaching Rock handstands, flips, or other skills. The rest of the time is spent playing.

Playing is a form of exercise that is being replaced with video games and television. I am going to do my best to avoid both of those pitfalls with Rock. The key is getting outside with him. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, I am with my son playing. I schedule those times on my calendar. That means I get up early to do work, so I am ready to play when Rock gets out of bed.

Today we are going to gymnastics at 9:40a, and then I am going to buy him a toy. Then we are going to go to the park and play. This is pretty much our routine twice per week minus the toy. I just want to spoil him today. My point is that playing develops so many skills in a child.

Playing will help with:

• Balance
• Stability (walking across logs)
• Climbing
• Running
• Throwing
• Strength (picking up rocks)

Those are just a few of the benefits of playing. Playing should continue as long as possible. I want Rock to explore, ride his bike (when he can reach a set of pedals), fall down, and get back up. This is the natural way of becoming an athlete.

At age 7 to 8, if Rock shows an interest, I will get him in the weight room. We will start with technique work and PVC Pipe. However, the main focus will by General Physical Preparedness. Here’s what we will focus on:

• Technique in the big six (snatch, clean, jerk, squat, bench, and deadlift) with a PVC Pipe
• Pull-ups
• Push-ups
• Bodyweight squats
• Sled drags
• Prowler pushes
• Lunges
• Planks
• Maybe a little pump session for the girls

I will only have him training 1-3 times per week, and the number one goal will be that Rock is having fun. I want the gym to be a place that Rock wants to go. I want there to be lots of laughing and good times when he is young.

When do things get serious? That will depend on Rock. When I see him developing coordination and some solid relative strength, then we will start to consider adding some weight to the bar. I am also looking for overall stability. Some keys will be:

• 5-10 pull-ups
• Solid bodyweight squats
• Coordinated sprints and jumps

Normally athletes are starting around 10-13-years-old. My main focus at this point is technique, timing, and skill development. I will stick with 2-3 days per week, and I will still put an emphasis on playing and participating in other sports. In weightlifting, the best overall athlete is normally the winner. I will still have a focus on GPP.


The training of a 10 to 13-year-old will look like this:

• Snatch every day
• Clean & Jerk every day
• Squat every day
• Press every day
• Pull-ups, push-ups, dips, and handstand push-ups
• Gymnastics, sprinting, and jumping

On the barbell exercises, we will keep the work reps between 10-15 with the focus on technique. I want very few misses. The focus is still on having fun. I want the athletes to love the sport, so lots of laughs.

When will we compete? As soon as possible!!! I want the athlete to fill the excitement and fun of a meet. This will also prepare them to confident at meets when they are older. I want Rock to fill at home on the platform. My daughter Bailey started weightlifting this year at 16-years-old. She gets really nervous at competitions as of now. If she had competed since she was 11-years-old, competition would be easy at this point.

When the athlete is 13 to 14-years-old, the focus shifts to mainly the competition lifts. If your focus is Olympic weightlifting that means the focus is now snatch and clean & jerk. Here are the main factors at this age:

• Training 3-4 days per week
• Focus is Snatch and Clean & Jerk
• Secondary is strength training with squats, pulls, and presses
• Assistance is still important with pull-ups, push-ups, dips, sleds, rows, and carries.
• Intensity will average around 80%, but we will still test our maxes every 2-3 weeks.
• Reps on the Olympic lifts will be between 1-3 with an average of 5 sets
• Reps on the strength work will range from 1 to 10 with sets from 3 to 5

The key is to never sacrifice technique and safety for extra weight. I still want this age group to enjoy training, so I might mix in some fun competitions like:

• Vertical leap
• Broad Jump
• Triple broad jump
• Box jump for height
• Med Ball Toss

Kids love to compete at these events not to mention it is good training. Let’s all join together in making America stronger than ever. It won’t happen without getting the youth in America more involved. Only the club coaches from around the country can do that. Let’s work together in making this sport bright in America.

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