Coaching Youth Athletes as told by Ray Jones (CJ Cumming’s Coach)

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Coaching Youth Athletes by Ray Jones (CJ Cumming’s Coach)

I have had an unbelievable time here in Tbilisi, Georgia coaching Team USA. When I am on these trips, I make it a goal to pick the brains of the other coaches. I want to learn about this sport until the day that I die, and all of you should feel the same way. Who better to learn from than the coach of the best youth weightlifter in American history, Ray Jones?


First, I want to say that it has been a pleasure to get to know this man. He has a unique ability to immediately care for all of these young people. He’s passionate, loving, and firm, and the kids love him, as do I.

We had a few minutes of down time, so I got the chance to ask him a few questions. Of course like all of you, I wanted to know what the program look like for the Youth World Record Holder, CJ Cummings. Ray was more than willing to tell me, and invited some of my athletes and me to visit him anytime. Of course I will take him up on the offer.

It’s funny that there is one common trait of all great coaches: simplicity. Whether it is Dan John or Ray Jones, great coaches know that the magic of any program lies within the simplicity of the program. The key is to focus on the important pieces of the puzzle and get rid of the unneeded fat.

Here are some of the keys that Coach Ray talked about:

1. Core Stability- Coach Jones said that at this young age, CJ is 16-years-old, he focuses on core stability. I am not talking about crunches. I am talking about functional core stability exercises like carries, one arm and one leg flexion and extension Dumbbell reaches, plate circles, and side planks with banded rows. I will get you a video on some of these exercises for next week.

Ray wants these athletes stable and balanced early on, so they can enjoy a long and prosperous career in this sport that we all love so much. Too many coaches focus solely on snatch and clean & jerk, and they don’t stop to look at the big picture. Let’s keep these athletes lifting for 15-years instead of five.

2. General Strength- He wants his athletes strong and durable. Once again, this allows them to train long and hard for the next 15-years versus the next five. He likes to focus on squats, presses, pulls, and overhead squats. CJ is without a doubt a very naturally talented athlete, but you can tell that Ray has taken the time to strengthen him from head to toe. His stability in the catch positions is amazing to watch.

Ray told me that the Snatch and Clean & Jerk is probably secondary to the strength work at this point. The majority of the time is spent on general strength and core work. Of course I agree with everything that he’s saying. Let’s build the foundation before putting up the walls.

3. Snatch and Clean & Jerk is technique and speed focused. They rarely go to heavy singles, and the kids have to earn those singles by perfecting the movement of the smaller weights. Once again they are going to snatch once or twice per week with the majority of the training spent strengthening the overall body.

4. A Program is just an outline! Amen! If the kids come in and they aren’t feeling it, he will have them do some recovery work and go home. A champion isn’t built on one day. A champion is built over years with wise decisions and hard work. Don’t be afraid to take a day off or and active recovery day. Remember if you can keep your athletes mentally and physically strong, they have a better chance of peaking their potential.

5. The Goal is to never miss. He wants his kids to get used to success. He wants them to be shocked if they miss. Over the years, I have watched CJ be one of the most consistent lifters out there, and I have no doubts that Ray is the reason. CJ is used to making lifts, so that’s what he does.

Look guys and gals, when you are programming for young people, keep it simple. Their bodies are so raw that anything will produce results, so focus on the important things and get rid of the fat. If you don’t know why you are doing something, then get rid of it.

I want to leave you with one more important piece of the puzzle in regards to coaching youth. If you don’t have an empathetic heart for young people, then coach adults. Adults don’t need loving coaches, but youth and junior athletes do. They need to know that you have their best interest, and that you love them. That’s the way unconditional trust is formed.

Coach Ray’s love for his athletes oozes from his pores. I am not just talking about CJ. He loves all of his athletes. He stayed up all night during the youth nationals to watch his athletes. He literally slept with his headphones in his ears, so he would open his eyes when one of his little lifters was announced. Ray has so much love and dedication for these young people. If you are going to coach youth, you should strive to do the same. Truth is that it should come natural. It for sure comes natural for Coach Jones.

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