Keeping Youth Lifters Interested

The ultimate competition preparation book is here. We cover:

• Programming the competition block,
• Taper week
• Cutting Weight (how to and when it’s appropriate)
• Intra-meet Nutrition
• Attempt Selection
• Warm Up Timing
• Strategy (Team and Individual)
• And More!

“Time to Compete”

Keeping Youth Lifters Interested

Yesterday I posted on Facebook asking what articles that people wanted me to write. Number one that was the best idea that I have had in a long time because I now have material of months to write on. My buddy and fellow coach Chris Jones wanted me to write about my thoughts on keeping youth lifters interested past puberty. He also wanted me to mention dealing with the “I know it all phase”. My daughter Bailey was interested in these topics as well, so I am starting right here.

I coach a pretty darn good group of youth and juniors. We have developed a pretty unbelievable culture among them. Heck our own senior athletes have made comments about the camaraderie amongst the youth. They support one another daily, and I have never had a better group of teammates than these young men and women.

The question is how do you start a youth out, and then keep them throughout a long career. There are a couple of keys:

1. Make the environment fun.

2. Get them competing as soon as possible.

We are not Russia, Bulgaria, or China. We are America. We can’t be forced to do something just because we are good at it. American children participate in sports that they enjoy. Heck even the ones that supposedly love Bulgaria and supposedly train “Bulgarian” aren’t even coming close to doing the Bulgarian Program. They won’t do it because it isn’t fun. Going to the gym once or twice a day and maxing out is fun. However that’s not what the Bulgarians did now is it.

We laugh a lot. There are competitions of some sort almost daily. I am not just talking about snatch and clean & jerk. My youth all participate in a general physical preparedness program that has some elements of CrossFit. We might race in some met con, or we might go for max repetitions in a given lift. We try to do our competition based on percentages, so the competitions are fair no matter the level.

The best part is that our Youth have learned to be competitive and supportive at the same time. Yeah they want to win, but they love seeing their teammates killing it as well. Sometimes Morgan our 14-year-old phenom will send me videos of his teammate Ryan setting a personal record. It’s all about cultivating this type of atmosphere. If one athlete steps out of line, you have to deal with it right away.

Our Youth have competed Nationally as a team twice this year, and both times was truly magical. Yes they killed it, and Nadeen Pierre is on her way to Youth Pan Ams in Colombia later this year, but that’s not what I am talking about. I am talking about the way that they supported each other during the competition. If they weren’t lifting, they were loading for their teammate or sitting in the audience cheering louder than anyone else.

However to get them to this point you have keep them around until after puberty strikes. A big key is to get them competing right away. If you love weightlifting, you love the competitions. Training is fun too, but the exciting part is getting on the platform. That’s where the bug will bite them or not. The competitions should be stress free with attempts that are easily handled by the athlete. If they go 6 for 6, they will be excited no matter what. If they bomb out, you might lose a great athlete forever. Those first few meets are scary enough without worrying about making a heavy opener.

Once they are hooked, it’s all about a fun environment in the gym. There are a few other keys that are important for all of you coaches:

• Be supportive
• Be encouraging
• Cultivate a positive environment

A lot of these young men and women might only have the gym as a place that is supportive and positive. Please don’t ruin that for them. I am supportive of my kids in all that they do. If they want to wrestle or play football, I am totally supportive. They are kids. I don’t own them. In America for a child to be all in for the sport of weightlifting, they have to make that decision on their own.

If they need help with homework, you will want to help them or get them help. Maybe they’re having trouble at home. Being a coach is about a lot more than simply the x’s and o’s of programming. It’s about being there for your athletes. If you are there for an athlete during a hard time in their life, you will earn their respect for life. You will never have to worry about the “know it all phase”.

I encourage my athletes on a daily basis. I believe in them way before they believe in their own abilities. I have 3-4 youth athletes that should make an international team next year, and you better believe that I am already encouraging them about the possibility. I believe in my boys and girls. As a coach you might be the one that sparks an athlete to do something great. You might give them just enough confidence to become a doctor or business owner. Don’t waste those opportunities.

Last I operate on positivity. I don’t mess around with negativity. Negative talked never worked for me, and my athletes will never have to worry about it. Most youth simply thrive in positive environments, so leave all negativity at home.

These keys are critical for dealing with the “know it all” phase. If the athletes trust you, they will be less likely to question you. However there are going to be athletes that will call you on your knowledge. The key in this situation is to have amazing results with your athletes to point out. However I have produced Junior International athletes in the last two years and three Youth International Team Members. You would think that would be sufficient to earn the trust from other teammates, but that’s not always true.

So what do you do when an athlete questions you? First I will answer their questions with grace and humility. I understand that this is all part of the process. The key is to use these situations to earn more respect and trust. I will also throw a question back at the athlete. I will question their question with science. I will ask them why they think a different way. My goal is to teach them the science of training in an attempt to get their trust. I rarely ever give them the old “my way or the highway” speech. I am probably a little more empathetic than most coaches because I was strong-willed as well.

I hope that this helps all of you coaches trying to grow your youth and junior programs. I can say that there really isn’t anything more rewarding than this age group. You actually have the chance to change lives, and I recommend that you remember that priority throughout the journey.

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