The Reason Why Youth Strength Athletes Quit

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The Reason Why Youth Strength Athletes Quit


If you are a coach, you need to read this one. We have more youth than ever trying strength sports in America, and it is up to the coaches to keep them in the sport. In the past we have lost a lot of great talent for multiple reasons. It’s time that we lay these problems out on the table, discuss them, and find a way to change things. We have a chance to change the sports of both Olympic Weightlifting and Powerlifting in America if we will just change a little as coaches.

Change for some coaches is a very scary thing. We have done things a certain way for several years. Some of those things are probably great if you are turning out talented athletes. However, if you are not, then maybe you want to really look deep into yourself and make some big changes. It’s ok to be wrong. It’s not ok to stay that way when you find out a better way.

I am not necessarily talking about technique. I am now friends and partners with some of the greatest weightlifting and powerlifting coaches in America. I have found that their views on technique aren’t as different as we might think. I am partners with Don McCauley, Godfather of the Catapult Technique. I am also great friends with Greg Everett, Catalyst Athletics, and Sean Waxman, Waxman’s Gym. Don and Glenn are catapult coaches. Sean and Greg are triple extension.

I work with Don everyday. I have podcasted with Sean and Greg, and I talk to both periodically throughout every year. Here is the thing! There really isn’t a big difference if any at all. They are all trying to get in a solid start position. They are all trying to hit that solid power position. They are all trying to peak the bar, and then get under that sucker. Every coach has his or her own spin on technique, and that is totally ok.

Now all of that is out of the way, so you can all take a deep breath and relax. It’s not technique that is causing the youth to quit. It is boredom, frustration, and a bad experience that is causing them to quit. Those are the big reasons, and those are the areas that we are failing as coaches. Period!

As coaches we all spend so much time on technique and programming that we are missing the big picture. Here is the thing! We need to put our egos to the side because technique and programming isn’t the way to medals in America. The way to medals is increasing the pool of lifters, and keeping those lifters in the sport. If you don’t believe that, then you are a fool. Are Florida, Texas, and Alabama dominant in Football because of their strength program, playbook, and practices? No! Anyone that knows sports will tell you that teams are great because of great recruiting. That’s just fact!

Step 1 to keeping these kids in the program is having coaches that actually love kids. If you don’t love your athletes, then you are in the wrong sport. I would do anything for my athletes. When one of them goes through hard times, I go through hard times. Athletes see that! If you care about them, then they will walk through fire for you. Coaches that love their athletes also attract other athletes into the same program.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when coaches make it about them. Look coaches, your time has passed. We are in this thing to assist our athletes in reaching their goals, not our own. When my athletes win, set a record, or make a world team, I am happy for them. I am not thinking about how cool that I look. I think about the smile on the athletes face. That is my trophy. That is why I coach.

Step 2 is letting the athletes have fun. You cannot coach youth athletes like they are in a prison camp. Why do you think that young lifters are attracted to guys like Jon North? It is because he is full of energy, and that looks fun to young people. Of course it does! It looks fun to me. I suggest going off the script a little by throwing in some bodybuilding, gymnastics, and sprinting. You can also find ways to let them compete like vertical leap, box jumps, and races.

Also, the second that your athlete has proficient technique let them compete. You should let them compete as often as possible. Why not? They aren’t lifting enough to get hurt yet; so let them display what they have been doing in the gym. Remember as coaches we are competing against sports like football and basketball that have season where the athlete is competing 1-2 times per week. We have to let them compete every 8-12 week at least, or they will get bored. You cannot convince me otherwise.

Step 3 the atmosphere in the gym has to be exciting. We need to stop trying to pretend that we are Bulgarians. We are Americans. We can play music in our gyms. I am so sick of Bulgarian this and China that. We have amazing exercise scientists and coaches in America. The last I checked, as a country we normally kick everyone’s butt as a whole in the Olympics. Our American coaches are killing it in track & field, swimming, and gymnastics. Our weightlifting coaches can do the same if we can continue this trend with our youth. Our youth team just placed 3rd in Women’s and 4th in Men’s at the World Championships. We had athletes that medaled. Let’s keep them in the sport.

We have to let them have fun. We need to let them laugh and express themselves. That is what Americans do. At MDUSA, our athletes talk crap to each other, challenge each other, and laughter is a common noise that echoes throughout the gym. Coaches need to let their young athletes do the same.

Step 4 more companies like MDUSA and colleges like ETSU need to step up to the plate and give these kids a place to go. One of the biggest reasons that I love my job at MDUSA is because they have committed in letting me build a Youth and Junior Team. Brad Hess, owner of MDUSA, love him or hate him, he is putting his money where his mouth is. He wants to invest in the youth and juniors, so that the sport of Olympic Weightlifting can thrive in America. There has to be a future in the sport for these kids to continue. We are building programs that will allow these kids to build futures based on their talents and passions. We want them to be set up for a solid future after weightlifting is over.

Colleges like ETSU and NMU are also taking massive steps in offering scholarships in the sport of weightlifting. USA Weightlifting has taken massive steps providing athlete stipends, camps, and programs. I am very excited to watch USAW grow so much as an organization. Personally, I would like them to add a position that is responsible for creating more scholarship opportunities at colleges throughout the US. It would be an obvious next step.

Likewise at the high school level, states like California and Minnesota have done a great job incorporating weightlifting as a sport. This would be another great task for USAW to take on, or to gather volunteers and lead the charge. If we add the sport in high school and in college, then we have a legitimate sport to pitch parents. If the parents get behind us, the athletes will follow.

Step #5 we have to build solid relationships with these athletes. A lot of the Youth athletes that don’t Medal in a National Meet or make a World Team seem to fade away. The ones that saw success early tend to make it to the Senior level. This is unfortunate because athletes develop at different rates especially in the world of strength. Athletes who are the strongest at 16-years-old don’t always end up staying the strongest. Travis Cooper is the one that pointed this clear fact out to me. We have to help them believe that hard work and persistence wins in the long run.

I am passionate about my Junior and Youth Team Members. Recently my team became a 501c3. My goal is to make it easy for people to partner with us to give our young lifters everything they could need to be excited about the sport and to excel. I also want to open our doors to the kids in our community that are struggling. We want to use the tools learned in weightlifting like goal setting, perseverance, and team work and help these young people apply them to life.

I hope that this article has shed some light on what it takes to keep our young people excited about this sport that we all love. I hope that it sparks a fire in your heart to start your own program. If you want to partner with us, please email me at We need help financially, identifying grants and foundations, and grant writing. Please join the cause.

Don’t forget about the Mash Elite Weightlifting Team Camp:

We are hosting a three-day camp July 8-10 at the Mash Compound. It’s going to look like this:

• Day 1 Max Out Friday with the team and social afterwards
• Day 2 Clinic with Coach McCauley, Coach Wilkes, me and the team
• Day 3 Clinic about meet day prep and strategy, and then a sanctioned meet

We’ve decided to limit the camp to only 20 people, so don’t wait if you’re interested. Here’s the link to find out more:

<<<3 Day Mash Camp>>>

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