by Coach David Hageman
As a strength coach for close to two decades, a parent of multiple youth weightlifters, and a novice weightlifter myself, I wanted to provide a few observations that might help calibrate expectations for yourself or your youth athlete participating in the sport of weightlifting.
- Weightlifting is more technical than you think.
The sport of weightlifting is not just exercising with a barbell. There are many people that exercise with resistance equipment (barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc…), yet this does not make them weightlifters or even serve as a predictor of their success in the sport of weightlifting. It involves finesse, mobility, strength and coordination of the entire body. Anyone who has attempted to learn the movements of Clean & Jerk and Snatch as an adult understand the complexity of demands they require. This understanding is critical in regulating our expectation for progress in this sport.
- Weightlifting is NOT a requirement for becoming a great athlete.
Some parents and athletes fall under the impression that the weightlifting movements and their success in these movements are essential in becoming a great athlete or in maximizing an athlete’s fullest potential. There is no evidence of this. Honestly, some of the all-time greatest sport athletes in history probably never attempted a Clean & Jerk or Snatch in their life. HOWEVER…the journey in becoming a weightlifter provides an abundance of benefits that span beyond sport. Physically, weightlifters learn proper movement reinforced by explosive total body movement patterns with external resistance (unlike weight exercisers), which builds a solid foundation for future physical activity. Aside from that, it provides the other non-physical benefits of other sports such as confidence, discipline, enjoyment and learning. Personally, all of my kids have a varied and oscillating interest in weightlifting. I want them to enjoy the sport and the journey, which includes skill improvement, PRs, and muscles ☺, but not stress out over the numbers or its importance in future activities.
- The difference between competitive and recreational level athletes is the investment.
As a parent, I get frustrated with the constant demands of all the sport leagues out there. Full disclosure: my family is involved in the following sports: soccer, baseball, basketball, flag football, tackle football, wrestling, track, cheerleading, and weightlifting. This is cool, ridiculous, and completely self-inflicted. We participate in these sports at the recreational level, local competitive level, and at the national competitive level. Some of these are sports my kids like to “play” or “do” and others they like to “compete” in. The difference is our investment into these sports. For Izzy, my oldest daughter, we spent a TON of time and money on cheerleading and little time and money on soccer. She loved “competing” in cheer but liked “playing” soccer with her friends. Cheerleading was year-round and required private sessions ($), personal coaches ($$), and 3-4 team sessions a week ($$$). Soccer was twice a week for an hour and only in the fall ($.01). She became an awesome cheerleader. Those significant cheerleading investments also provided a great foundation for her becoming a nationally competitive weightlifter as well. She has since stopped playing soccer, but her friends that continued to “compete” in soccer had similar investments as she did in cheerleading, such as soccer camps ($), personal coaches ($$), and year-round competitive travel teams ($$$). As you would guess, their soccer skills are a lot better than Izzy’s. My point is that we need to adjust our expectations and help our kids with these expectations as well. If we want to be at a competitive level at something, we need to have a significant investment in it.
- There are competitive and recreational levels in weightlifting too
After a youth barbell group session last week, I found myself comparing the numbers and weightlifting development of my two older boys, Lincoln and Carson, to that of Izzy when she was the same age. To end the suspense, there was no comparison. The boys are not even close to Izzy’s numbers and progress. The boys are good athletes and have put in the time with a barbell in their hands, but there is a significant difference. The majority of Lincoln and Carson’s training time has been in group classes, while Izzy’s were all 1 on 1 with Coach Bender and sometimes 1 on 2 with Coach Bender and myself. The boys have learned the basics, they have fun, and are pretty good, but do not come close to Izzy because of this significant difference. I see them as recreational-level weightlifters. When and if they want to become competitive weightlifters, I will definitely get them 1 on 1 sessions with Coach Bender and Coach Sterny (not Dad). I recommend the 1 on 1 sessions because learning and reinforcing weightlifting skills require a lot of particular attention. As mentioned above, there is a reason why competitive soccer, cheerleading, and baseball teams require private sessions with personal coaches in addition to regular practice.
- Private weightlifting sessions are skill multipliers.
I don’t want to sound like an infomercial, but I find extreme value in private sessions regardless of the skill/sport. Raising our 5 children, Kim and I learned the value of this early on with swimming. We initially opted for group swimming lessons. The sessions were significantly cheaper than privates and the groups were small with roughly 5 kids and 1 instructor. We attended these sessions for several months and the progress was underwhelming and frustrating. However, our kids needed to learn how to swim. Another parent recommended private swim lessons to us, but we initially dismissed the idea seeing it as a luxury rather than optimization. After several months in the group session, we decided to try private lessons. After several sessions, we were amazed with the skill development because of the increased attention. I would like to tell you we learned our lesson, but we did not. The group rate compared to the individual session prices were so lopsided, that I talked myself into trying it again at a different location and with a different child. However, we had the same outcome, which validated my initial observation… and status as a cheap dad. After those experiences, I saw the value in individual attention. Since then we have had private sessions for weightlifting, tumbling, baseball and even academics. For us, it saves time and maximizes enjoyment and performance. Again, this is not meant to be an advertisement for private sessions, but genuine observations from a coach and parent. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.