Youth Weightlifting Program Development – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the importance of teaching sound technique as a foundational component of building a successful youth weightlifting program. Next, we will focus on an equally important component…making the sport fun.

When we talk about making weightlifting fun, the first thing that likely pops into your head is the idea of including a variety of games and light-hearted activities into the training process; however, this is not at all what I am referring to in terms of making it fun. In my 20+ years of experience working with youth athletes as a weightlifting and strength & conditioning coach, I have found that kids enjoy the sport and overall training process when they are 1) challenged in a manner appropriate to their age and ability level; and 2) achieve consistent progress.

Appropriate Challenge

If there is one thing I have learned in my experience as a teacher and coach, it is the fact that young people truly enjoy being challenged. This is especially true with with activities they are interested in. When working with youth in the context of weightlifting and strength training, providing appropriate levels of challenge is extremely important for keeping kids engaged and making the training process fun.

Each time a young athlete begins working with me, I like to explain to them that the training process is a lot like playing a video game. You start at the lowest level and move up to a higher level when you have mastered the level you are on. Every training day is an opportunity to move up to another level and unlike an actual video game, you never run out of levels to master which is one of the best things about weightlifting. This is an analogy that every kid understands and can easily relate to.

Once young athletes understand that they will be challenged on a daily basis, it is your job as the coach to provide appropriate levels of challenge that allow them to develop to the best of their ability. While kids are not miniature adults and should not be trained as such, they are also not fragile little things that need to be coddled either. Kids of any age can handle normal strength training activities provided they are supervised by a qualified coach who teaches sound technique and progresses loading in a proper manner.

Consistent Progress

When appropriate challenge is in place as part of the daily training process, the 2nd principle of consistent progress is a natural result and an equally important component in making weightlifting fun. Kids (and adults) LOVE making consistent improvement; therefore, providing regular opportunities to do so is extremely important. Seeing your efforts pay off in tangible ways is highly rewarding and motivating for any individual engaging in a challenging activity such as weightlifting. Although progress is typically associated with heavier loads, it can also come in the form of:

• Performing more reps with the same load
• Executing the same movement and/or load with better technique
• Moving up to a more difficult variation of the same movement

Ultimately, providing your young athletes with appropriate levels of challenge and opportunities for consistent progress is a reliable way to make weightlifting fun and enjoyable over the long term. I have implemented these principles repeatedly with great success in terms maintaining active participation and enjoyment of the sport among youth for many years.

In the next post, we will discuss the importance of creating an environment and culture that is optimal for building a successful youth weightlifting program.

CJ Del Balso, MS, CSCS, RSCC
USAW International Coach

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