Fundamental Change in Weightlifting

At a coaching symposium held at the Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra,  in October 2017, I gave a presentation titled “Can Australia be competitive in Weightlifting?”

The main purpose of this presentation was really to get people thinking about strategies that would make a real and significant difference to the High Performance program and improve Australia’s competitiveness on the international platform. A secondary purpose was to get participants to identify and discuss the “elephants in the room”, those barriers that we know are there but find it very difficult to talk about.

Developing new innovative strategies, and “thinking outside the box”,  is really quite a hard task. There is always a tendency within organisations to keep doing the things we do because it is what we have always done. In short, it is easier, time saving and seemingly less risky to re-deploy familiar old strategies rather than invent new ones. But there is always likely to come a time when a drastic re-think is necessary, and courage needs to be summoned up to go in a different and unfamiliar direction. Perhaps that time has come.

The question “Can Australia be competitive in Weightlifting?” deserves a moment of your thought. The question itself is problematic as it is necessary, before answering, to clarify what is meant by “competitive”. As expected, the participants of the symposium did seek this clarification, and were presented with two alternative definitions.

To be competitive in Weightlifting is to:

  • Regularly attain top 15 placings in World Championship each year? or,
  • Dominate the medal count at the Commonwealth Games?

Yes of course there are probably better definitions out there but this was simply an exercise, and all participants were invited to vote YES or NO. No fence sitting was allowed! The outcome of the vote was: YES – 62.5%, NO – 37.5%.

In asking the question, I had no preconceived notion as to which way the vote would go and prepared further ‘inconvenient‘ questions to address both the YES and the NO voters, as follows:

Can Australia be competitive?

The aim of the questions above was to search for ‘elephants in the room’, those things we don’t really want to think about. For example, we might say we want Australia to be more competitive, but we really don’t think it is possible given the extent of doping on the international level. Perhaps it is the case that, to be more competitive, a great deal more work must be done and, as we are largely volunteers, we are not really sure we can commit ourselves to the effort required. A lack of confidence to succeed would indeed be an ” elephant in the room” for coaches, athletes and administrators in the sport.

All we need is seriously hard training

After the vote and a brief discussion of the questions above, a simple proposition to fix the competitiveness issue was put to the audience – “all we need is athletes training seriously hard and more of them!

As intended, the audience swiftly reacted to this proposition by pointing out the need for coaches, suitable training environments, competitions and athlete support systems. Furthermore, as presenter, I raised the issue of whether we actually know what seriously hard training is.

Strategies to improve the High Performance Program must make a difference on the floor of the gym.

Strategies to improve the High Performance Program must make a difference on the floor of the gym.

Next. the audience were introduced to the central theme of the presentation – the notion that whatever plans and schemes are made to improve the High Performance Program, there must be an effect on the gym floor. It is my view that in a decentralised system, such as exists in Australia, the key component that drives high performance is the clubs. If within clubs there is better recruitment and retention of athletes, an upskilling of coaches and club managers, and improved training practices on the gym floor that drive towards excellence, then there is a good chance that standards of performance will rise.

What may be required to improve Australia’s competitiveness in Weightlifting is revolution not evolution, and typically revolution is a bottom up process of change. The revolution is probably already underway but as yet unrecognised – the rise of the For-Profit Weightlifting club. Hitherto, non-profit Weightlifting clubs have been the backbone of the Australian Weightlifting community for many decades and there is no denial that some were and still are very well run organisations. However, the tide may have turned, and there is now seemingly an inexorable rise in Weightlifting clubs of a for-profit nature.

This change is significant. The for-profit club has to be innovative and resourceful in order to survive and provide the entrepreneur with a reasonable return on investment. The for-profit club has to take ownership of the problems that exist within the sport industry and the sport of Weightlifting in particular. It is simply not a reasonable business strategy to rely on outside help from  the national body, government or other external authorities. For example, for-profit clubs are usually excluded from typical government funding programs. Instead, the for-profit club has to look at the marketplace and develop a business plan to make a dollar.

Revolution is a bottom up approach to implementing change.

If therefore fundamental change is likely to occur then it is more likely that it will be generated via a bottom-up approach. There is little doubt that there is an increasing number of entrepreneurs at work within the Australian Weightlifting community and it could just be that a “Kerry Packer – World Series Cricket” moment is not so far away.

I have been asking many colleagues within the Weightlifting community as to whether the future of Australian Weightlifting will depend on commercialism. For example, is it a reasonable proposition that dollars can be made by being a professional Weightlifting coach, running courses and workshops, selling equipment and products, franchising businesses, and of course providing training facilities for Weightlifting. Certainly people are trying and it is likely that some will succeed through innovation and effort. Can we move to the next step and run prestigious Grand Prix events at significant profit. I think it is possible but it will require a very cut and thrust entrepreneurial approach rather a few individuals gathered around the committee table.

In the next article, I will address some of the strategies that can be implemented by Weightlifting clubs to create the bottom up process of fundamental change.

Strategies that can be implemented by clubs to create fundamental change.

Strategies for change to be discussed in next article.


A proposal for a club development program

This article proposes the development and implementation of a club development program across the nation. The proposal looks at what the national body can do to promote club development and how a framework for club development can be implemented with little cost. The objective of this framework is to signpost important steps that clubs can take to develop increasing capability and be rewarded for the effort.

At the outset it is important to recognize that clubs are the main constituent part of the Australian Weightlifting system that delivers the services, equipment and facilities needed to participate in the sport. Clubs are of course highly dependent on the ability of coaches to introduce many others to the sport (in a variety of roles). Therefore in consideration that a club development program aims to provide assistance to clubs, the need to give coaches a helping hand is at the heart of it.

The services provided by clubs include the promotion of the sport, the recruitment of athletes, the provision of coaching, the organisation of training and competitions, and the recruitment and training of personnel for officiating. In some cases, clubs also provide funding to athletes and coaches.

Ultimately, without a centralised program, the Australian Weightlifting system is completely dependent on clubs to produce results.

A good club development program would result in clubs consistently working to:

  • Upskill their members in coaching, officiating and administration
  • Promote the sport in the community
  • Receive new members and educate them in good Weightlifting theory and practice (safety, health, technique, training methodology)
  • Conduct competitions or assist other clubs to conduct competitions
  • Develop a culture that is conducive to high performance
  • Promote the idea of service and contributing positively back to the Australian Weightlifting system

A good club development program would involve the AWF working to:

  • Provide resources and know-how to help clubs develop (e.g. promotional resources, how to run a club manual, instructional resources, etc)
  • Reward clubs for innovation (i.e. an awards program that recognises innovation)
  • Ensure clubs adopt policies that promote quality control in coaching, administration, membership administration, member protection, competition organisation
  • Provide incentives to clubs to develop an increasingly capable voluntary workforce in the service of Weightlifting.

A national framework for club development would be an instrumental measure to provide incentives for clubs to strive to achieve the above aims. This framework would enable the AWF to measure the effectiveness of the club development program and for club personnel to self-rate according to published criteria including:

  • Number of athletes registering totals
  • Number of athletes competing in national youth, junior, senior and masters championships
  • Number of qualified referees (STATE and above level)
  • Conducting events
  • Implementing athlete education programs
  • Implementing policies and administration structure

Compulsory Conditions

To be a part of the club development program and to be eligible for awards and assistance from the AWF, all clubs must fulfill certain mandatory conditions:

  • Paid AWF club affiliation fee
  • 1 coach currently licensed with the AWF actively involved throughout theyear
  • Nominate a club secretary to maintain communication between AWF and club members, and to upload athlete details and competition results
  • Have Public Liability insurance
  • Implement AWF Athlete Safety Program (exists only as an idea at present)
  • Implement Pure Performance Program
  • Be accessible by anyone with an interest in Weightlifting

Tiered Club System

Clubs differ widely in their facilities, number of athletes, coaching capability, mission, ethos, and a variety of other factors. Therefore it would be a matter of fairness for a Club Development Program to recognize contributions from clubs at different levels, and enable clubs to compete for awards with clubs of a similar nature.

Three tiers are suggested (the name of each tier can be determined later):

  • Tier 3 Club (entry level into the Club Development Framework)
  • Tier 2 Club
  • Premier Club

A Tier 3 club

The club fulfills the compulsory conditions above and achieves all of the criteria below:

  • 5 athletes who are capitated AWF members and have registered a total during the year in any AWF sanctioned competition
  • The licensed club coach has at least 5 athletes listed against their name in the AWF capitation database

A Tier 2 Club

The club fulfills the compulsory conditions above and achieves any three of the criteria below:

  • In addition to the club coach, the club has an appointed assistant coach who has an AWF license to coach
  • 15 athletes who are capitated AWF members and have registered a total during the year in any AWF sanctioned competition
  • 3 Athlete competing in any National Championships during the year
  • 3 AWF accredited referees (equivalent to State level or above) who have each acted as a referee twice in the year
  • Received the AWF’s innovation award in the previous or current year
  • Conducted one 2-hour public workshop in the year to promote Weightlifting
  • Conducted a public program for junior athletes for entry into Weightlifting

Premier Club

The club fulfills the compulsory conditions above and has achieved any five of the criteria below:

  • A designated head coach and two assistant coaches, all of whom are currently licensed and actively involved.
  • 30 athletes who are capitated AWF members and have registered a total during the year in any AWF sanctioned competition
  • 6 Athlete competing in any National Championships during the year
  • 3 AWF accredited referees (equivalent to National level or above) and who have each acted as a referee twice in the year
  • Has at least one club member who is recorded as acting as competition MC on at least 3 occasions
  • Received the AWF’s innovation award in the previous or current year
  • Conducted one 2-hour public workshop in the year to promote Weightlifting
  • Conducts a public program for junior athletes for entry into Weightlifting
  • Promoted, organised and conducted at least 3 sanctioned Weightlifting competitions per year.

AWF Clubs Innovation Award

The Australian Weightlifting system needs to be innovative to ensure a successful future on a national and international level. Innovation needs to be an important goal and a method is needed to recognise and reward innovation within the Australian Weightlifting community. The proposed Innovation Award is just one example of the effort needed to support the fundamental work carried out by clubs. Innovation may take many forms, for example by developing and testing:

  • Training programs for juniors aged 8-12
  • A community event to promote Weightlifting
  • A new competition format
  • Methods for monitoring and measuring the training of athletes
  • New instructive resources for the education of athletes, coaches, officials or administrative personnel.
  • A new business model for clubs
  • Many other possibilities for innovation

Clubs must apply for the Innovation Award in only one tier, and the application must provide a detailed description of the innovation. As part of the application process, the applying club must accept that the AWF will publish details of the innovation for the common good.

Recipients of the Innovation Award will be given press and publicity by the AWF and given a prize such as a competition barbell of IWF standard.

State Associations

It will be noticed by some that State Associations are not mentioned in this article. State Association will continue to exist in the future but this proposal recognises that even when State Associations have an employed person,  it is clubs that essentially do the work and need the support.

Contact: Leo Isaac, email: