Coaching the youth beginner athlete

Coaches must be aware that the initial learning period of the beginner in Weightlifting is profoundly important and will leave an indelible impression. In the case of coaching children and/or young adults, there is an increased level of responsibility to ensure that the coaching methodology employed lives up to community expectations and provides the beginner with a good start to their career in the sport.

The following guidelines are provided to assist coaches working with children and young adults in Weightlifting:

  1. Long-term development: It is not possible to determine whether the next beginner that steps into the training room will last 3 weeks, 3 years or will have a distinguished lifetime in the sport. Therefore the only appropriate course of action is for the coach to assume that the athlete in front of them deserves to be treated as having a long-term future in the sport. There is a great deal of onus on the coach therefore to adopt a professional approach and to consider the long-term needs of the individual athlete.
  2. Focus of attention: The coach must maintain a very high level of attention when coaching beginner athletes of young age. Apart from this being a legal duty of care (safety reasons), a high level of interest shown by the coach is an important factor that aids their motivation.
  3. Observe!: Make an effort to closely observe every set the young athlete performs. Coaching is very much about observing, analysing and prescribing and it takes a great deal of practice to become fully effective in these tasks. Essentially, your analysis must be about the quality of the movement that you observe, and if the quality is less than you think is desirable, for whatever reason, your task as coach is to prescribe a course of action that improves the quality of movement.
  4. Develop foundational abilities: Weightlifting is about a good deal more than strength. Success in Weightlifting depends on speed of movement, balance, coordination, flexibility, stability as well as power and strength. It is an entirely the wrong approach in Weightlifting to focus on strength development in the early training of children and adolescents. How the coach develops foundational abilities in their young athletes is perhaps a key to successful coaching. A great variety of movement patterns is helpful.
  5. Technique: The coach must ensure the young athlete develops secure technique and has great confidence in their own abilities. “Secure” technique means that its stands up under pressure when the athlete, later in their career, is performing in important competitions. If the beginner athlete experiences frequent failure in training early in their career, it will likely have a significant detrimental effect later in their career.
  6. Feedback: To an overwhelming extent, it is the feedback that is derived from the proprioceptive systems of the body that enable the athlete to learn a complex skill. The ability to receive and process feedback from proprioceptive organs within the body, like all senses, is not identical in individuals. Much may depend on early childhood learning of movement and the brain development that results. The coach’s feedback is called ‘augmented feedback’ because it augments the feedback derived from the body’s internal sources. Coaches should be wary of over-providing augmented feedback in verbal form, particularly with beginners as it can be counterproductive. Feedback can be given visually or by helping the athlete to “feel” the correct body position.
  7. Encouragement: The coach’s task is to encourage but this is not just about making the athlete feel good. Encouraging the athlete is very much about motivating the learner to keep striving towards a goal.
  8. Volume of practice: The development of a high level of skill requires a high volume of practice of the movement patterns required with a high level of accuracy achieved. Rather than push the younger athlete steadily towards maximal weights in training where eventually the movement pattern breaks down, it is better to repeat sets at an intensity where the athlete’s fluency of movement is uninhibited. The development of expertise in a complex skill is a very motivational force for the athlete, thus it pays for the coach to encourage “high productivity” in sessions to accelerate learning.
  9. Adaptation: The young athlete’s skeletal system takes times to adapt to training for any sport. Coaches must be aware of the impact that training has on bone, muscle and connective tissue and understand that there are limits to the ability of the body to cope with training-induced stress. In regard to the training of children and young adults, it is imperative to err on the side of caution. It is imperative to strive to keep the young athlete injury free.