Limitations of Australian Weightlifting

This article discusses the key factors that limit the capacity of Australia to produce athletes in Weightlifting to a standard that is competitive on a world standard. The key factors are identified as funding, coaching, training environment, participation, organisation of the sport, and athlete management.

Funding

The late John Lear, former national coach of British Weightlifting for several decades, was often heard to say “success in sport is directly proportional to state funding”. In years previous, Australian Weightlifting has received considerable commonwealth funding but not on a scale that could make a difference to the standard of sport delivery at the grassroots. It was always hoped that the glittering prize of a fully funded trip to major international events in faraway places would be sufficient incentive for athletes to commit to high levels of training. However, there are too many roadblocks at the base level of the sport which need to be eased before a greater number of athletes make the important decision to push for stardom.

A photo showing the competition arena in  the theatre of the Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra.
The Theatre at the Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra, is the best competition venue in Australia. It was purpose-built with Australian Government funding at a time when Weightlifting was amongst the highest-funded sports in Australia. The platform sits on a solid concrete base.

Coaching

The achievement of high results absolutely requires quality coaching. As a lifelong contributor to coach education, it is pleasing to see that the average participant in a coach accreditation course is much more knowledgeable than 20 years ago. However, it is probable that the greatest factor in this change is the advent of information technology rather than the coach education systems here in Australia. In Australian Weightlifting we must strive to improve coach education as this may be the catalyst, more than any other, to improve every level of the sport. The amount of knowledge a coach needs to competently operate with beginners, emerging talent or high-performance athletes is phenomenal. It takes years of practice in any of these three domains. To raise the standard of Weightlifting in Australia, we must raise the standard of coaching.

Training Environment

Without doubt, the growth of clubs is a pleasing thing. It is virtually the case that no matter where you go in Australia you can find Olympic Weightlifting equipment and quite probably others having a go. This is a remarkable change since 20-30 years ago. However, there are disturbing trends. Almost all Weightlifting gyms 30 years ago were non-profit and at that time under 20 athletes were predominant. Thus we had fewer clubs but more athletes capable of rising to the standard of high performance. Nowadays, in the commercial gym that predominates, the demographics have entirely changed. In the 80s and 90s, the ratio of juniors to seniors was around 75%:25% but in the present day it is 25%:75%, completely the opposite. The environment of the commercial gym is naturally about survival of the business and making a return on the investment. The main goal of the commercial gym is not to produce high-performance athletes.

Participation in Weightlifting

Today, there are vastly more people who enjoy Weightlifting than any previous decade. Its only a small point that many participants are not members of Australian Weightlifting. A much bigger point is that the average participant does not stay involved in the sport long enough to reach any sort of reasonable standard. Recently, I did some research on every single athlete in the ranking list who were born in 1992. I was quite shocked by what I found. You would think that athletes born in 1992 (aged 30 in 2022) would have been competing for quite a few years. However, nearly HALF of all athletes in the ranking lists were in their FIRST or SECOND year of competition. Only 30% of athletes born 1992 managed to last 5 years of more. Looking at participation in terms of the number of athletes gives a false picture. What is needed now is to look at all athletes born in 2002 and who competed in the national junior championships and see just how long they last. Of course, it is a well-known phenomenon for juniors to drop out of the sport when life changes with work, study, and personal commitments. No matter how glittering the prize of sporting stardom, the time commitment to reach high performance is too much except for a very few.

Organisation of the Sport

There are a few full-time professional administrators at state and national levels of the sport and their impact is clearly evident. If Australian Weightlifting is unable, for any reason, to continue administration on a professional basis, then we really are in big trouble. In the state of Tasmania, where I am resident, there is no professional administrator. Potentially the state government of Tasmania could provide about 25% funding of a professional position but there is no way the state body could afford the remaining 75% based on our membership numbers. Of course, to an overwhelming extent, the organisation of most of Australian sports falls on the shoulders of volunteers but, except in very few sports, most sports struggle just like Weightlifting. So, where does the organisation of Australian Weightlifting fall down? Here are a few suggestions where more professional effort is needed:

  • Recruitment of youth (requires a national campaign with all states on board assisting).
  • Raising the standard of competition organisation and delivery.
  • Provision of ongoing education for coaches, referees and administrators.
  • Greater sophistication in media engagement to publicise the sport.
  • Planning and supporting the development of centres of excellence across Australia.

Athlete Management

This factor may be more controversial than most. It is probably the case that many athletes come to Weightlifting with great potential but they slip through the cracks. The main concerns are:

  • There is no national program to unearth and recruit youth athletes.
  • Beginners do not receive quality instruction in the initial stages of skill development.
  • Athletes are injured too often and too early in their careers as a result of poor training methodology.
  • Athletes with a high level of interest are isolated by distance from coaches who can advance them to higher levels of performance.
  • Athletes with potential do not have an understanding of this because they are not officially identified by the system.
  • The level of financial support needed by athletes is not available. Often parents are the only source of funding available.
  • Athletes with high levels of interest do not have the opportunity to have training partners of the same calibre.

Final Comment

There is likely to be many more factors, of course. Please feel free to suggest other factors yourself but you will need to create a login to this website first. If you register for this website and log in, you will be able to comment on this article. This article may be revisited from time to time to be improved and updated. It is important to try to understand where the roadblocks are.