In the past few years USA Weightlifting has made a tremendous effort to grow the sport of weightlifting. Just a few short years ago I can recall the total USAW membership to be in the five thousand-member mark. Today the membership sits at around 26,000 active members.
The growth of the sport has been tremendous and led to many opportunities in coaching and competing. One of the next areas to which USAW is expanding is the collegiate level with scholarship weightlifting programs.
I was fortunate enough to have one of these programs approved in 2018 at Marian University in Indianapolis, which helped identify our local club (Lift Lab) as one of the leaders in the weightlifting community.
Having successfully persuaded the administration to approve funding for the scholarship program I have received many emails from coaches who are looking to do something similar in their communities. I wanted to take this opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences on what it takes to get approval.
The first step is getting weightlifting added to the varsity sports roster is arguably the hardest one. You must first establish a point of contact with someone who can make a decision or can advocate for you to the decision maker.
It would seem logical that the athletic director (AD) at the university would be the decision maker but remember they will have to run it up the flagpole to a dean or president for final approval.
If you get an AD on board they will be your best advocate as they are often very influential.
Do you really think it is as easy as walking to the AD’s office, telling them how great weightlifting is, and then getting instant approval to start offering scholarships? When you try to establish this contact, you are going to get told no, go away, and not interested many times. Like any entrepreneurial adventure you cannot let this discourage you and you must keep asking and keep trying.
Once you have established a working relationship with the AD or other decision maker you need to take some time lay out your thoughts and road map for the university to add this program. I always start with a large overview or what I call the 30,000-foot view.
As an entrepreneur I love to always look at things from the 30,000-foot view and get a good scope of the totality of whatever project I am working on. Fortunately for me, I had a little experience in grant writing when I was at Purdue University in the early 2000’s. I was part of a proposal that should have been extremely easy to procure; yet I was failing miserably. I then got some great advice from a more senior grant writer. He told me when working with a university you need to clearly demonstrate three things.
- 1.)How does this benefit the university financially?
- 2.)How does this benefit the students/potential students?
- 3.)How does this impact the community around the university?
If you keep these three things in mind as you propose your weightlifting program, you will increase your chances of success in obtaining the program designation you are seeking.
It doesn’t really matter where you start with your pitch, but keep in mind most deans and presidents are primarily concerned with budgets. This is a huge part of why they were employed by a given university/ college.
I would almost always start with financial impact, as you will have their attention. If you are pitching at a smaller institution finances are probably the number one point of contention. Not only do you grab their attention but you also demonstrated that you did your homework and that you are someone who will take challenges head on.
If you are not familiar with how universities are funded, then you need to do a little research on the school you are pitching. Basically no one has enough money and the universities are looking for government funding whether by tax dollars or special programs, or they are relying on donors and enrollment to drive revenue.
It is very important to demonstrate a clear understanding of the financial impact of your program. It is highly likely that you will not be able to give full scholarships, or you will have a limit on the number that you can give. Football and basketball aside this is a very common practice even at the largest institutions.
If your proposed institution is 10k per year and you can offer a half scholarship, then the student will be responsible for 5k. The student gets half-off tuition and the opportunity to pursue their weightlifting dreams.
The upside for the university is that it is likely that your new sport will be the reason the student chose the university. The university wins because it is now able to attract a student that otherwise would not have come to the university.
If you are diligent you can run the numbers on what the average scholarship would save students while simultaneously generating revenue for the university. If you then run a cost benefit analysis it should be pretty easy to show a dean or the president how having weightlifting can positively impact the students and the university.
Being insiders to the sport of weightlifting we all know how awesome the sport is and the unlimited reach and impact it can have on the community. When you talk about impacting the community of your university you can take several different spins on this impact.
You really are unlimited on the possibilities. For example, you can use your new facility to host a program for underserved youth in your area. In this scenario you could also give your health and kinesiology students the opportunity to coach and mentor these youths.
Additionally, you may integrate your weightlifting program into the research components of the university and maybe you become a global leader on sports performance research and your local community is thrilled to have such a leader in your community.
Or, you build a team full of champions and everyone on your team becomes an Olympian. Next thing you know your small town is known for developing Olympians for generations.
Either way you get the point—community impact is about your vision for what you want to do.
Unfortunately, when you are starting a program you will have to speak more on the numbers side of things because that is what moves the needle to get a decision made, but never lose passion for the impact and direction you want to go.
A large part of what you must convey is the financial components of the program, however, your passion for the sport must come through as well. The reason we want to start these programs is not financially driven and I understand that more than anyone. When I pitched I made sure that each and every person in the room could feel my love for the sport and my belief that it will make the university a better place. Your passion and enthusiasm in all likelihood is what got you the meeting in the first place. Be yourself, be enthusiastic and show them you are the correct leader for this new program!
If I can help you in any way to get a university program started please email me—firstname.lastname@example.org.