About four years ago, after a series of conversations with the local high school soccer coach, the baseball coach and the football coach, I found myself at the first high school varsity girls weightlifting meet of that season. After being involved with only USAW and slight involvement with AAU for 5 years, I was completely surprised by the meet I attended. For those who are unfamiliar, the state of Florida recognizes weightlifting as a varsity sport and includes two lifts: the clean & jerk and the bench press. The governing body is the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) and the rules are slightly different than IWF/USAW rules.
Additionally, the meet can be quite overstimulating if you don’t know what to expect. There are generally 3 school teams attending each meet in our region. Meets are run like an auction and start with the coach on each platform yelling the first weight to be lifted. The lifter is expected to have a spotter and to report the outcome of the lift as well as the weight of their next lift to a person sitting at a centrally located table who is recording whatever they’re told
However, it wasn’t the rules, the yelling, or the lifts that surprised me the most; it was the complete lack of knowledge the girls had. It didn’t take long for me to realize that many of the girls never even saw a barbell before. Most of them are recruited from other sports and have not attended a practice prior to the first meet. The first dialogue I ever heard went like this:
Coach: Bench press, first lift, 45. Anyone taking 45? 45 pounds, first lift. No one?
Female student lifter: I think I am?
Coach: Well get up here. Do you have your spotter?
Lifter: I don’t know. A what? What’s a spotter?
Coach: You need someone to be your spotter. You (points randomly to a girl with her arms crossed standing close by) – come here and spot her.
Lifter: Where do I go? I’ve never done this before.
Coach: Come lay on this bench and take your first lift. This girl will spot you.
The girl walked up to the platform and sat down straddling the bench facing the bar and the spotter and asked the spotter what she’s supposed to do next.
This is not an exaggeration and it is not a knock on the sport. I saw it as a HUGE area of opportunity. I mean, think about this for a minute: young teenage girls show up to participate in a competition in a sport they’ve never even tried or possibly seen! How brave and strong and independent do you have to be to step this far out of your comfort zone!?!? Every one of those girls became my high school hero that day!
So, there was an easy, natural transition for me to become involved that day. Even though I had never attended a high school weightlifting meet and I wasn’t intimately familiar with the FHSAA rules yet, I could certainly deliver a little bit of knowledge on the movements and set the girls up with a few expectations. The coaches were happy that things started going a little smoother and they weren’t trying to teach movements to all the new girls and run the meet.
Afterward, I decided to take the opportunity to introduce myself to all the coaches present and to possibly find out if I might be able to assist at the meets or even in the practices. I spent the next two months in and out of a few local high schools and many meets. That was year one for me.
I occasionally made a point to pop in and say hello to the coaches when it was possible. When summer came, I personally visited the coaches I’d gotten to know and offered to continue working with the girls over the summer. This was a little complicated since certain rules prevent the coaches from “instructing” the athletes to do anything outside of their sport season. I also knew that it would be less complicated if I offered to meet them at the school, not my facility. The turn out wasn’t exactly what I hoped it would be, but I did get to work with a handful of girls who actually wanted to get better. Maybe they just didn’t have summer plans, but whatever – they showed up!
So how does this help you get involved if your state doesn’t offer weightlifting as a varsity sport? Well, what happened next was purely an accident, but looking back, I realized it is the approach I should have taken to begin…
Of course, I stayed in touch with a couple of coaches that I was able to genuinely connect with, and when the school year came around again, I visited the school. Most public schools will utilize a coach for more than one sport, and this is where your reach can truly expand.
I offered to provide my facility as an option for their athletes who weightlifted, and any other athletes who want to improve in their sport. I suggested they could use us as an in-season and off-season workout option and I offered to write the programming for them, or simply help them stay on track with the programming the coach wanted them to use. I wanted to be sure that I didn’t step on the coach’s toes or seem like I was suggesting that my offer was better. I wanted to provide an additional option for those athletes who may need longer hours to get their workouts in around other sports, school work and club sports.
The first school year was a little slow, and I was still developing trust and relationships with more coaches and schools. The next summer we saw an increase in workout attendance and some promise, but we were lacking another buy-in….the parents.
I spoke to one coach in particular who I started to work closely with. She suggested that I attend her parent/student information meetings. There would be one at the very end of the school year and another just before school started. This was the magical moment I had been working toward. I worked out what the coach wanted to achieve with her volleyball athletes and came up with an incredible offer for them to attend all summer long in preparation for tryouts the following year. We took lots of pictures and posted to social media, tagging the participants, of course. At the next parent meeting, I brought one of the girls from our Weightlifting Club Team. She competed in high school and came to us shortly after. I thought she could speak to the benefits she experienced with weightlifting during high school and possibly connect with the girls who were coming to the meeting with their parents. I couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome! The parents loved to hear from a graduating student as much as their daughters did. They asked questions and showed so much interest. At the end of the meeting, the high school coach re-emphasized the importance of utilizing our services and how she believed it would make a difference in their total sport performance.
This has now become the secret to my success with school sport involvement. Each school I work with has it’s idiosyncrasies, but the main points remain the same. I believe, however, the most basic key to our success is being authentic. Our intentions are simple and pure. We approach all of our school sport programs with the genuine desire to assist the coaches, improve the athlete’s sport, and provide an amazing service for the parents.