Identifying weightlifting talent in North America

Weightlifting is not as developed in North America as it is in other countries like China or Russia. One major drawback we face is the lack of a well defined sporting system. In Canada, we have no real sport schools to speak of and no national training center. In fact, many great talented hockey players or footballers apply for scholarships in the USA. In general, talent identification, development, and specialization are all done at the club level and stay at the club level.

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There is no such things as developmental clubs that feed elite clubs or teams like you would see in hockey, football, and other sports. The national team members train in their respective clubs – so there are no national team center, army team centers or university team centers like you would see in other countries.

Credit Hookgrip
Credit Hookgrip

Perhaps the biggest step forward we could take is the development of sporting schools in which athletes of all background go to school together and experience different sports together. Within such a competitive environment, you would be able to detect sport specific talent rather easily. People might fear that kids would be directed toward sports they might not enjoy due to their talent – but ultimately, the decision to subscribe in a given sport is in the athlete’s hands. That being said, people tend to like to do what they are good at. Most elite weightlifters I know stayed in the sport because they realized they were good at it. I doubt it would be any different in this scenario.

Such a system, in which hopeful athletes get to know about sports while studying, would be hard to implement in Canada, especially in Quebec. There is a program called ”sport etudes” but it’s different and does not accomplish the goals I stated earlier. Moreover, there seems to be a trend toward giving more homework, more study times and more advanced knowledge at the cost of sporting time. I’m all for studying, learning about the world around us and developping career skills, but a student life has to be balanced with sports. Those that are talented and would want to pursue this should be given a better opportunity to do so. A better program of ”get smart, get medals” should be in place.

Over the last 10 years, recess time and phys ed classes have dropped by approx. 50% in Quebec, leaving more classes and more topics to cover. Such a reality means that talent identification and talent development has to be done outside of schools – thus it all happens at the club level and stays at the club level. The coach in place has to do everything, whereas a systematic approach would have, at the minimum, one man in charge of talent identification, one man in charge of a developmental program, and one man in charge of developping high results (eliteness). Again, we can see a similar system in sports that we are good at in Canada – but even in those sports, it all happens at the club level.

Credit Hookgrip
Credit Hookgrip

That being said, under such sub-optimal circumstance, it is still possible to identify weightlifting talent and to develop it. Most clubs are not in a position in which we can refuse athletes – so anthropometry is usually out of the question. However, we can try and predict who will progress the most and who can make it to the international stage. The following is what I look for when summer camps visit our clubs. I get to see 300 kids during the summer, and I use the following criteria to evaluate and find potential talents. After which, I directly ask to speak with the parents of those kids. Obviously, these are a lot different than what you would see in China, for example. (P.S I train every kid that walks in the gym, I don’t refuse any kids. We are speaking about talent identification here.)

North American weightlifting talent identification criteria (age 10-12) :

  1. Seriousness/discipline : If it takes 10 years to develop somebody in this sport, then it means that you have to start right. You can’t turn every learning opportunities into non productive time. The more and more you progress, the more and more many variables have to be controlled in your lifestyle. Having good discipline is key to developing a sport oriented lifestyle.
  2. Competitiveness : Do you love to win? Do you want to win? Is losing an option? Competitive individuals are high achievers. No body gets a work promotion by not trying to be the best and no body wins a medal by not wanting to win it.
  3. Ability to listen and learn (Coachable) : Many can be very talented but just won’t take positive criticism (coaching) well. The road from day 1 to the Olympics is a long one in which you will have to refine your craft significantly – you need to be able to see the coach as a team member not an adversary.
  4. Work ethic : Are you willing to work harder, longer and better than everyone else? Medals are won by consistency in the gym. Are you going to show up at every training session?
  5. Strength : If you are stronger than everyone else, may be we should pay attention as coaches. I have seen a 9 year old girl clean pull 35kg like it was a 6kg empty bar (her BW was 30) with no warm up on her first day (she did that to impress a friend – not under my direction). Some girls her age, with 2 years of training would deadlift it with slow speed. Strength is not everything, but it sure helps in a strength sport.
  6. General athletic ability : Ability to jump, body awareness, ability to throw, etc. It usually dictate the athlete’s trainability and ability to refine movement.
    7. Enjoyment : You can’t go to the top if you don’t like what you are doing. We can’t force any one to do something they don’t like. This week, 3-4 kids from my youth team have done oral presentation in school about their weightlifting passion.

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Jean-Patrick Millette

Jean-Patrick Millette is a full time weightlifting coach located in Montreal, Canada. He has a bachelor in kinesiology. He coaches dedicated weightlifters of all ages (Youth to senior) as well as running the well respected First Pull website. He has been very active at promoting the sport of weightlifting.

One comment

  • Good list, but you missed one: loyalty. Many athletes when they first reach a level of prominence then have other coaches approach them, and athletes who leave the coach who developed them from nothing will leave the next one, too, and their performance will stagnate and eventually decline. If it’s going to take 10 years to make them great, they have to be willing to be loyal for ten years. This is probably as rare a quality as, say, #4 work ethic.

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