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Athlete Selection for Weightlifting
Bob Takano

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One of the topics touched upon by national coach Zygmunt Smalcerz was the selection of candidates for the national weightlifting program in Poland. To many readers this may sound like a novel concept since we don’t practice it in this country, and there is a considerable bias against selection for elite programs in general. In an effort to counter ageism, sexism, racism and any number of other “-isms”, there is a fair percentage of the general public that believes that anyone should be allowed to enter any program and that the deciding factor should be the individual’s desire. Well desire is a factor and the athletes that stand on the medal podium at the Olympics have a lot of it and talent too!

We need to stop dividing populations into the two groupings of talented individuals with little or no desire and undertalented individuals with overwhelming desire. At the Olympic level everyone has talent and everyone has desire. The degree of talent and the guidance of that talent are probably the more overriding factors. 11 world records and 33 Olympic records were broken in London. This indicates that the many participating nations are still seeking out talent and that developmental methodologies are continuing to improve. Of course, if you are an intellectual sloth you will attribute it to drugs.

Anyway back to the presentation by Zygmunt. He presented this to us at the coaches meeting, and it was good to find out how other countries are doing this. Certainly it provides us with food for thought as to how to proceed.

Zygmunt told us that he annually tested 1500 students at ages 11–14 and ended up selecting 10 of them for participation in the weightlifting program. His general points of reference were:
  • Personal interest and agreement by the parents
  • Approval by a sports doctor
  • Anatomical suitability
  • Body structure preconditions
  • Attainment of minimum standards on standardized tests
He tested them in physical education classes at the beginning, the middle and the end of the school year. The tests were as follows:

Vertical jump performed with a measuring tape attached to a waist belt. The best of 3 jumps in cm was taken and divided by 2 to yield a score.

Standing long jump. The best jump in cm is divided by 10 to yield a score.

Bench Press. The score is the number of repetitions performed with 50% of bodyweight.

Overhead Squat Position and Front Squat Position. Each can earn a score of 10 points for a total possible of 20 points for the score.

Age/Weight/Height. A scale for each parameter yields 20 points maximum possible for each. Age 11 gives 20, while age 20 yields 2. For weight, the range is from 40 to 85 kg, and the highest points are awarded to students at the ends of the range. The same is true of height which has a range of 140 to 185 cm. The highest points are awarded to the shorter and taller students.

Biomechanical suitabilities. The arm span cannot be more than twice the height of the trunk. The tibia cannot be more than 4 cm longer than the femur. The legs should not be more than 50% of the athlete’s total height. The palm length should be at least 16 to 16.5 cm. The thumb length should be at least 7.5 cm.

Physical, psychological and medical tests are administered at the three junctures to get a clearer picture of the individual development pattern.

The results of all these evaluation procedures are compiled into a report to aid in making the decision for inclusion of the student in the national weightlifting program.

This is a fairly comprehensive procedure for identifying the most talented, appropriate individuals for the national weightlifting program. When these athletes are properly supported and coached by professional coaches, they can expect to be competitive at the Olympic level.

By the way this is not the first time I’ve heard of such an evaluation process being used. All of the top weightlifting nations have some form of talent identification.

Take this type of identification process, and support it with top level facilities, professional coaches, sports medicine and psychology personnel, and sufficient cultural and financial incentives, and the chances of producing an Olympic medalist go way up. The USA needs to explore these possibilities.


Bob Takano is a USA Weightlifting hall of fame coach, and coach of the Phat Elvis weightlifting team in southern California. He is the author of the book Weightlfting Programming: A Winning Coach's Guide. His website is at www.takanoathletics.com.


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6 Comments
James S. 2012-08-29
It's easy to have a defeatist attitude when you read something like this. If I don't fit the bill, why bother? Because it's awesome.
Steve 2012-08-29
Makes sense, but seems like many that might fit the bill end up in pro athletics, nfl, MLB, NHL, etc....
Mark 2012-08-30
What are the defined end points for measuring the trunk/torso?
Matt Foreman 2012-08-30
Great post, excellent reminder of how organized and intensive the weightlifting systems are in the top countries. I’ve also heard about these same type of athlete identification programs over the years. I think every country that has had sustained high-level success uses something like this. The athlete numbers in China are probably ten times higher than the ones mentioned here. Drugs are obviously one of the reasons why the top athletes in the world lift as much as they do, but there are many other pieces in the puzzle that drive them to success, as Bob said. Pumping 1,500 kids through a program to find ten perfect ones is a pretty big piece. That type of funneling is happening in this country…with football, basketball, baseball, etc.
Doug 2012-09-02
This is already happening in elite college football programs. From Sports Illustrated: "Every player currently recruited by Alabama, Florida and Florida State gets graded using a similar list of criteria. Coaches calculate the grades by scoring each recruit based on three sets of criteria: character/attitude/intelligence, position-specific critical factors and a height/weight/speed chart. On Saban's grading scale the critical factors for a cornerback are: • Can he judge the ball? • Can he play man-to-man? • Can he tackle? The ideal height for a cornerback is between 6 feet and 6'2". The ideal weight is heavier than 180 pounds. The ideal speed is less than 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash."
David Griffin 2012-09-03
In Australia the AIS has been conducting this sort of thing for a while. However weightlifting is not one of our focus sports so it's usually used for finding gymnasts, rowers etc. Other sports like swimming have such high participation that getting kids into the system isn't a problem. One family I knew of had their daughter offered a scholarship for gymnastics at age 9. They wanted her to move to Canberra from Sydney (3.5 hr drive) to train full time. The family turned it down.
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