Talent Selection in USA Weightlifting

The last few years in the world of USA Weightlifting have seen a sudden upsurge in membership.  Many of the new members have not come from traditional athletic culture and as such may not have been exposed to great weightlifting talent.  The majority are probably training in newly formed weightlifting clubs or Crossfits and as such are not regularly exposed to highly talented athletes. 

Before this recent surge in popularity, weightlifting was conducted in isolated gyms that were difficult to find.  Because of the scarcity the best lifters often trained alongside neophytes.  Consequently, most people in the sport had been around good to great talent and could identify it pretty easily.

Our current conversations rarely focus on the topic of talent.  While many of our current participants have been introduced to weightlifting as a developmental sport that can be transformational, most have never trained around highly talented individuals where the transformations can be truly remarkable.  If USA Weightlifting fortunes are to rise, the conversation of talent must come to the forefront. 

Talent In Other Sports

We are used to viewing talent in other sports.  Because of the small number of athletes that can play in the NBA and the large salaries, the aggregation of talent is concentrated and consequently the level of play is astonishing.  Elite level track and field athletes are exceptionally talented and the vast majority could perform at levels unattainable by good athletes who have trained for years.  Likewise our elite gymnasts can perform movements that very good athletes can never hope to achieve. 

We have talented athletes in the U.S.A., but for some reason the weightlifting community has never made a strategic effort to discover it. 

Weightlifting Talent in Other Countries

Many countries place a higher premium on physical education than does the U.S.  They are willing to fund physical education teachers for elementary schools.  Well educated P.E. teachers can accurately identify those students with athletic aptitudes and which sports would best suit them. 

Other countries have talent identification programs conducted by the various sports federations through the public schools. 

While neither of these systems is perfect they direct the majority of a given sport’s resources towards athletes with aptitudes for that sport. 

Although some may feel that these procedures smack of elitism, the identification of young, talented athletes and their subsequent focused development is the best way to insure the best results at the world level.  By the way we do this in every other field of endeavor that enthuses us be it academics, the arts or any other field dependent on talent and aptitudes. 

Historically We’ve Lagged

I’ve been involved with this sport since 1962 and to my knowledge there has never been a concerted effort by the governing body, be it the AAU or USAW, to conduct any type of talent identification.  I’ve perused the history of USA Weightlifting and found no such movement before my involvement.  All of our greatest lifters were discovered by chance. 

The sports in which we excel at the world level have talent identification and talent development programs and those are the main conduits to success at elite competition.  Why we have persisted so long without an effort to identify talent is a mystery. 

A Step Forward

Last month USAW launched a program that takes a step in the direction of talent identification.  Suzy Sanchez has been hired as the Director of Development Programs.  Her task is to conduct a program of Development Camps directed at identifying talent.  Experienced coaches will instruct and evaluate the attendees and the most promising will be given entrez to a higher level camp with more instruction and developmental opportunities.  The selected will also be connected to existing weightlifting clubs within proximity. 

This is a start.


And this might be a deal breaker for some.  USAW is charging $299.00 for attendance at the first level of camp, and $499.00 for attendance at the second level.  Is this going to be an impediment for some talented youngster of modest means?  If these camps are to be perceived as a fast track to weightlifting elitism should USAW be barring some talented individuals for lack of funding?  I know we’re Americans and we can justify just about any legal behavior as long as it generates funds, but perhaps this aspect of the Development Camps could be revisited. 

Moving forward is not without its potholes.