As Many as Possible for as Long as Possible

A paper titled this was published in the “Sport Psychologist” journal and it looked at the developmental program that produced 6 professional soccer players out of the 40 participants.  More striking was the 35 out of 40 that carried on participating in sport into adulthood.  One of these professionals is Erling Haaland, one of the world’s best.

Sports can be broken down into the three P’s; performance, participation, and physical activity.  Too many programs and coaches only seem to care about the “performance” aspects of sports.  However, this fails to represent the majority of participants in sports, especially the older that they get.

Ina sport like powerlifting, only a fraction of a percentage of participants are going to break a world record.  The average person will do between 1 and 3 meets and then leave the sport.  Many might still train, but even more see their physical activity levels drop as they age.

Participation levels in sports rapidly decreases in adolescence.  This is due to the increase in competitiveness and the greater requirement for sport specific skills.  The long-term goals of increasing these skills come at the cost of immediate gratification and enjoyment.  As seen in Walter Michel’s famous marshmallow study, many kids are not programmed for delayed gratification.  The drop off in participation is then two-fold, where some lack the skills to earn opportunities, and others lack the personality traits or drive to switch to a long-term thinking philosophy.

In powerlifting everything seems to be focused on performance, even with beginner lifters that do not possess the skills necessary to be competitive at the top of the sport.  Coaches support this attitude by feeling the need to produce endless content and to show off their “products” the lifters they coach and their lifts.  This is misguided because all beginners see success that lasts on and off for a few years before training needs to be a bit more targeted and thought out.

Unfortunately, as performance naturally stalls, the participant becomes frustrated and many quit.  Also, the participant that was a golden student making progress earlier on is not viewed in the same light within their psyche.  This can have a drastic impact on self-worth, also leading to quitting the sport and a decrease in physical activity levels as they age.

This article suggests that youth sports experiences are shaped by the following: personal engagement in in activities, quality social dynamics, and appropriate physical and competitive settings.  The last one is a major problem within the sport of powerlifting.  Lifters are often given high volume and very sport specific programs without a strong foundational base and thrown into the competitive fire of competitions as well as the social dynamics of the internet where they can compare themselves to everyone else.  This is an INAPPROPRIATE physical AND competitive environment for the majority of beginners and even intermediate lifters.

The article suggests that coaches focus on Cote’s 4 C’s of for long-term enhancement in sports participation.  They are competence, confidence, connections, and character.  Enhancing these 4 C’s is associated with positive sports experiences that can lead to long-term performance, participation, and personal development.  This is opposed to the traditional model where one dynamic element (the program) is related to the outcome (performance).

Players entered this program in Norway at 6 years old.  From 6 to 10 years old they practiced 1-2 times per week where the drills being taught were drills that the kids could do on their own.  From 11-13 the kids increased practice to 2-3 times per week but did not have any position specific training until 15 years old.

From 13-19 kids were divided into two groups, one that practiced 2-3 times per week and another that practiced 4-5 times per week.  Players would play a lot of pickup games outside of the program, and the ones that wanted to would practice on their own.  These games were always inclusive to all skill levels.  

The head coach, a professional athlete himself, put the players over the results.  He talked to every player, and he treated high skilled players no different than low skilled players.  Players were given the choice to train more after the age of 13 and not selected.  Those that chose to train more ended up performing better at later stages in development.

The craziest stat of all, they had more professionals from this program than dropouts.  Now, this certainly could be a random one-off result, but it is important to think about, especially in a sport like powerlifting.

There is a need for a well-designed developmental plan that allows participants to have fun, embrace competitiveness when they are physically and emotionally capable, and have a focus on personal development.  99% of the people that compete in powerlifting are recreational, they are not athletes and coaches need to stop treating them as such.  Changing this vocabulary is probably the first step here. 

Powerlifting is not in the Olympics and is not a professional sport where you can earn a living.  Without those opportunities such a strong emphasis on only performance makes far less sense.  

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