Grouping Athletes – Leaders In The Weight Room

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: MIKE WINKLER

Grouping Athletes – Leaders In The Weight Room 

We say it all the time, ‘A busy or crowded weight room is a good problem to have.’ And as your numbers go up, so will the amount of athletes you need to have at each rack or station during your lifts. 

There are plenty of factors to take into consideration when deciding how to group your athletes, and by no means do I think there is a perfect way. Instead, look at who you are about to have in the weight room, and see what is going to empower them as a group to do their best. Find your leaders, spread them out, and watch what can happen. 

Group Leaders

Each rack or group has a designated group leader that I select. This leader has a variety of responsibilities. The intention is that these athletes know they have ownership of the weight room experience.

Leaders are expected to make sure their group shows up to the weight room. While it is on individual athletes to communicate to me their absence, when there is no communication at all, I hold the group and its leader accountable. By creating a repercussion past just the person missing, it fosters a sense of accountability amongst the larger group. 

Leaders are also in charge of the cleanliness and organization of their station. While everyone lends a hand to this, it is the group leader who must make sure that this is taken care of each and every day. 

And lastly, they make sure that their group is focused and avoids any sloppiness. Things like leaning on equipment or sitting down in-between lifts is sloppy and leads to a ‘weight room penalty’. Sloppiness in the weight room leads to a penalty, just like sloppiness on the field can do the same. 

All of this is intended to empower our athletes as leaders. And while this can often be upperclassmen, I do not limit these leaders to juniors or seniors. 

If and when you have someone who fits your leadership mold who is a freshman or sophomore, use them as a group leader, because in the weight room, we look for experience and maturity over age. 

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Pairing – Empowering Different Group Dynamics 

With a spread of leaders across the weight room, you can start to think about where everyone else is going to go. Of course this is where you can start to have a lot of different options or reasons behind who goes with who. As long as you have a reason, make it work! 

COACH: Sometimes, I look for who is going to help teach and coach others. A lot of times, the athletes who have been in the weight room with me for a few years, know the language. They are now coaches themselves in each rack and can help younger athletes get form and technique down. I am still in the weight room, and can step in at any time, but that peer-to-peer instruction is often the most impactful for a younger athlete. 

COMPETE: Other times, I look at driving some friendly competition. Are there athletes who play similar positions or lift similar weights who are going to bring out the best in each other? This might take playing around with but it can really start to drive everyone up together.

MODEL: And like any group, you are going to have your ‘troublemakers’. Where do you put that young athlete who might have talent, but is lacking in some maturity and experience? Turn to your studs. Those special leaders can help to guide and mold just about any athlete in the weight room. They will model what you are looking for and help keep that ‘troublemaker’ on track.

HEIGHT: And while my first three examples were a bit more exciting, I would be remiss not to mention height. I might not necessarily pair the 5’1” athlete with the 6’3” athlete because I am looking for one to coach, compete, or model the other. Try and find a way to make the above pairings work so that athletes are also not changing the rack height between each lift.  

Make It Special 

No matter how you decide to group your athletes in the weight room, creating the buzz and excitement around your reasons can go a long way. 

I like to put a lot of my most committed groups into the ‘heart’ of the weight room and they know that. Other groups who might have individuals who do not show up on a consistent basis have to earn their way to that heart by showing to me that as a group they are committed. 

It may be a small thing, but the kids can feel it, sense it, and want to earn their way up. Of course nothing is static in my weight room, and if people start to prove themselves, I am more than willing to change groups or positions. 

By using groups as a way to engage and empower my athletes, I can get even more out of them from what could have been just a trivial task of group placement. So ask yourself, what can I get out of grouping my athletes that I otherwise might not by just randomly going about who works out with who? 

Below is an example of how we group our athletes at Hoban. The underlined name in each group is the designated group leader. The ‘heart’ of the weight room  is in the center column around racks 1,2, 3, and 4. (All athlete names have been substituted to generic names for this example.)

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