Powerlifting can be a hyper-individualized sport. The push for individual improvement is an essential component of the experience. When it goes wrong (too much focus on oneself), it can lead to self-obsession, obsessive compulsions, and narcissism. When it goes well, however, it can be one of the most powerful learning opportunities in all of sport.
There’s no avoiding it – there is, in fact, an “I” in the word powerlifting… but there’s also a “we” and, as coaches, that’s the part we cannot forget. Coaches should remind athletes that it is good to optimize their abilities, especially in service of something larger than themselves. They have the opportunity to create cultures and set expectations to unite a group of individuals around a shared purpose.
Still, in a sport where so much depends on individual performance, building a team can be challenging. To build a team, to create community-oriented culture within the sport, coaches might try service-learning.
Service-Learning Case Study
The New Trier Powerlifting Team has been active for more than a decade. From the beginning, they have held tight to an important mission: “Human development through the pursuit of competitive excellence and commitment to community.”
The group is technically a club, run through the school’s Student Activities department (whereas sports teams run through the athletic department). But they refer to their group as a “team” and reiterate the components therein: shared purpose, healthy communication, and respect for each other and the work they do together. “Take care of your teammates” and “spot your teammate” can be heard regularly in their weight room.
For years, the Trevians have adopted families through the Angel Harvey Infant Welfare Society of Chicago. The hospital has been serving communities in Chicago for more than 100 years, with special focus on those who would not otherwise be able to afford care.
This year, they kicked it up a level.
In fall of 2021, the Trevians won the USA Weightlifting HS Throwdown championship. They celebrated their efforts with a merchandise sale – the proceeds were collected to support the hospital. But that was only the start.
On December 12, the team hosted their first annual “Hold on 2 Hope” fundraiser. Inspired by recent social media memes which feature “pullup hang” challenges, the Trevs set about structuring, advertising, and raising pledges for the event. Each athlete would hold the “down” part of a pullup, with arms fully extended, for as long as possible. The challenge is a test of grip strength and sheer willpower. Pledges were collected per second; that is, if an athlete collected a pledge of 10 cents per second, then held for 100 seconds at the event, the total donation would be $10.00. Athletes were encouraged to compete for most pledges – to be the best fundraiser on the team – so the team (and the shared cause) would benefit. This pursuit of being one’s best self for the good of the whole serves powerlifters well. The individual matters, but they are not all that matters.
A full weightroom of athletes cheered each other on and – together – they brought in more than $1,200. For a first effort, it was a fantastic success! With the proceeds from the merchandise sale and pledge event combined, the Trevians were ready to pick up gifts for the kids and their families.
There again, another thoughtful layer.
The Trevians worked alongside Michelle DiBenedetto and Dr. Cynthia Labella at the hospital to collect a different kind of toy. A third partner, Educational Insights, sells children’s’ toys that are both fun and educational. The gifts would be going to young people at the hospital with an assortment of developmental needs and delays, including autism. With this in mind, educational toys were selected based on the specific needs of their recipients.
Then, the final layer: the drop-off. Seeing the hospital and meeting doctors, patients, and families gave the Trevians a direct and resonant connection to their cause. Close connections to the cause increases the likelihood of future giving and community-oriented behavior.
Importantly, before and after the drop-off, the team and coaches reflect and take time to name exactly what was accomplished and why it was important. This firmly roots the need for service in the minds of the athletes.
Service-learning requires a collaborative partnership, the application of critical thinking skills, and reflection – if all three boxes are checked, the participants are sure to have experienced something meaningful. This year, the Trevians did just that.
The culture of New Trier Powerlifting has been intentionally constructed over the past decade. They articulated their mission almost a decade a go and do their best to bring that mission to life: “Human development through the pursuit of competitive excellence and commitment to community.”
Alongside that mission, the Trevians routinely create service-learning opportunities to run alongside their competition schedule.
Being one’s best includes care for others. Coaches, it may seem obvious but it doesn’t happen automatically. Be sure to go Beyond Strength and teach lessons which last a lifetime.
If you need some support, feel free to REACH OUT.
There are many teams out there doing similar work. Coaches and athletes, if you have stories to share that will shine a light on good work and inspire others to do the same, TELL US YOUR STORY to be featured on BeyondStrength.net