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Pulling The Same Direction

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NOT KIDS PLAY: North Miami splits its weight lifting session between high school and Jr. High athletes with the younger athletes doing the same things their older counter parts do each time out.
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BALANCE: Peru’s Julia Weeks works with kettle balls during a morning lifting session for female athletes. Each county school has different ways of encouraging more female athletes to get into the weight room and feel comfortable doing so to become better in their individual sports.

BY TRENT SCOTT - tscott@perutribune.com

If you type in ‘high school weight room’ into a search browser and scroll through images, a sizable amount of them will feature male athletes going through their workouts.

Occasionally, though not nearly as frequently, you’ll see the odd picture with female athletes doing the same and even less commonly, you’ll see both working out side-by-side.

It’s not always an easy thing to get every athlete or even whole sports into the weight room and each county school goes about getting more athletes out in different ways.

“Some people are afraid of the unknown,” North Miami lifting coordinator Joe Grant said about the perception of the weight room. “People think the weight room is a meathead place to go or just for football players and that’s not the case.

“We’re changing that culture around here and getting a lot of younger athletes, a lot of female athletes and a lot of coaches in here.”

With the way the three county schools set up their summer weights sessions, each has a different way of encouraging increased participation from female athletes as well as working in Jr. High and Middle School lifters.

Grant said the Warriors come out in force every session regardless of age or gender.

 “We have a great showing of football guys but the thing about that is they’re also basketball, baseball and track guys as many are multi-sport athletes,” Grant said. “We have a very good showing from the girls’ basketball program with coach (Lori) Working getting them in there.

“We have a very good mix of young and older athletes, both girls and boys. We do a separate session with the cheerleaders, not because they want to be separate, but because that works better for their coaches and we have 20 of them in every time.

“We have a very good representation of all our athletes,” Grant added.

While the bulk of the lifters remain high school males, Grant said having everyone in the same room at the same time was doing more than just building up strength and conditioning.

“It works very well,” Grant said about having all athletes working together. “What we believe, as coaches, is that when kids come in and see someone like Maryann Freeman or Tristan Working busting their butts, they see mutual respect develop and that helps build a better school culture.

“The incoming freshman football players get to see how hard Maryann works and the incoming freshman volleyball players get to see how hard Tristan or someone like Andrew Moreland works. They see they’re not just meathead football players or just someone in the hall and that allows them to build relationships.”

Maconaquah lifting coordinator Austin Colby noted athletic director Casey Stouffer implemented the current split-session approach, one that was working for everyone involved.

“It’s a great thing,” Colby said on the split sessions. “Casey implemented it when he came to Maconaquah where we did a morning and an afternoon session.

“He does it that way for work-related purposes. A lot of the athletes have to work during the summer, so it gives them a chance to work and still be at a session, so there’s no reason to miss out.

“If we only had one session, it would be way too overcrowded for the facility we have,” Colby added. “If girls know there is going to be a session with 25-30 other girls in lifting, they’re going to feel more comfortable coming in.

“You don’t want anyone to feel out of place in there. We want to make it an inclusive environment and success breeds success when everyone feels at home.”

The mix of session times and who makes up each session has created unique atmospheres at each, allowing athletes to be more comfortable and productive according to Colby.

“Having looked into the gym before during the morning sessions, I’ve seen the morning session have around 20-30 girls in there with Stouffer saying they have around 40-50 people at a session,” Colby said. “There’s all kind of female athletes in their in there.

“They’ve bought into what happens in competition when you do develop your body in the weight room and how much it can help you.”

Peru opted for different lifting days for males and females, along with a co-ed session on Fridays, which lifting coordinator Romison Saint-Louis said has made a difference.

“We decided to split the male and female days in the summer because our coaches were informing us that some of the female athletes were intimidated coming into the weight room with males, especially those that were not comfortable in the weight room to begin with,” Saint-Louis said. “The workouts are not that different as they are still based off of experience level.

“Doing this has increased the number of female athletes we have in the weight room. Our female athletes are working hard and getting stronger.

“There is one day a week where there is a co-ed lift period, to which there has been a small handful of girls that will come in those days,” Saint-Louis added. “Nothing changes those days; they come in and go through their plan just like the other days.”

Working in younger lifters is a slightly different challenge as the number of Jr. High and Middle School lifters varies quite a bit between the schools.

North Miami opens the weight room up to all ages and a sizable group of Jr. High athletes turn out each morning.

Grant said much of their initial work is on learning about the weight room and developing form.

“With the junior high kids, we chop down things,” Grant said. “We work on what’s called Lifetime Athletic Development, or LTAD.

“We teach them how to properly move their bodies, how to have good body position and good form. It’s not weighted lifts; it’s more body weight activities.

“We do teach them about the equipment so they know what a barbell is, what a bench is, what a medicine ball is, etc.,” Grant added. “We teach them proper form and about having a spotter when they lift.

“As a large group, we teach them all the same commands for their lifts and do everything on air. They hear the same things the high school kids here.”

While most of the kids are learning the basics, Grant said there are few things the Jr. High athletes don’t do in the weight room.

“You’d be surprised,” Grant said about how fast younger kids pick up on the training. “We have a group of kids that are going to be in sixth grade that have been doing this for two years with us and they love it.

“They want to do this more; they’re upset we’re not in there every day and that’s a good thing to see.”

While there weren’t many Jr. High athletes coming into lift at Peru, Saint-Louis said the athletes had similar workouts to their high school counterparts though they were eased in to how to be productive in the weight room.

“We start out basic with them and move very slowly,” Saint-Louis said. “Our goal is to get them to be proficient in moving their body without adding resistance.”

Colby noted Maconaquah’s summer weights weren’t necessarily aimed at non-high school lifters but with numerous freshmen coming in it was important they understood what they were doing in the weight room.

“We don’t have any Jr. High kids that come in during the afternoon session though they are more than welcome to,” Colby noted. “I’m not sure the summer lifts are advertised much for the middle schoolers.

“With our incoming freshmen, we try to have a coach keep an eye on them at all times. We do different stations during weight so we’ll keep them mostly together as a group.

“We’re trying to help them with form and technique, as well as on the right page in terms of how much weight to lift,” Colby added. “It’s a process; it’s not going to happen in two or three sessions.

“That said, the more comfortable they feel and there and the more help they get, it will help them to be at ease with what they’re doing, be more productive and be better off on the field for it.”