Craig Valency, CSCS
In Part One, I highlighted the importance of setting the tone for fun, maintaining a quick-paced session, and addressing fitness goals in the context of games. Today, I’ll talk about the importance of children taking ownership of the session and feeling like they are responsible for their own success. I’ll also discuss the importance of enriching their experiences by giving them goals that they can accomplish and teaching the purpose behind what they are doing.
Giving Them Choices
If children have a sense of ownership or investment in something, they will naturally want to take care of it and nurture it. It is important to nurture that kind of investment in each training session. One way to do this is to give them some choice in what they will do by having two or three activity options for each goal you want to accomplish. You might ask if they want to play the Indian Club Bowling Game or Sandbag Target Toss to work on kinesthetic differentiation (accuracy in controlling their power). After they have been training for a while, they will come in requesting certain games every time. It is, of course, important to balance what they need with what they want.
Peer coaching is another way to improve critical thinking skills and leadership qualities. Have children watch each other and analyze what the other children could have done better and where they were successful. Pair a new child with a “coach” and have them model and explain why and how to do things. Children can learn as much, if not more, from peer modeling, than solely from a coach or teacher (Magill, 2010). Doing this can show a child that a peer can actually do it, which can help him or her feel more empowered.
Let Them Lead
Another great way to foster a sense of ownership is to have children lead various games, such as Follow the Leader (through an obstacle course) or Simon Says. You can also encourage them to make up exercises, which are usually hybrids of different exercises you have already taught them. Let them make up the name for the exercise and use it the next time you meet. There is nothing like hearing your trainer/coach lead the group in an exercise you invented!
Teach the Purpose
Children need to understand the purpose behind what they are doing. This increases motivation and gives them a focused lens through which they view the activity. Sessions often start with some basic mat work on the floor to improve core stability, hip mobility, and glute activation. During this initial phase, make a game out of teaching the purpose of each exercise and award points for correct answers. Before doing this, make sure to teach the answers so they have the necessary background knowledge. If they are doing supine hip raises, ask what part of the body they are working and why it is important for the hips to be strong in producing power for the sports they like. Also, try asking pop culture trivia questions on topics they love, and see if they can process thought and talk while holding a pose or performing a coordinated arm and leg floor exercise.
Make it Relatable
If you are leading children in a game, let them play uninterrupted for a while; then explain a technique and connect it to their favorite sport. This gives more relevance to the skill and puts it in the context of functional use within a sport. For instance, if they are tennis players and are doing a goalie fielding drill, teach them to cut off the angles to prevent the ball from getting into the goal. Then relate it to tennis and how important it is to cut off angles to get to a volley.
At the end of the session, gather everyone into a team huddle and talk about a few things they learned that day. Then, prompt them to tell the group something they learned. From session to session, take note of how they progress in certain skills and give them specific feedback about how they are improving. This gives them the long-term view and a sense of accomplishment over time, especially considering how frustrating it can be to learn something new. When it comes to patience, children will take your cues.
Putting it All Together
The key to keeping children engaged and coming back for more is to make it fun! Set the tone the minute they walk in the door by establishing a high level of enthusiasm. Continue the workout in the form of games that address all of your fitness goals, and teach competition as well as cooperation. Encourage them to own each session by giving them choice and encouraging peer coaching. Enrich their experiences by giving them goals that they can accomplish and teaching the purpose behind what they are doing.
Play is the essence of being a child. Kids must be allowed to play and discover within a safe and guided environment, guided by concrete goals. They will never know they just had a workout, and they will be eager to come back every time!
Magill, R. A. Ph.D. (2010). Foundations of Exercise: Motor Learning and Control: Concepts and Applications. New York City, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.