Craig Valency, CSCS
In part one, I wrote about the challenges of training children, and strategies to keep them engaged. In part two, I spoke about ways to empower children by giving them more responsibility and choice and thereby fostering a sense of leadership. In this final installment, I will discuss the importance of enriching their experiences by giving them goals that they can accomplish and teaching the purpose behind what they are doing.
Naturally, certain activities are somewhat mundane, so it is important to spice it up. 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 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.
If you are leading children in a game, let them play uninterrupted for a while; then explain a technique to improve their skill and relate it to their favorite 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.
Next, have their peer “coaches” watch the drill and offer tips and advice to each other. At the end of the session, gather everyone in 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 let them know how they are improving. This gives them the long 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.
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 and bring them up to your level of enthusiasm. Continue the workout in the form of games that will address all 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. They must be allowed to play and discover within a safe and guided environment with concrete goals. They will never know they just had a “workout” and will be eager to come back every time!