It’s an important issue that really doesn’t get enough attention. Have you ever considered what the long term affects of your child’s fitness training will be? Will it create a strong grown-up or an injured adult? Will they love movement or loathe exercise? Here are five points I consider for my son and, after ten years of coaching juniors, I believe all parents should too.
Rule Number 1: Minimize the long distance running
Yes, sometimes we need to run long distances, but answer me this: would you rather have the physique of a 50km walker or a 100m sprinter? There is no harm in the occasional long distance run to improve mental and physical conditioning but I do not believe that a child should be set up to be the slow-twitch turtle. It might be impressive that a child can consistently run long distances but is it really healthy? From personal experience, I feel the damage of long distance running at a young age in my body today. Right up until the middle of high school, I could beat any kid over 100m. For some reason the PE Teacher insisted that I represent the school over long distances. Over a few years I went from speed demon to a frustrated aerobic Duracell.
Rule Number 2: They should lift weight but the movement must be perfect
Unfortunately there is still a flawed belief that kids who lift weight will experience stunted growth. Nothing could be further from the truth. Do the strong farm kids in the country look stunted? Kids should be picking stuff up off the floor, throwing stuff, climbing and pushing loads. It’s also important to look out for this: once kids hit high school, they start moving like decrepit adults. Pretty much all kids move well from day one, but with all that sitting, things start to change. It’s important to counter the perils of modern-day life and lift loads like we were designed to do, with proper movement form.
Rule 3: The best sport is in the back garden
Regardless of whether your child becomes the next Michael Phelps or Eric the Eel, the true fun is playing unstructured games in the back garden with friends and family. This is where kids improve their overall coordination and healthy competition. Fitness is such a dirty word today and this can only be reversed by your child’s experience with you. Show them the way and have fun in the process! A kid’s life is for living, not for being beating down all the time.
Rule 4: Don’t specialise in anything until the last moment possible
I’m seeing children as young as seven years old who play football five times a week – madness! Even the professionals don’t play that much. All that time dedicated to one sport is asking for overuse injuries, mental burn-out and physical/skill weaknesses that one sport does not challenge. My good friend Warrick Anderson who lives in New Zealand has had four children who have all gone on to become international athletes (rugby league, rugby or boxing). I recently asked him what the secret was. He told me that every day with his kids was an adventure. They all participated in multiple sports with quality coaches. Outside the sporting arena, every opportunity was a physical challenge or game. Everything was fun and competitive amongst the siblings.
Rule 5: Every kid should be able to do these movements perfectly and without fatigue:
- 5 chin over bar pull ups
- 10 full-range, elbows-in push ups (no knees)
- 20 perfect squats (hips below knees with heels down)
I don’t care if your son is great at football. If he cannot do the points above then the day will come when he won’t be strong enough to make it to a high level. I don’t care if your daughter is the national swimming champion, there’s a Russian 5-year old swimming somewhere who can do the points listed above. You see, we all want our kids to be a pro athlete. I’d be delighted if my son became an All Black or a striker for Liverpool, but what are the chances? 1 in 100 000? Is it worth wrecking a childhood for a parent's dream? Building strong children means they will look, feel and move really well. You have control over this goal. They will have real confidence to take on any challenge. They will grow into adults with relative strength, mobility and mechanics.
I may be totally off the mark with my five rules and I welcome your feedback. After several years of coaching kids, I believe we should stop for a second and think about programming a smart system that is fun, safe and broad!