When it comes to physical activity and youth, two extremes commonly occur. One is an increase in screen time and subsequent decrease in physical activity, as is evident by the childhood obesity rate doubling for children ages 2 to 5, tripling for ages 12 to 19 and quadrupling for ages 6 to 11 between 1970 and 2016 (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2017). However, on the other side lies youth athletes who are funneled not only into a particular sport, but a specific position within said sport and are pushed to early overuse injuries and burnout. Fitness professionals and parents seeking to inspire a level of activity that is just right need to keep in mind a few things while programming activities:
Keep it functional. Rather than focus on a specific skill improvement, such as a pitcher’s throw, which often leaves kids with imbalances and overuse injuries, training should be multi-lateral. Multi-lateral training develops well-rounded athletes with better coordination, agility, and reaction times who tend to enjoy their sport more and carry better exercise habits into adulthood (Bompa & Correra, 2015).
Keep it flexible. Activities should be age appropriate not only from a physical development aspect, but a cognitive development one as well. Younger children will benefit from gross-locomotor activities such as skipping and bounding, while games, stories, and songs can aid in engaging shorter attention spans. Post-puberty adolescents may participate in more traditional-type exercise activities, with an emphasis on speed, coordination, and power development.
Keep it friendly. Create an inclusive environment where kids of all sizes, shapes and ability levels feel welcome. Keep in mind that smaller youth may feel just as self-conscious as overweight children, especially during puberty and adolescence when others are hitting growth spurts and putting on muscle mass. Consider implementing activities that involve strategy in addition to physical skills, giving the less-athletic kids a competitive edge.
Keep it fun! Select activities that children will enjoy, assign them healthy habit homework to do throughout the week as a family, and begin to instill lifestyle behaviors that they can carry into adulthood. Award prizes for kids who practice limited screen time or try a new healthy snack. Encourage kids to keep their rooms clean or help out with an additional chore. Not only will you earn the buy-in from parents, positive feedback and praise will teach kids how to take care of their bodies and their surroundings.
Keeping these tips in mind, instructors can find an appropriate activity for every age – not too little nor too much, but just right.
If you would like to learn more about working with children and youth, check out our Youth Specialty Fitness Certification.
Darci Kruse, MS CSCS TSAC-F
Darci is NETA’s Director of Education. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, a post–graduate certificate in Exercise Science and Rehabilitation from California University of Pennsylvania, and is working toward her doctorate in Health Science and Exercise Leadership through CALU. She began working in the fitness industry in 2008, working with members of the United States Marine Corps. Darci holds certifications through the NSCA, ACE, NASM, and USAW.
Bompa, T. & Carrera, M. (2015). Conditioning young athletes. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2017). President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition: Facts and statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.