by Dr. Timothy J. Maggs, © 1999
According to a recent Runner's World article, 98% of the schoolchildren who took last year's Presidential Physical Fitness Test failed. This atrocity is due to several things; Playstation Syndrome, the computer, organized sports and misguided parents and coaches.
As a parent of 2 growing boys who love playing with Playstation, I'm continually reminded of the tight time constraints we need to keep on them. The attraction for them is so strong they'd probably go comatose while playing, forgetting that food and water were necessities for life.
The computer is the future for all of us, especially kids. If it could only be mastered while exercising, kids could kill 2 birds with one stone. But, a sedentary position is needed to compute, and the mind grows while the body GROWS.
As a coach of 4 basketball teams, grades 3-4 and 5-6, I'm keenly aware of the pros and cons of organized sports for our kids. Sure, they learn the rules of the game early on, but what they lose is so much more. School ground games were far more abundant yesteryear, and kids were able to explore their own limits and enjoyments. Today, the rigid, formalized practices and games, not to mention the intrusion of adults, minimize running and prevents kids from developing their own problem solving and communication skills. They no longer have the freedom to play hour on end using their guidelines, not society's.
Foundation For Conditioning
With the explosion of sports in today's society, sports heroes become bigger than life, and many kids want to have the success of their idols before they can even tie their shoes. They want to play a concerto without learning the scales. This delusion makes it difficult for any parent or coach to teach the fundamentals of sport and exercise. The work involved in fully educating the body, as well as the mind, requires unlimited hours of practice and conditioning. The art of delayed gratification has to be embraced by the coach and bought by the child.
This issue becomes more difficult when parents step in and push their children beyond normal limits due to the societal pressures they feel in their lives. It's often the parents who are pressuring the child to score more points and win at all costs. Too often, families leave games with the parent not speaking to the child out of frustration. This is a clear sign of misguided values.
For those kids who have the opportunity to do it right, to learn the basics and practice and train with the right intent, the road ahead gets smoother. The return on investment is grand. The victories today pale compared to the victories of tomorrow. Many people never fully grasp the value of delayed gratification and the fundamentals of exercise and life, the very building blocks that make the difference between success and failure at all levels.
Let kids be kids. If it's not enjoyable for them, reconsider what they're doing. Under the age of 10, activity is normal for kids. Let them fully explore motion, whether it be running, tumbling, rolling or skipping. All of these activities contribute to the full development of the nervous and muscular systems.
As all organized sports are beginning at much younger ages today, the objective should be on fundamental movement and coordination more than sport specific skills. If body motion, reflexes and coordination are improved through proper exercises that are done for a long enough period of time, sport specific skills will come much easier. Exercises like skipping, rope jumping, cartwheels, running frontward, backward, sideways and hopping are excellent for coordination and developmental skills. The consistent passing of a Nerf football over time will dramatically help any child's eye-hand coordination, hand speed, hand strength and overall reflexes without the chance for injury. As a child improves over time, shorten the distance between each of you and increase the speed of the pass. All skills will proportionately improve.
Remember, kids under the age of 15 learn at a rate dramatically quicker than older teens and adults. Don't miss this window of opportunity to teach them the very basics of exercising, reflexes and coordination. In the past 7 years, I've spent endless hours in pro locker rooms working in their strength departments, and many of the exercises mentioned above are still done by the pros. Finally, under no circumstances should weighted exercises be considered for anyone below the age of 14. Motion exercises, weight management, aerobic and anaerobic drills and joint mobility should be paramount.
The most important aspect of conditioning for kids is the individual psyche of each child. All kids are motivated by different incentives, and the exact motivation should be found for each child. Dictatorial or fear motivation should never be the chosen option when working with kids. The time should be taken to find out what moves each and every child in a positive way, and then those motivations should become the foundation for each program. Kids have a healthy yet innocent spirit to perform and we as coaches and parents should do everything possible to identify, enhance and strengthen that spirit. Our ultimate goal--don't let their spirit die.