The Youth Fitness Calling
Most fitness practitioners are natural givers. We choose fitness as our profession because we want to help the world enjoy better health and quality of life. It is our calling, and nothing gratifies us more than seeing our clients transform their bodies and their lives.
Children and teens represent a special niche that demands our attention. They are, after all, tomorrow’s adults and the future gatekeepers of all we hold dear. Yet children and teens are showing alarming trends toward obesity and metabolic disease. Sedentary lifestyles, poor nutritional habits and ignorance about self-care are all partially to blame. We need to provide the next generation of adults with inspiration, motivation and education about fitness, nutrition and wellness, if they are to function effectively as tomorrow’s leaders.
Despite our best efforts and intentions, fitness professionals have barely made a dent in the statistics about youth obesity and fitness. There are many obstacles that are challenging if not impossible to overcome. Liability is a big one. Physical activities and sports come with an inherent risk of injury, and many trainers are unwilling to accept responsibility for any harm that may come to young clients. Even with insurance and signed waivers, trainers still run the risk of lawsuits if a child becomes injured while exercising.
Another problem is that children do not have autonomy to make lifestyle decisions that lead to improved health. You may tell your adult client to cut out sugar and do an extra hour of cardio per day, and there is a chance they will at least partially comply. But children are subject to decisions made by adults about what they eat and how they expend their time and energy. Children are also strongly influenced by their peers, and are likely to mimic the lifestyle behaviors of their friends, siblings and classmates. Even when a child or teen genuinely wants to make changes, they often lack the moral and social support to succeed.
What We Can Do
Despite the obstacles, we owe it to our children and ourselves to do all we can to improve the state of youth health and fitness. A few things to consider:
- Work with whole families, not just the kids. If you can get parents and siblings on board, you stand a better chance of improving the health of everyone.
- Train kids in groups. Keep the number of participants below 10, and try to get parents to volunteer as co-trainers. Doing so will reduce your liability risk and help parents understand what they can do to help their kids.
- Make fitness fun. As an adult, you may hate leg day but you power through it anyway. Children, however, do not need that kind of stress, and you may turn them off to fitness altogether if your sessions are too much boot camp and not enough summer camp.
- Focus on technique. Good body mechanics prevent injury and establish important neuropathways for a lifetime of safe physical activity.
- Use fun equipment, like balls, bands and TRX. Body weight exercises are perfect for kids.
- Discourage competition. It may be appropriate to compete in sports, but fitness is about becoming a better version of yourself, not comparing yourself to others.
- Reward and praise good technique, positive attitudes and regular participation. Doing so makes your fitness sessions emotionally positive experiences, and kids will want to come back for more.
Fitness professionals who want to help children need to understand the basics about youth nutrition and physical activity, and the liability of working with children. W.I.T.S. has everything you need to get started. Begin with a certification like Personal Fitness Trainer, Youth Fitness Specialist and Lifestyle Fitness Coach. Continue your education with Nutritional Concepts, Youth Fitness Foundations, Fundamentals of Sport and Exercise Nutrition, Exercise Program Design for Special Populations, and much, much more!
Image Credits: ninetus; photostock