I’m a Dad who like many others, spends a major portion of his weekends watching kids sport.
I enjoy it for a number of reasons. In general, I like sport and am happy to watch most people ply their skills in the pursuit of athletic performance.
Kids sport is interesting, particularly in this day and age where political correctness ensures we must encourage everyone to take part and rewards are based on participation rather than achievement. But I’m going to be very politically incorrect here and ask ‘Why is this necessary’?
When I watch kids play sport I am astonished by their level of skill, amazed by their tactical sense and envious of their technique and ease of movement. In their pre-teen years, gymnasts complete giant swings on the high bar, footballers kick banana goals from the boundary line and athletes jump a bar so high they could walk under it!
Kids are capable of some amazing athletic performances so why the need to underplay their achievements for the sake of political correctness? Many of them will practice for hours and will push themselves to the point of exhaustion in an effort to achieve a PB or master a new skill.
So what is the secret to getting kids involved and how do we encourage those less motivated to participate?
My tips for those coaches and instructors contemplating working with kids in the future are:
Have a genuine interest in them
Find out what else they do; what school they attend, year level and what interests they have outside of school. Most kids have an interest in a sport or an activity that you can use as a topic of discussion. Ask about it each time you see them. Most kids will respond positively when you ask them about their interests.
For example, one of my track athletes is a boy who is also interested in basketball. Each time we catch up we chat about how the team went, how many points he scored, where the game was, etc. It helps him to feel comfortable in communicating with me and it develops the rapport between us.
Make it fun but challenging at the same time
The sessions have to be engaging and fun for the participants. It is important to create the right environment from the very first session. If the kids enjoy it they will keep coming back. But there is a balance that you need to be aware of. While the session needs to be fun, it must also be:
- Conducted in a safe manner whereby the children’s behaviour does not get ‘out of hand’ and become dangerous
- Arranged to develop good exercise and training habits. For example make sure it includes a warm up and cool down and a structured exercise component that has a specific goal.
Encourage learning and involvement
Enable the child to learn while they exercise. Clarify the reason why they are doing a particular activity. For example, while instructing the cool down you might explain, “We are doing this activity at the end of the session because it will help us to recover and reduce the amount of muscle soreness you might feel tomorrow”.
Involve the children in the design of the session by encouraging them to have some input. For example, they can select the games played in the warm up or have them lead a stretch in the cool down.
Focus on Improvement
Implement ways in which the children can see they are improving through increased fitness (performance), or mastering of a new or more advanced skill. For example, measure how far they can run in a minute or record the number of one legged squats they can perform before they become fatigued and lose their balance. Repeat the activities a few weeks later and record the improvement.
Encouragement – Role Models
Take them to see the big boys and girls play! David Rudisha has become the role model for one of my 12 year old athletes. Who is David Rudisha you might ask? Search YouTube for the 2012 Olympic 800 metre final. He is the middle distance equivalent of Usain Bolt (surely everyone knows him!).
David Rudisha spent some time training in Australia prior to the Olympics and we met him at a coaching clinic, he signed autographs and spoke about his training and racing. The young athletes were captivated and so highly motivated we couldn’t hold them back – they just wanted to train all day, every day. It doesn’t matter what the sport is, a good role model can provide the inspiration a young person needs to develop lifelong passion for activity.
And finally, kids are kids but as I was alluding to in my introduction they are also very capable and knowledgeable. Take on board my tips and you’ll soon find out for yourself! Enjoy!
Written by Steve Hore, AFA National Manager. Amongst a host of other qualifications, Steve is a qualified AA (Athletics Australia) and ATFCA Coach (Australian Track & Field Coaches Association – level 4) specialising in middle and long distance running.