Advantage: Fitness

It’s easy to tell what a five-year-old has eaten for breakfast.
Teachers who understand the effects of gluten (and sometimes lactose) on a child’s attention span can easily spot a kid who’s had Fruit Loops that morning: they fidget. They can’t focus. They’re impaired.
A child who can pay attention and absorb a lesson has an advantage over one who can’t. Take two students in the same classroom, and their understanding of the curriculum can vary widely. Nutrition plays a big role in determining who is present in class: sometimes physically, too often mentally.
A couple of years ago, I tried to highlight the main lessons in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers (you can read my post here.) Gladwell’s point was that prodigies aren’t born, they’re made through practice. To be precise, Gladwell estimates that 10,000 hours of practice are required for mastery; some kids just get 10,000 hours earlier than others, and some get it because they have better access.
We added to this point in our book, Ignite! Enrichment Through Exercise. We believe that a high quantity of practice is necessary, but QUALITY practice is what counts. After all, practice only makes permanent…not perfect.
In hockey, a child born in January may have a small advantage over one born in December, all things being equal. The January baby is larger, with more developed motor skills, when hockey season begins in his fourth year. Though he’s on the same team as the December kid, he’s almost a full year older at a critical stage in physical development.
But what if the December kid is fit and well-fed?
Watch a typical team of five-year-olds on the rink. Spend a whole hour, and note the differences in behavior from beginning to end. For the first ten minutes, every kid is engaged. But slowly, even with engaging coaches, some begin to tire. As they fatigue, they lose the ability to focus, and drift away toward the boards. They ask for more water breaks. They think about going to the bathroom. They drop their sticks and fiddle with their equipment. They wave to mom and dad in the stands. They sit down on the ice.
In the final ten minutes, it’s not uncommon to see kids lying on the ice. They’re not misbehaving; they’re just unable to focus, or skate, or learn. But others are: roughly the same number of kids are still playing, still lining up for face-offs, still listening and skating hard. In the final ten minutes, these kids are still receiving coaching.
In total, the kids who can make it to the end of practice are receiving 20-30 minutes of extra coaching per week. That’s 25% more than the others. Over the next few years, 25% more coaching can make a massive difference in their skill, strength, and love of the game. And what’s the difference?
They’re fit, and well fed. They had some protein at dinner, dropping their blood sugar and helping them focus. They didn’t have sugar after school, or for breakfast. They run around, or do squats, or play another sport, or do CrossFit Kids. Besides the huge advantage given by each of those, simply having the attention and energy to stay upright for the last ten minutes of practice gives them the chance to improve 25% faster.
There may be other factors influencing your child’s performance in sport or school. These two are within your control: food and movement. Use them as you will.

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