How To Make Your Kid A Better Athlete

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Yes, you'll love them either way.  Kids don't HAVE to be athletes to be cool.  They don't have to be on a team; they don't have to make Rep; they don't have to be Captain.


But sports, games, and general play ARE good for kids.  Kids who regularly engage in active play are less likely to indulge in self-abusive behaviour later on; they demonstrate stronger social skills; they demonstrate a greater capacity in their schoolwork; they have better lifelong health.  In fact, a 1990 study, funded by Nike, found that girls who play sport at a young age are 80% less likely to be in an abusive marriage – even if they don't play sports beyond age 8!


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Still, the subject of training children to exercise properly is a taboo subject.  Much of the fear comes from the idea of overloading growth plates and, ultimately, affecting the child's potential for growth.  This potential exists, make no mistake.  However, in avoiding all resistance training for kids, we're throwing the athletic baby out with the bath water.


Imagine you're a kid standing on a snowbank or hay wagon or sand pile, and mom rings the dinner bell.  Tonight: hot dogs and noodles – your favourite!  Quick, jump down!  


At the point of contact, you're absorbing roughly two and half times your own bodyweight in force.  Did that split-second decision take two inches off your height as an adult?  No way.  It's repetitive stress at high force that's dangerous.  Gymnasts don't get very tall, it's true.  But kids who do tumbling, martial arts, jump, run, fall, and throw stuff aren't affected.  To the contrary.


What's the BEST way to ensure that your child has every advantage when playing sports?  How can we keep them safe from joint and soft tissue injury on the field?  How can we keep them from burning out early, and giving up?


1. Early exposure to a wide variety of broad, all-inclusive physical activities.  Don't specialize.  Wayne Gretzky was offered a scholarship to pitch at a US University before he was signed to play Pro hockey; most people don't know that.  Gretzky didn't attend power skating and 'summer ice' programs.  Instead, he put down his skates when the playoffs ended, and picked up his glove.


2. Do things that require balance and positional awareness.  Tumbling is awesome for kids; so is Karate.  Both teach kids to be aware of, and in control of, their extremities while moving at high speed.  Balance is almost completely developed by age 12; if you don't have a good sense of balance by then, good luck developing it later.


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3. Get lots of novelty, and make sure it's fun.  Focusing on one sport or activity too early means boredom, burnout, pressure, and overuse injuries.  Different sports require different movements around the same joints, which improves overall physical development and helps avoid injury down the road.  It also prevents 'putting all your eggs in one basket,' which reduces stress on both the child AND the parent.  You want to know why Billy's dad is so irate at the referee during Midget hockey?  Because his kid only has one shot at a scholarship, and he's cooling his heels in the penalty box instead of scoring goals.  However, if Billy was headed to the ball diamond in April, Daddy may water down his response a little.


4. Emphasize basic exercises, like squatting, pushups, pullups, somersaults, jumps….  Chances are, your 4-year-old squats better than you do.  That's because the deep squat is a natural human movement that adults UNLEARN.  Thanks, desk-based society!  While waiting for bedtime on Sunday, my daughter asked me to 'make up a Crossfit!'  I said, "5 situps, 10 pushups, 15 squats.  3,2,1..go!'  She rattled off 5 situps, 10 pushups, and fifty-one squats.  Bang.  This, after kicking her old man's butt at Catalyst Kids the day before, and then going to the Gymnastics Club that afternoon.  


5.  Use 3,2,1…Go!  Make it a game.  Do it with them.  3,2,1…GO! translates into instant focus (this also works on cleaning their room and getting ready to meet the school bus, as an aside.)  CrossFitting adults already know this one: 3,2,1 GO! means instant clarity, with eyes on only one goal: finishing.


6. Feed them.  Give them meat, vegetables, seeds, and fruit.  


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7. Be experimental.  Try new stuff.  Be bad at it.  Doesn't matter!  If you can teach them to try new things without fear of ridicule, they're going to be miles ahead of their peers in the long run.


Bringing a kid to a gym isn't going to hurt them.  Bringing them to a chromed-up, selectorized "Fitness Club" isn't a great idea.  Instead, bring them to a place where they'll learn the basics, DO the basics with you, have fun, and see you sweat.  Yes, they're our future leaders, but right now, they're following YOU.


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