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The Lighthouses of Training Youth

A navy battleship was in stormy waters when they spotted the light of what appeared to be another vessel in the distance.  The ship’s captain made radio contact with orders for the other vessel to change their course.  “Negative” was the reply.  “We recommend you change your course 15 degrees south to avoid a collision.”  The Naval Captain was infuriated.  “This is the U.S.S. Lincoln, the 3rd largest battleship in the U.S. fleet.  You will change your course or we will take any measures necessary to protect our ship!”  The response, “Sir, we’re a lighthouse.”

As coaches and trainers with youth, we are often faced with the “battleship” of parents’ expectations, money, time, and hesitation to commit to a long-term program for their child.  They don’t necessarily want to hear the “lighthouse” of reality.  This is very understandable.  The notion of adding another commitment of time and money to a child’s regiment is burdening and possibly prohibitive. To see a return on the investment of time and money, you can’t escape the “lighthouses” of training youth.  These are the facts based on mountains of research and experience.  They aren’t negotiable.  If research has proven you need to do a skill 10,000 times to master it, there aren’t any Groupons available for 1,000 hour improvements.  Here are some of the most commonly challenged “lighthouses” of youth training:

In order to acquire or improve a skill it must be practiced frequently.

As mentioned above, a skill needs to be repeated about 10,000 times before execution becomes proficient.  While this may take many years, most research in regards to improving strength, speed, power, and other measures of performance suggests that a minimum of 2 hours per week for about 12 weeks is sufficient to see improvements in performance.  In all of the research I have reviewed, I have not discovered any 50% off deals.  From experience, I have seen significant improvement in performance variables in as little as 6 weeks.  However, these programs were implemented during the summer with school “camp” programs where we were able to train 2 hours a day for 4 days per week.  That’s not practical for in-school youngsters.  What will you get for 1 hour a week for 6 weeks?  I can’t really tell you.  How fluent would your child be in a foreign language if they committed 60 minutes a week for 6 weeks to learning it?  Hopefully the child picks up some cues to put into their own regiment and somewhere down the road they will improve their performance.  While any positive and impacting mentorship a professional can offer is priceless, if it is performance you’re looking for, you need to commit to a program.

Kids don’t do “at-home” programs.

“How bout we come in once and you write a program that my child can do on his or her own.”   If that works, why are we stopping at exercise?  Why don’t I write a program for them to clean their room, refrain from talking back, and pick up their dog’s poop every day?  These are the same kids that have to be physically removed from their beds in the morning and be repeatedly reminded to shower and brush their teeth.  There is no piece of paper that is going to miraculously create the intrinsic motivation to do stuff that they’re not necessarily good at.  Additionally, it takes quite a bit of time for most youngsters to execute even basic movement patterns correctly under professional supervision!  Even if they do attempt an at-home program, the odds of it being done even close to correctly are slim to none.

If your child is trying to gain weight, they have to eat more food.

If a child is not gaining weight, they are not eating enough.  Period!  If you’re trying to build a bigger house, pounding more nails into the current frame is not going to do it.  You have to acquire more material.  The material your body uses to build is food.  You have to eat food.  Lots of food!  A child’s body has a genetic map of where it wants to be size and weight-wise.  With proper nutritional intake and training, it will reach its “maximal” capacity sooner and more effectively.  Eating real foods (meat, eggs, milk, potatoes, yams, nuts), frequently (5-6 times a day) is the best way to achieve this.  Kids need food the way nature intended; whole eggs, whole milk, red meat, brown meat. That 250 calorie bowl of cereal they slurp down on their way out the door has as much nutrition as the box it came in. Growing, active bodies need the protein, carbohydrate, and fat to growth building-blocks like vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that are found in natural foods.  Additionally, when a child learns to eat natural foods, they are far less likely to turn to the processed alternatives when they get older.

The genetic map mentioned above has tremendous governance over a child’s rate of growth.  Growing beyond this genetic map is possible, but extremely difficult.  Take this example:  The average youngster has their bowl of cereal (about 250 calories, 300 calories with milk), sandwich for lunch (about 400 calories with cheese and meat), and some sort of dinner (between 500 and 800 calories).  Throw in some snacks (let’s say some cookies and chips totally about 400 calories). That’s a total of about 1900 calories with mediocre nutrition value.  A growing youngster can burn that amount of energy pretty quickly.  Without even messing with the food choices, you would need to double everything.  Two bowls of cereal for breakfast, two sandwiches for lunch, two huge portions for dinner, and copious amounts of snacks.  To get better nutritious “bang for your buck” you can switch out the cereal for eggs (3 or 4 whole ones) and oatmeal or toast, and the snacks to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, protein smoothies, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, and other nutritionally dense “finger” foods.  It’s tough to shift kids away from easily palatable simple carbohydrates and salty processed foods to more “raw” food choices. To see results, they would need to do this daily for at least 6 weeks to see serious gains.  This is in conjunction with a well-designed and consistent weight training program. There are no (legal) shortcuts. It’s just the way it is.  If doubling the above regiment doesn’t produce results, triple it.  If that’s too hard, you’ll just have to ride the genetic wave.

Despite these “lighthouses,” any program for any duration in which a youth is inspired and motivated to create health in their lives is extremely valuable.  When results are the central expectation there is no bargaining with reality.  For those who didn’t win the genetic lottery, exceeding what God gave you takes significant time, effort, sacrifice, and other resources.  Accepting and embracing this process is the first step to creating real, life-long success.

Coach Brett Klika is the Director of Athletic Performance at Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, CA. He specializes in youth fitness and athletic performance, overseeing a staff of 8 strength coaches developing programs for over 300 youth per week, both athletes and non-athletes. He presents around the world to both trainers and corporations with Todd Durkin Enterprises on a variety of health, wellness, and athletic performance topics. Brett contributes monthly to the award-winning “TD Times” newsletter.

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