THINGS I LEARNED THIS SUMMER LEADING YOUTH CAMPS
By: Jeff King, MA, CSCS, Fitness Quest 10 Director of Athletics
1. Kids can be successful if placed in the right environment
At Fitness Quest 10 we pride ourselves in fostering an environment which is energetic, encouraging, and educational. Our programs are designed where every kid is able to achieve success throughout the camp. It was such a sight to see one of our campers being able to complete a single jump rope or another kid finally being able to do a push up. Kids are willing to learn and get better with positive feedback and reinforcement. They want to feel they achieved something no matter what level. For one kid, doing a single push up is a great accomplishment. For another kid, pushing a prowler 50 yards under a certain time is their B.H.A.G. No matter what type of kid we had, we strived to put them in a unique position to succeed. Success for my camps is based on the four S’s of successful youth coaching: Make them sweat, make the smile, make them smart, and make them experience success.
2. Let kids be kids
What make kids so unique and special are their innocence, creativity and enjoyment of being young. They have no major worries to speak of which allows them to be free to enjoy our workouts. Therefore, I encouraged my interns to be silly and goofy and act like a…..kid! However, we established some ground rules at the beginning of the camp to ensure the kids know who was in charge and how our main responsibility was to teach. The kids loved all of the exercises and games we selected. What made it more enjoyable was the fact that often times the coaching staff would participate in the games as well. The highlight of the camp was taking the kids to the park on Friday’s and playing games such “capture the flag” and “boot camp football.” Playing games with young kids is not only fun and natural but is a great way to develop aerobic/anaerobic capacity.
3. Let kids make mistakes
When I met with my interns before our camps, I stressed to them the importance of not over coaching. Let kids make mistakes. This goes back to the above point of letting kids be kids. Remember, we wanted to create an environment where they are learning and having fun in the process. Constantly correcting kids after each rep would be detrimental in achieving this goal. We are not training these kids for the Olympics or to make their local varsity team, therefore why stress about every single rep they do.
I recently attended the Perform Better Conference in Long Beach and saw Brain Grasso present on the topic of youth training. He mentioned how humans have a way of auto regulating. This means if a kid is given a new task, the first couple of reps might be way off from the actual model. However, the brain is naturally able to make adjustments to the given motor skill which will allow the child to get closer to the model. The ability to self-correct is huge for the learning process so why interrupt this process? Our coaching staff still coached by providing simple cues. What made this most rewarding was seeing the reaction of certain kids when they saw improvements on certain exercises they did throughout the camp. This makes learning exciting.
4. Kids WANT and NEED facilities like the one I work at
One particular Friday during the summer, my coaching staff and kids went to the local park for a “fun” day. This entailed the kids doing obstacle courses and playing a variety of games (i.e., boot camp football and capture the flag). As we warmed up I noticed one of my interns talking to a park and recreation representative. I proceeded to go over to see what they were discussing. The OLD lady explained to me in a rather RUDE way we needed a permit to PLAY at the park because we are making profit off of their property. LET ME SAY THIS AGAIN, we needed a PERMIT to PLAY at the park.
Now I understand the old lady was doing her job (albeit rudely) but this is “Horseshit.” Let me get this straight: we need a permit to PLAY on a park we pay taxes on? At a time where childhood obesity is at an epidemic level and PE programs are becoming extinct, kids cannot PLAY without paying a park fee? Talk about a great way to prepare our kids for the future right? Sorry guys, back to the topic.
My rant clearly demonstrates our youth need facilities like Fitness Quest 10. Kids just do not play outside anymore for they are too busy worrying about the next round of Call of Duty. Climbing trees and playing tag was some of the best times of my youth. Our youth not being exposed to these activities means lack of motor skill development which is important whether a child plays sports or not. More importantly, by being active at a young age, exercise becomes a part of their lifestyle and not something they are forced to do because they are faced with the realization as an adult if they do not start moving they are going to die!!!!
Humans are made to move. Kids need to move and the biggest thing you should know is kids WANT to move. As I mentioned, kids overall have a tremendous amount of energy so what better way to use it then having them exercise. Studies have shown how exercise increases scholastic performance which makes getting rid of our PE programs in our schools more perplexing. Yes, I understand budget cuts but physical education needs to be a higher priority in America period. All of this is the reason why parents value our summer camps and why I get such a joy teaching them.
5. My interns and staff are the best
I love training my kids but having 10-16 kids at once is a lot for one coach to handle at our facility because with all the summer camps overlapping, space is limited. Therefore, the success we experience with our camps could not happen without the help from my wonderful summer interns. Your ability to teach and relate to the kids by being….well a kid, was priceless and made the sessions that much more enjoyable. Keep training and keep striving to make a difference in this world by sharing your gifts of coaching and teaching.
I would also like to thank the entire staff of Fitness Quest 10. Our culture and immeasurable energy is what makes us the best in the business. Thank you all for be organized and making the kids feel right at home. Finally, I would like to take the time to say thank you to Brett Klika. Without your diligence and passion for fitness, our summer camps would not exist. You are truly one of the best in the business and someone I continue to model my career after.
Jeff King is currently the Director of Athletics at Fitness Quest 10 and oversees all athletic programs. He has a master’s degree in kinesiology and is a certified strength and conditioning coach and youth development specialist. He has worked with thousands of young athletes from various sports and levels over the past seven years. Jeff’s passion is shaping the lives of our youth by teaching them the physical and mental skills to become better athletes, people, and to live a high quality of life. Jeff can be reached at email@example.com.