Training children between the ages of 6 to 10 can be challenging. Sessions have to be fun and children need to be empowered to take ownership. They need achievable goals and they must learn the purpose behind each exercise they do. With this formula they will enjoy the workouts, learn the benefits of what they are doing, and look forward to coming back again. In part one of this article series I will talk about the importance of setting the tone for fun at the beginning of each session as well as specific games used to accomplish their fitness goals.
Start the session by getting the children to laugh and look forward to the workout. Something as simple and predictable as high fives works every time. You can also see how high they can jump or play follow the leader as they walk in the door. Tell them to follow you and imitate everything you do. Put your arms out and fly like a plane, do bunny hops, shuffle, crawl, throw your hands up in the air, and make funny faces. You can even have them take turns leading if they have been with you for a while. Treat this time like an ice-breaker to loosen up the children, physically and emotionally.
It is crucial that your age-appropriate fitness goals are embedded within a game. Between the ages of 6 and 14, there are specific sensitive periods in a child’s development during which they can acquire new coordination skills easier. If you wait too long, those windows start to close (Drabik, 1996). Design a program that covers all elements, but has an emphasis on the target skills for your group or child. The games can be both competitive and cooperative. In competitive games, teaching children how to win and lose is critical for developing good sportsmanship and control of emotions. They can work together in cooperative games to accomplish a common goal and learn the value of teamwork.
• Obstacle Course – Movement Efficiency
An excellent way to improve a child’s efficiency of movement is to set up an obstacle course in which they have to follow a set course within a set time. The course could consist of crawling under various sized hurdles, running through cones, pulling a rope, throwing med balls, and sprinting home.
• Crawl & Skip Relay Race – Rhythmic Motion
If the goal is to work on rhythmic motion with reciprocal arm and leg movement, doing a crawl, skip and shuffle relay race is a competitive and fun way to get children moving.
• Bear Crawl/Crab Walk Soccer – Core Stability, Shoulder Joint Integrity, Reaction
Set up 2 cones as a goal at each end of the field 5 to 10 yards apart and use a soccer ball or oversized light medicine ball (two pounds). Have them start out bear crawling and using only their hands to score a goal. On your command have them switch to a crab walk and use feet to score. The first team to score a set amount of goals wins.
• Hop N’ Toss – Dynamic Balance
To improve dynamic balance, have children stand side by side while hopping on one foot and tossing a ball back and forth to each other. To win they must get 10 catches each and advance 5 yards within 20 seconds.
The key to keeping children engaged and coming back for more is to make it fun! Set the tone the minute they walk in the door and bring them up to your level of enthusiasm. Continue the workout in the form of games that will address all your fitness goals and teach competition as well as cooperation.
References: Drabik, J., Ph.D. (1996). Children & Sports Training: How Your Future Champions Should Exercise to Be Healthy, Fit and Happy. Island Pond, VT: Stadion Publishing Company, Inc.
Craig Valency is a Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength & Conditioning Association (CSCS). He earned a bachelor degree from UCLA. He has completed coursework in Kinesiology & Exercise Physiology at UCLA, UCSD, and Miramar College for prerequisite work towards a Masters Degree in Kinesiology.
Craig is currently working at Fitness Quest 10, an elite personal training and athletic conditioning facility. He specializes in youth and adult strength and conditioning for tennis to promote injury prevention and optimal performance. He focuses on developing holistic training programs that promote lifestyle change for permanent results in weight loss, dynamic flexibility, balance, and whole body functional strength & power. Craig can be reached at email@example.com.