The recent findings from the All Party Physical Activity Commission has illustrated we must reassess how we engage children and young people in an active lifestyle. REPs member Arj Thiruchelvam shares his thoughts in our latest blog.
The noticeable rise in obesity and inactivity in children has many causes, one possible link relates to our fear of allowing our children to compete. Therefore it is important we find the middle ground of fun and friendly competition.
Children, like adults, respond to the right individual, however unlike adults who will take it upon themselves when absolutely necessary, children will generally not motivate themselves. In the early years children will always associate their initial experience with a strong emotive response, this indicates the importance of the coach or instructor.
With such a responsibility the coach or instructor must be inspiring, a role model, fun yet serious in the correct situation to gain mutual respect from the group. So much relies on forming a good rapport and as a result the person in charge has to be a ‘people person’ who enjoys the satisfaction of seeing their young athletes develop physically and socially.
As a nation we have been overly concerned that competition will negatively impact a child if they lose. It’s quite the contrary, as long as the environment and coach or instructor are right, such as a non-judgemental group where support is very apparent, and will always aid a child following a poor performance or loss. Children tend to have a very natural tendency to compete and improve right from infancy and this must be nurtured not neglected in order not to develop this fear of failure and competition.
Therefore, create games that appear to the child, not to have any relation to the sport but actually promote components of fitness with real objectives and low levels of competition. For example an item retrieval game in teams will promote running speed and endurance (over a prolonged period). The children don’t associate this with formal sport (or competition); they develop a strong social bond with their teams (camaraderie) whilst boosting their health and well-being.
For the coach or instructor there are great progressions such as teaching simple running drills beforehand and asking the children to think of key points during the game or even stating that a new rule is to perform that drill (i.e. high knees) to the item rather than running. Always ensure the winning team receives a polite applause for positive reinforcement, whilst any booing is stopped abruptly and an inspiring message is delivered to the other teams in preparation for the next game.
As with all objectives, competition should gradually increase, if it is commonplace, it won’t be feared or become a cause of stress but in fact enjoyed by your group.
Benefits of your REPs Qualifications
Obtaining your REPs qualifications, particularly Level 2 Physical Activity for Children,is a fantastic way to give you a strong foundation of knowledge when working with children, whilst also boosting the confidence of those who may have spent some time doing so already. These qualifications blend scientific considerations you must make, such as the anatomy and physiological differences between children and adults, with the vital operational requirements such as health and safety and child welfare in a fitness environment.
Consider these physical differences when planning your session, for example endurance for a child is significantly different in intensity and duration than it is considered for an adult. This doesn’t mean you cannot introduce more challenging objectives, just do so gradually and tailor it specifically to your group.
Having worked for Local Authorities, private facilities, schools and Universities I cannot emphasise the importance of health and safety and child welfare enough. You are always responsible and the first point of contact for parents, guardians and teachers so always prepare your sessions well in advance. Ensure the environment is safe to exercise and remember the weather. Hydration and fatigue are greatly effected by the climate in combination to the session; children cannot monitor this effectively so the instructor must always do so acutely.
To conclude, to get children active again we must create fun games that have clear, fun and rewarding goals that introduce competition. From this point make sure you develop into the actual sport and outcome over time. Children love playing games, so the way you introduce them is vital, be positive! To work with children you must want to do your job, enjoy the satisfaction of seeing children progress and be prepared to be fun and inspiring whilst also possessing firm pillars of leadership.
Patience really is a virtue, so provide feedback and positive reinforcement to develop strongly secure, junior athletes to prepare them for future sporting and lifestyle challenges. You never know you may be the person who inspires a future Olympian!
About Arj Thiruchelvam
Personal Trainer/Coach/Nutritional Advisor/Sports Scientist
Arj has over 8 years of experience working in the health and fitness industry. During this time his positions have ranged from coaching to management, he has coached and trained alongside several international athletes and coaches whilst also helping others achieve their personal goals, whether that's fitness, weight loss, lean muscle or specific physique challenges. He is currently the owner of www.performancephysique.co.uk, a nutrition, coaching and personal training company and is a regular fitness columnist for GNC, an exclusive gym group and a large sports recruitment website.