We Must Lead By Example As Youth Fitness Coaches
By Latreal M. Mitchell
As youth fitness coaches, we have a great opportunity to lead by example and empower youth to make better eating and activity choices. With technology, we now have genetically modified foods, high fructose corn syrup, processed foods, and supersized soft drinks. With the emphasis on academic testing, PE is increasingly being cut from schools, and for many high school students, unless they are in an organized sport, there is no physical activity. Childhood obesity and type-2 diabetes are at an all-time high in our youth. Thankfully, many vocal proponents for change have brought about increased awareness, but information provided by the government or other entities does not necessarily bring about individual action.
Our biggest job as youth fitness coaches is to lead by example.
Moving people from consuming information to taking action is our task. How can we be a part of the solution? An important part of the solution is for us to embody the lifestyle we want children to lead. How can we tell children to exercise—and to do it properly—if we do not do such things ourselves?
As coaches, I believe it is essential for us to be in shape since, in most cases, we are one of the key influencers in children’s lives. Be specific in discussing your workouts and why it is important to be physically fit. Your appearance will be obvious, but discuss how much more energy you have when you are fit, the fun things you can do, and how being physically active helps mentally and emotionally deal with life’s challenges. If the work you do with kids is sport-specific, think about setting up a day to do corrective exercises and workouts with them. If you are overweight, start working out with kids while coaching them so they can see how hard work pays off. Be open and talk to them about why you are overweight and what you are doing about it and how they can support you.
Through leading by example, you will be empowering kids to help you make better choices. It is so easy to get caught up in our work and the love for our kids that we neglect ourselves. I’m all about living a “no excuse lifestyle,” but when I hear an excuse coming out my own mouth about why I can’t work out, I look really hard to find a solution.
Because I believe that nutrition is so important, I’m certified through Precision Nutrition and currently working on another certification from Integrative Nutrition. I realized early in my career the importance of incorporating a food component in my programs and teaching children (and adults!) to take small steps towards better health.
As health coaches, we can incorporate a nutrition element into our programs that at the same time is fun for kids. One of the most impressionable demonstrations I do for kids is teaching them about sugar. I bring a one-pound bag of sugar with me and ask kids what their favorite drinks are. Let’s say they answer, “Gatorade.” I will have a volunteer come up and scoop out 9 teaspoons of sugar from the bag. Yep, 9 teaspoons, which means that since there are 15 calories in a single teaspoon of sugar, that the child is consuming 135 calories of sugar in a single 20 oz. sports drink. I will ask the child, “Would you eat 9 teaspoons of sugar?” and the answer is always “NOOOO!”
Then I ask, “Why would you drink it?”
By the tenth drink example, I’ve usually hammered home the importance of drinking water. There are a lot of resources available about sugar, so you don’t have to create anything; it is already done for you. I use the following resources:
I also like to demonstrate healthy snack choices to show how easy it is to eat something healthy instead of chips or candy. After a few weeks, children are drilling your messages into their parents’ heads and then we are empowering change from the bottom up!
There are so many more things we can do! Be creative and keep it fun. However, just as with new clients, we don’t overwhelm them with information.
I’m not going to overwhelm you. It all starts with “YOU” and being a better you by living with integrity, practicing what you preach, and truly embracing the career you chose: health and fitness. Our biggest job as youth fitness coaches is to lead by example, develop athletes, and inspire children to be active and healthy.