I had the pleasure today of observing an hour of a kids fitness’ program that, with a little work, could develop into a great program.
The Kids Fitness Program
There were about 8 kids, aged about 6 – 11. The program was written on a board ahead of time, and the instructors discussed it and made changes ahead of time. They started out with some of the standard fare warm ups (jumping jacks, high knees, butt kicks). The kids then moved to an “animal” based relay around cones. They moved like bears, crabs, bunnies, and frogs. From here, there was a 10 minute section of skill development, with instruction on bodyweight squats and shoulder presses (using light plastic sticks). This was followed by a game called Cross Fit baseball, which amounted to themed stations: burpees, box jumps, squats, shoulder presses (the two instructed exercises). The kids went through several rounds of reps according to age (to make it fun). Then there was a game called Four Corners where one child was blindfolded, picked a number, and pointed to a corner. In each corner there were stations denoting a particular exercise, and the kids basically did a musical chairs type thing to get to random stations. They stopped when the one who was choosing pointed to a corner. The exercise was performed for the number of reps chosen, and it would start over.
The key ingredient to working with pre-adolescent and early adolescent young athletes is providing global stimulation from a movement perspective. Younger athletes must experience and eventually perfect a variety of motor skills in order to ensure both future athletic success and injury prevention. Developing basic coordination through movement stimulus is a must, with the eventual goal of developing sport-specific coordination in the teenage years. Coordination itself, however, is a global system made up of several synergistic elements and not necessarily a singularly defined ability.
Balance, rhythm, spatial orientation and the ability to react to both auditory and visual stimulus have all been identified as elements of coordination. In fact, the development of good coordination is a multi-tiered sequence that progresses from skills performed with good spatial awareness but without speed to skills performed at increased speeds and in a constantly changing environment. As Joseph Drabik points out, Young Athletes coordination is best developed between the ages of 7 – 14, with the most crucial period being between 10 – 13 years of age.
As with anything else, an important issue with respect to coordination development is to provide stimulus that is specific (and therefore appropriate) for the individual. Prescribing drills that are either too easy or too difficult for the young athletes will have a less than optimal result.
An interesting note, as I have suggested in past articles, is that there appears to be a cap with respect to coordination development and ability. Younger athletes who learn to master the elements associated with good coordination (balance, rhythm, spatial awareness, reaction etc), are far better off then athletes who are not exposed to this kind of exercise stimulation until advanced ages. The ability to optimally develop coordination ends at around the age of 16. This validates the claim that global, early exposure is the key from an athletic development standpoint. Again, global coordination will serve as the basis to develop specific coordination in the teenage years.