Your Opinion on Children’s Fitness, Please…




Children’s Fitness… What Age?

I received a very interesting email yesterday regarding children’s fitness.


Dan Coyle, a freelance author who writes for the New York Times among
other publications, recently finished a new book he’d been writing.


He emailed to ask if I would read the manuscript and give him feedback.


I was honored to even be asked and of course said yes.


The book itself – and of course I can’t mention any details since it won’t
published until 2009 – has to do with children’s fitness and being exposed to various
aspects of sport, art, music and other stimulating activities in order to
ensure their proper development and the proper development of the
nervous system at large.


Very much in line with what I stand for in terms of early and multi-faceted
exposure to a wide variety of physical and cognitive stimulus.


Now here’s the interesting thing –


This is in direct contrast to many Fitness Professionals who believe that
you should never ‘train’ or ‘work with’ a child under the age of 12.


Clearly, I disagree for several reasons.


Now I’ve explained my reasons more than once and don’t want to take
up any space doing it again.


Instead, I want to know YOUR thoughts on the matter.


Over the next couple of days, I will take some of the responses I get
and discuss them in emails to you.


So what do you think?


Is early exposure important for children’s fitness or is 12 some kind of magical age we should
wait until?


Click below and let me know….






43 Responses

  1. Jamie Vanderheyden says:

    The main difference is in the way we think. “Training” has various meanings depending on the coach, trainer, parent, or child. The most important elements are HOW we do it, and WHY we do it. You see, Im a junior high teacher and trainer as well. My main goal is to make kids want to continue learning in school, make it interesting, and make it fun. Our goals should be similar with kids and training, because their lifelong pursuit of wellness is what really matters anyway.

  2. Mark Hunter says:


    Let me just say that i have worked with children working on fitness for the last 15 years and the the last five years being coaching and taking PE lessons, (from 4 years old)

    I go to many schools (after school) clubs and can honestly tell the difference between those who have worked properly and those who have not, let me say all my work consists of three philosphies


    Let me also tell you like your sessions the kids absolutely love it, they are always smiling which once you have that respect from them will stay with them for a long time.

    To say you shouldn’t coach until they are 12 years old is an absolute joke, with that view its no wonder that the UK and the States has such a high Obesity rate.



  3. Humberto Jijon says:

    “Training” for young children has to be like playing. Has to be fun. The activities must be flexible so all or at least most kids benefit from them. Not all kids have the same abilities and capacities. The physical challenges must be designed to teach them to manage their energy so it can be focused on their harmonical developement.

  4. I think early exposure to a wide variety of physical and cognitive stimulus is very important.

    In athletics the principles outlined by Istvan Balyi, Long Term Athletic Development provides an excellent road map. Unfortunately, it generally runs counter to the early specialization argument.

    Early on, IMO since you are building a base or foundation you want it to be as wide and strong as possible. Later, as you rise higher up the pyramid, the focus can become narrower.

    Sounds like a very interesting book, I would like to read it when it comes out.

  5. Rosalind Pause says:

    Its never too early to start “training” kids, at a very young age you can start with games that encourage hand-eye co-ordination, keeping it fun and encouraging them. When my children were old enough to hold a very light weight bat I tied a soft ball (wrapped in a bit of netting)to a tree branch and they loved trying to hit the ball as often as they could. I also encouraged them to chase after things and to run and jump just for the sheer fun of it. My son is now 13 and has great ball skills and hand-eye co-ordination. My daughter, well she’s 15, isn’t overly keen on sports but loves to dance and is pretty good at running and track events. I think it great to start them young, keep if fun and they’ll likely keep it up for life.

  6. Ann Green says:

    Of course, as a Physical and Health Education professional for 12 years and a small business entrepreneur for 6, I am flabergasted at the poor coaching and training techniques I witness amongst the fitness profession.

    As an Olympian, I am grateful that many of my coaches were, like you, on the cutting edge of professionalism in training and sport. I remain grateful for all of my coaches efforts and insights. This inspires me to continue the constant and committed work I do here in Northern Ontario, Canada.

    I am so grateful to you Brian for pioneering a place of sound science, research and reporting to the populace of success that continues to learn, grow and strive to excellence, as we mold our most treasured value, our children. I strongly believe in modelling and coaching right exercise and right training, as demonstrated in your pedagogy and practise with all children.

    Children need coaches that invest in intelligent training.

    Quality, form and precision not quantity.

    I thank you for this forum and your continued excellence to youth and athlete training.

    Many warm regards,

    Ann Green

  7. Margy Lang says:

    Focusing energy through a training program or by channeling it into free play is the goal, right? I agree the best way to build healthy minds and bodies is through an interdisciplinary approach.

  8. Kara Kelly says:

    I believe that exposing kids to ALL SORTS of activities, music, environments, people, AND sports could be what makes or breaks us in the next century or so.
    Think about your comfort zone – where do you draw lines?
    Where do you feel too out of “what you know”?
    If you were born in a 4-room home with a white picket fence, a dog, loving parents, and always listening to country music, then moving into a one-room apartment with your dad and a rap star next door might feel really akward.
    And what about visiting a foreign country?
    That might break you!
    The more sheltered you are, the harder it becomes to break away from the Known.
    (Usually – some people grown up and GET OUT of the “norm” as quick as possible)
    While I’m not in any way suggesting that it’s a good think to introduce your child to Gang Wars and Backstage passes to the Grateful Dead, I think you get my drift…
    On a larger scale, imagine if we understood the people of Iraq better, or India, or Africa…if we could be comfortable enough with those cultures to feel accepting anf loving, rather than distant, afraid, and controlling…
    Imagine growing up in an environment that taught you to accept, love, and be compassionate to others – what a different world we will live in.

    We can be those people. It’s hhow you choose to view the world; as a loving, peaceful place, or a scarry, Wild West…

  9. Deb Allan says:

    working with children under the age of 12 ia an absolute must. Our children need to incorperate all aspects of health into their daily habits, just like brushing their teeth. It is our job to educate the parents, as well as teaching kids of all ages, that exercise is fun, and kids need to have fun with it forever. Practice what you preach, at 52 I still do kid stuff and have a blast with them!

  10. Brian,

    I have worked with young athlets all my life.

    Children need to be exposed to many mental, emotional and physical stimuli.

    Giving a child an opportunity to figure things out for themselves through guided discovery, independant learning etc. only gives them the tools to be a more confident individual and valued member of our society.

    Children need to grow mentally, physically and emotional and holding them back until they are 12 is a diservice to them.

  11. Bryan says:

    As Jamie Vanderhayden said in an earlier blog, the important elements of reaching a child is in the HOW and WHY. As an elementary PE teacher, I witness the extreme measures that some parents take with their children. Some unfortunately don’t allow time for free time to play outside and include a lifestyle that includes poor nutrition. Others over schedule their children. I remember talking to a parent who was picking their child up from an after care program at our school. Once the child was picked up from the program at 6:00 pm, it was off to indoor soccer practice until 8:00 then off to basketball practice until 9:30. This is more of a disservice to a 5th grade child. Our children don’t have enough time to explore their imagination, their freedom for enjoyable and physically and emotionally healthy activities. Training for all ages is a great concept however focusing on the needs of your audience and their functionality is KEY in producing a well rounded physically, socially and emotionally well individual.

  12. Glenn says:

    I think that it is crucial that we focus on kids being more involved with physical activity. When you stop and think about where the past thinking regarding training kids under 12 has gotten us. We have more kids overweight now then ever before in history. Physical fitness and the arts are some of the first things cut in school programs. Talk about limiting exposure.

    I strongly disagree that are kids should not be exposed to training unless they are at some magical age of 12 or 14. Like their bodies, not to mention their minds, are some how predetermined to now accept training and coaching. The fact is they should be trained, trained how to correctly and safely do these things so as not to get hurt.

    We need to get back to making health and fitness a priority, and it needs to start with our kids. It needs to be fun and a part of their everyday lives rather then some sort of dreaded chore. Let’s help them to visualize and see themselves setting and achieving goals. I really think this will carry over into other areas of their lives, making them more successful as human beings rather then just athletes.

    Sorry to be so long just had a lot to be said, and this is just the tip of the ice berg.

    Sincerely In Balanced Health,

    Glenn Stark/Fitness Director/CPT
    Bay Tennis & Fitness

  13. I am a sports performance coach and I truly believe that you can definitly train children under 12 years old. The coach has to be aware of the differances that a 12 year old and a 10 year old have. Your programming has to be condusive to the child and the age group. You have to make it fun while incorporating agility and coordination. Training this age group is very important for their development as an athlete and also for their health which we all know is a concern in America right now.

  14. Nelson Morales says:

    Training children with age-specific drills stimulates proper neuromuscular function. Just to do daily motions one must learn what is the next movement pattern. Take a mother for instance that eventually encourages her child to crawl or eventually guides them to walk. These are all assisted processes. Training should not be a fear filled word. Training is a natural state of being.

  15. DANNY says:

    I will be short. Before the age 12 they have pick up bad habits. Then at age 12 and up you spent alot, alot of time just to break the bad habit before you start to teach them. It is better to start young and teach them the correct way rather trying to break a bad hadit. Just play games that is teaching them as you make it fun.

  16. I think you should work with kids before the age of 12. This is the reason the obesity rate is so high. Also, I feel that the kids are not getting the proper development the need during this very crucial stage in their development years. Exposure the the key to growth. Exposing kids to exercise and other activities will enhance the development of the nervous system and teaches them body control

  17. Anonymous says:

    Chronological age has nothing to do with “training” age, before 12 is a must! I have been using Dynamax med balls for over 10 years, along with other applications obviously, the results have been amazing, you do not throw a rubber med ball the same, so you have so much more you can do as far as movement based applications -Matt

  18. francesca says:

    I think it’s ridiculous to think you shouldn’t train kids under 12 years of age. Maybe it’s just the word “training”. It sounds sort of formal or serious for some people with regard to kids. I think training/exercise with kids or whatever term we choose to use should be fun though. I think aside from teaching them athletic skills, helping them to develop and get coordinated it helps them get in tune with their bodies, can build confidence and self-esteem and it’s social. I feel bad for the adults that I train now that have absolutely no body awareness or coordination. I think they must not have played or exercised much as a kid. Training before the age of 12 allows people to better function all around as adults.

  19. Phillip says:

    The kind of training that IYCA advocates, which I thoroughly agree with, exposes younger children to many different physical activities AND reinforces their enjoyment of physical activity in general. Consider the alternatives: (a) keeping a child in a specific sport at an early age or (b)not encourage any kind of training whatsoever. The first alternative limits the range of activities and training the child learns (i.e. soccer will focus on quickness/speed but it’s doubtful that soccer programs for younger kids will encourage and develop strength, balance, etc.) The second alternative is likely to result in a video game addiction at worst, or a developmental lag along with a lack of appreciation of physical activity at best. So yes, I agree with everyone here on the issue – kids of all ages, including those under 12, could and should be trained.

  20. francesca says:

    ps-I totally agree with what Bryan says here too! Some parents take the fun out of it and it becomes work. Let a kid think out of the box and just play. That concept seems to have gotten lost somewhere.

  21. Jake says:

    As a 6th grade teacher directly working with students that are 11 and 12, I believe it is a critical measure for society that these kids are exposed to a variety of physical activities. With the young people considered obese alone, we need to fend off diabetes, heart disease, and other health issues before it gets too late. I run our school district’s strength and conditioning program in the summer months and we start training kids in their 6th grade school year to get ready for the summer program so they can transition easier. If we are able as a society to have traveling teams as young as 3rd grade in the different sports, shouldn’t we start working with the kids to prevent overuse injuries, or at least help them get in better physical condition to meet the demands of the activities they are involved in?

  22. Matt Holmes says:

    I largely believe in kids needs all the different stimulus from music, art, physical activity and the “play” time interaction. I can not begin to imagine how different my life would be if I did not have that. This is a huge thing with the school system that sets me off, so I am out to change it!


  23. We need to take our lessons from nature; no where in the animal kingdom is there some kind of magical age where survival skills are thought. Quite the contrary, most receive training by observation and through a specific genetic code; this is done very early on. Children all over the world start to socialize and play in groups as part of the process. Only in Western society and other developed nations do we see a decline in activities due mainly to parents being at work and children cooped up behind a TV expressing themselves with electronic games. The result is pretty clear: Childhood obesity, diabetes and many other maladies are ow prevelant. No child should have to wait until they are twelve years of age before being exposed to activity. Children that are involved in youth sports, music and other stimuli fair better in school and are more likely to continue this trend in their adulthood. My life would have been entirely different had I need been allowed to interact as a child with my friends playing tag, soccer, climbing trees, running through puddles, swimming and playing my guitar. At 62 I still enjoy coaching and playing soccer and playing my guitar. Whatever we use to motivate our children physically or mentally, let’s keep the FUN into it.

  24. Luka Hocevar says:

    I think this is another made up thing that kids shouldn’t train under the age of 12. They are training everyday running around and playing but yet we shouldn’t train them.
    The more activities that kids get to do and the more things they get exposed to, the more they will develop physically and emotionally and it will give them more experiences in their life.
    I am so grateful to my parents for exposing me to so many sports, arts, music to where I could really develop as a child and also use my experiences to choose the path that I wanted top follow rather than only knowing and seeing one path and never being able to know what was out there and develop as a kid.

    I take the same approach with the kids that I train and I also give them advice on being open to different things that can help them in the future.

    Keep things fun and let your kids experience as much as they can whether in sport, art, music, travel, education, etc. as they will be a better person for it.

    Luka Hocevar

  25. Kevin O'Brien says:

    After reading all the other comments, I think the points have been made quite clear. The bottom line is kids need to be and stay active, and it must start much, much earlier than 12 years old.

    Think about this for a second. What were young children doing in the early days who lived on farms? They were lifting hay stacks, feed for the animals, etc. And they were strong, healthy, and hardly ever got injured doing these choirs.

    What did you do when you were young? I know I was playing, running, climbing, jumping, swinging, etc. all day and into the early evening until my mom called me in for dinner. I started this at about age 4.

    Of course, any exercise program for children needs to be well designed, fun, and safe with the proper supervision at all times. But kids need to get off the couch, stay off the couch, and discover how their body works through physical activity.

  26. Phil Hueston says:

    No training under 12?
    Ridiculous! Kids of all ages crave the challenge to the neuromuscular system, love to move and are prime for it!
    If we shouldn’t train kids under 12, then someone explain the success of martial arts schools.
    They enroll kids as young as 4 or 5, get them moving, challenge them and them teach them a sophisticated discipline that many stay with for 10, 15, 20 years. Sometimes their whole lives!
    Take a hint from the dojos, and build something kids and parents alike will love.
    Build a system to “move and improve them” from the earliest stages through adulthood!
    You’ll serve people in ways noone else can, and you’ll build a great life for all involved!

  27. Lorri says:

    As a fitness and health professional, I have had the opportunity to coach young children and their parents in sports, fitness and nutrition for the last 15 years. I have worked with children as young as 4 and as young at heart as 90. One of the reasons I joined IYCA was that I had been following Brian’s philosophy for years, I just had never heard it from him. With my research and background, I have always focused on FUN first, then guidance and positive reinforcement. I also CARE about each and every one of my “kids” on a personal basis. I have had parents plead to put their kids on my teams, because they know the value of Fun Play!I even had a parent come to me last month, who’s son was on my team 3 years ago, and said her son was talking to a friend and they were remembering the good, fun times on our team. (My teams have won championships and have gone all season without winning a game-but the kids always have fun and learn at the same time)The key at any age is Movement. Children of all ages love to have fun. It is our job as fitness coaches to introduce FUN movements and teach movement skills as we guide in a positive manner. We are all works in progress. We just need to know how much clay to start with. Start where they are. And train yourself to know how to develop them as individuals! Join the IYCA, if you haven’t yet. It will be the best thing you can do for you and the children in your community.

  28. I think this is a great opportunity for education. This author asked for your feedback…give it to him. Educate him. Tell him about the studies, critical periods, sensitive periods, other issues in motor learning and development. As others have suggested, its all about a frame of reference, or paradigm. This is a great chance to educate on the mission of the IYCA as well.

  29. john power says:

    “Training” is a vague term. Kids under 12 are immature in all aspects and they need coaches/trainers/parents that respect this and not place improper stresses onto them.
    I believe there is less of a separation between the thinking mind and the moving body with children. The process of thought and activity is linked that is how we learn as children to navigate the physical and emotional world. As adults we drive a wedge into this unified process making the body separate from the mind hence our educational system that forces kids and adults to “experience” learning as a sedentary process of “gathering information”. Children and adults need rich multisensual experiences that integrate all parts of our being.

  30. Pollyanna Sidell says:

    I am a grade 4 teacher and a mom to two under twelve. I come here to your site to keep my sanity. I believe in well balanced and age appropriateness. However my daughter has found her self on select teams, loving every minute of it, and asking for more. She goes to practices and enjoys the “off-ice” activities because the coaches have found ways to incorporate the fun into the game along with teaching agility and speed and caring for our bodies – balance. I wondered if this idea of balance was getting into my kids’ brains, but I was convinced as we started a lazy August summer day this year and the older one came to me and said, “Okay, I am happy to have nothing to do today, but we must get out and do some exercise it is an important part everyday life.” I was shocked and elated that for my 9 and 10 year old children, exercising is like brushing your teeth; it’s part of their lives. It’s about having balance and enjoying life. I originally came to the IYCA web site because I wanted to make sure my head was on straight with the intensity that I will let my children play in a given sport (given coaches beg for them to play their sport year-round). Children are constantly being asked to give more to a single sport. It is great to have the IYCA helping spread the word of balance and age-appropriate training. Thank you and keep up the great work!

  31. Steve Carter says:

    Kids, run,jump,chase,play tag etc, way before they are 12, and havn’t seen that do any harm, if you can harness all that energy and coach movement patterns etc and teach the FUNdamentals(emphasis on fun) of Athletic movement, how can that be wrong? rest my case!

  32. Scott Hallahan says:

    I’m a firm believer in everything that I’ve read, but I think that most “fitness professionals” think weight training when you talk about “training” kids under 12. I agree that weight training shouldn’t begin until 12 or older, but from the things I’ve read (and hope to learn in the near future) about the IYCA, is that “training” involves much more than just weights and children need to be taught to use their bodies and minds in a variety of ways.

  33. Jeff Patten says:

    Early exposure to all the different stimuli is very important and not just from the physical side but with music, art, proper nutrition, school/education.
    I definitely do not think that their is a special age that one should not try to do any of these activities. But there are optimal ages that we can develop so later in life we can optimally use the skills that we learn at an early age.

    I wish I was exposed to music when I was younger I have virtually no musical rhythm and can’t hold a tune.
    Jeff Patten

  34. Richie Whall says:

    Just to try to add to all the fantastic comments already posted, my key guiding principle is ‘to create the optimal environment for success’. This should start from birth onwards, giving the child the opportunity to explore their environment through rolling, sitting, crawling, walking etc. Unfortunately, changes in society have removed much of our childrens need to move & explore so it is vital that we as teachers, trainers, coaches etc are able to provide an environment in which their movement, social & cognitive skills can be guided & developed. The ‘environment’ will obviously change as the children grow & develop, but must include challenging yet fun activities that involve elements of thinking, communicating and movement (TCM).

  35. Richard Steiner says:

    The biggest problem I have seen with training kids at any level is that so many volunteer coaches at the younger levels don’t have a clue as to what training is. I have asked several coaches that have been volunteering for years if they believe training is an important part of developing athletes and I typically get two answers, Yes we go to the weight room or no, they can’t lift weights until they are older. My three children have been involved in different sports since 2 years old, but I have been very selective about who trains them and have stepped in when I felt the coaches didn’t have a clue as to what they was doing.

    Kids enjoy and excel in a quality and challenging training environment, however the opposite is true as well and they do know the difference. If the intended audience of this new book is parents, I can’t stress enough how important it is for athletes development to have quality coaches and trainers. And when the parent wants to step into coaching, which many will, that they must spend time understanding what training really means.

  36. BrianGrasso says:

    Wonderful posts, all!!

    Thank you so much for offering your opinion… I will be commenting on some of your thoughts next week.


  37. Denise Dumoulin PT says:

    I think there are key diffrences in exposure vs. training. I beleive kids need to be exposed to a huge variety of stimulus for learing. Free Play should be the biggest component of their activity. Our society is driven by excellence and acheivment. Their are well meaning (but misinformed) parents who want the best for there kids and are trying to push the envelope with sports specific training and early adult type training to give their child an edge. I feel this is very diffrent than the IYCA goal of movement based games to improve development.
    As a parent I feel the pressure constantly in our youth sport environment. My 9 year old has 3 practices/games a week in hockey from Aug thru March. He also playes Soccer ( thats another 3 days Sept- Oct. and pressure to send him to summer camps or . And I have been told that they may not make the team if they don’t pick a sport. He does have a sister too! Our culture is a huge detrament to kids. As a physical therapist I can see the importance of “training” to imporve aspects of movemnt with fun. However as a parent there needs to be balance between hetic schedules, school, friends and family. Sometimes in a structured environment social dynamics are curtailed. My husband and I try very hard to have free time as much as possible. “Kick their butts outside”. It is amazing what they come up with to do and how they move.

  38. Vince Hogue says:

    I think what scares people who oppose training children before the age of twelve, is the fact that we can call it training. Kids begin their basic athletic skills way before the age of 12 so to wait until then is just too late. Let’s look at major league baseball. Years ago when it was America’s pasttime kids were playing baseball, softball, stickball, and all other sports like it as soon as they could go outside. Fast forward with the increase pressure on waiting to “train” young kids, things are lost. Unlike South American countries who continue the traditions of yesteryear. As it is clearly reflected in the Major League. Young children can be trained at early ages but it up to the trainer to make sure they know what they’re doing.

  39. Denise Dumoulin PT says:

    I do want to note that I have talked my kids coaches into letting me run 20 min. “acitve warm up and movement activites” before practice to avoid post practice “gruling off ice training” that was suggested. This way we get to work on movement based games. the kids love it. One coached (soccer)noted decreased injuries!

  40. Michael Huxford says:

    I was a little shocked to read the comment about “never ‘train’ or ‘work with’ a child under the age of 12.” In my professional opinion as a Certified Athletic Trainer this is a completely absurd idea. I work in the Institute for Sports Medicine at Children’s Memorial Hospital. I cannot even begin to tell you how many kids we see on a weekly basis under the age of 12 that have sports-related injuries. The majority of the injuries are due to overuse. I agree with some much of what people have already posted. At the ISM we have programs that are specifically designed for active and athletic kids under the age of 12 because there is such a large need to educate coaches, parents and kids about injuries, over-training and training errors. We must continue to get the message out that it is never to early to start neuro-muscular developmental training for kids.

  41. Michael says:

    Training begins when we leave the womb. Every action we take is a learned response. Waiting to train someone until they are 12 is ridiculous. The mind and body is most fertile when it is young. There are, of course, various types of training. Physical, social, emotional, educational and all have their separate, but equal time frames for development. As a parent and coach for over 30 years at all levels, recreation to national teams, it is imperative to begin training the subject as soon as they can benefit. I agree that many types of training is necessary based on the subject and their own special circumstances. Over training is a strong concern as well as sport specific training over a long period of time.

    Training does not need to be overbearing and physically taxing. Methods to make training fun and beneficial will yield the quickes and longest lasting results.

  42. donna ryan says:

    Can anybody out ther give me some detailed technical advice about under twelves an high end rock climbing training as my children are involved in competion climbing and Ihave heard that strengh specific training can be permantly damaging to ligamnets before puberty

  43. how to date women says:

    I used to play soccer in my high school days. I was a bad player. Really bad. lol. I have 2 ankle injuries due to playing soccer. So i would advice you guys to take precaution of your safety. Trust me, it’s frustrating. Good luck =)

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