Play Education: Strategies for Fun and Effective Youth Training Programs

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Play Education: Strategies for Fun and Effective Youth Training Programs

October 15, 2013

Youth fitnessTeaching youth fitness requires a much different approach than teaching adult fitness. There are age-appropriate teaching strategies and motivational approaches that are best used for children when trying to establish healthy habits they will retain for a lifetime.

One of the best strategies and motivational approaches for encouraging active and playful participation is to make it fun and create a positive environment.  When there is laughter, teamwork and activity happening together, kids are more likely to stay engaged and come back for more! Whether you are teaching a young group of 2nd graders or a high school basketball team, remembering this teaching strategy will improve retention and results of your youth fitness program.

Example: A group of 2nd graders need to get moving for a 20-minute fitness break. They don’t want to just take laps around a track.

  • Set up a relay race with two cones about 20 yards apart.
  • Assign teams comprised of one to three kids.
  • Each person on the team performs a skip, a side shuffle, and a sprint, while running from cone #1 to cone #2 and back.
  • The first team to have all three players perform each drill down and back wins.
  • The relay race is fun, positive, creates teamwork, teaches them new skills and keeps them engaged and moving the entire time.   

Example: A group of high school basketball players need to work on some strength and conditioning during the pre-season. They don’t want to run back and forth on the court 20 laps and then do 20 push-ups, 20 squat jumps and 20 dips on the bleachers. That’s WORK, NO FUN and uninspiring!

  • Set up a partner suicide circuit.
  • Both partners start at one end of the court.
  • Partner #1 dribbles down the court and has to make the lay-up. He continues to shoot until he makes it and then dribbles back.
  • Partner #2 performs squat jumps until his partner returns from the lay-up.
  • Each partner gets two points for each layup made on his first try and only one point for a rebound shot.
  • Each team needs to get 10 points before they can rest.
  • Repeat this same drill using different strength exercises such as push-ups, lunges, planks, etc.

The next important strategy in teaching effective play education is to incorporate age-appropriate training programs suitable for the needs, goals and abilities of the kids involved. Age and fitness level are the major factors in determining the appropriate training methods and progressions. Moving too quickly into an intense fitness program without establishing fundamental movement skills and patterns can lead to injury. A child’s inability to keep up is highly discouraging, as well, and could destroy his or her love for sport and fitness. It is important to always start with simple fundamentals before progressing to complex drills. This allows kids to build skills and confidence in their ability to learn and advance.

Example: Sedentary youth who are overweight and new to fitness need to begin with fun and easy exercise to get moving and building confidence.

  • Good: Start with a “Simon Says” game and keep the movements simple (touch your head, touch your shoulder, stand on one leg, sit on the ground, jumping jacks, run in place, etc.). Progress to a mirror drill, where they try and mirror your movements (side shuffle, duck, punches, jumping jacks, etc.).
  • Too Advanced: Playing a game of soccer or jump rope. This could be discouraging unless they have a unique affinity for or skills in those activities.

In addition to creating fun, safe, and age-appropriate training programs, it’s important to incorporate VARIETY in the program as well (also known as PERIODIZATION0, to be sure that your training methods continue to result in fitness gains and continue to spark interest and excitement amongst your young athletes. Using different exercise routines, games and training formats will prevent boredom and increase effort.

Example: If you are teaching an after-school fitness program to a group of 7th graders, they are at an age where variety is critical and strength gains will happen rapidly! If the training program does not vary and does not offer progression, you will quickly lose the interest of those 7th graders.

  • Design a program that focuses on different areas of fitness throughout the week.
    • Monday: Cardio and Core
    • Tuesday: Upper Body and Speed
    • Wednesday: Conditioning (endurance training using high-intensity interval training)
    • Thursday: Cardio and Core
    • Friday: Agility and Balance
  • Within this program there are exercises and drills that will need to progress and vary at least every three months to guarantee the kids are being challenged and reaching goals!

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