The majority of my work is focused towards working with women of all ages to encourage confidence within sport and healthier lifestyles. It's often the case within their sessions that my clients children are watching, or wanting to join in... I LOVE that. Encouraging children from a young age to partake in sport can help to build strong foundations to a healthier adult lifestyle away from
chronic diseases, so when my client's children ask if they can watch or join in with "Mum", I don't like to say no. Like mother, like daughter after all.
I used to love PE in school, and was always encouraged by my parents to try different sports. I have danced for the majority of my life, both as a hobby and later as a dance teacher, but also regularly played netball, football, rounders or ran weekly during my time at junior and senior school. We were lucky enough to have a trampoline and basketball net in the garden too, so spent a lot of time outside playing. However, with growing levels of childhood obesity, it makes me wonder why children are susceptible to obesity when there can be so much on offer for them. Sports and playtime don't have to be competitive; they just need to learn to move regularly, and to find something that they enjoy in order to want to continue to play.
Forcing children into a sport won't help - admittedly however there has to be some encouragement in the first place to get them moving, but finding something that they enjoy doing will make the task easier and it's likely they'll continue the hobby later into life. Long term athletic development (LTAD) therefore means trainers and coaches, like me, can work with children from a young age to develop various sports skills that will help them in the future; balance, hand-eye coordination, endurance, agility, general strength, an understanding of being a team-player or making fast-paced decisions are just a few of the skills they may learn.
Children start learning these skills almost as soon as they can crawl; they learn to use their brain to work on fine motor skills such as placing a certain shape building block into the correct shaped hole of their toy. A toddler very rarely sits still... they've learnt to walk or even run, so that's exactly what they do! Once children get to school age they'll start learning how to play with each other and building further on their skills, whether through games such as "Tag", dancing to music - teaching them balance and coordination, or even using the climbing frames in the playground; helping them to build strength. These sports skills continue through junior and senior school, building on the foundations that they have already learnt, whilst also increasing the level of competitiveness as they get older, and fine-tuning their motor skills and strength patterns.
One thing you should perhaps be aware of with regards to children and sport, is that there are very few sports a child should specialise in too early in life. There are exceptions, such as gymnastics, since it's a fairly well-rounded sport with a huge variety of skills and strength. Some other sports can otherwise create specific movement patterns that may not include whole-body movements - as a result, a child may easily suffer an injury or lack certain skills and knowledge if they focus just on one sport. Younger children often have bundles of energy that needs burning off, so keeping them moving each day is important, the more variety, the more skills they'll learn. Older children going through growth spurts may have days or even weeks of uncertainty - feeling "wobbly" or clumsy, since limbs grow at different times and it's like learning again how to control their movements! For both boys and girls, puberty may also play a huge part in energy levels as well as emotions; my best advice during this time is to encourage any type of movement - as long as they do not stop!
As a personal trainer, I find LTAD a very important aspect to teach to families - I don't necessarily work directly with children and young adults, but encouraging them to join in a couple exercises within their parents session provides some bonding time and a chance to feel "grown up". It can also ease the pressure off parents to have to encourage sports and playtime since it will come more naturally to the children once they have seen mum or dad doing so! Children may also feel more confident when joining in sports at a new club or in their lessons at school, but it mostly creates a healthy relationship for both body and mind.
At any age - even with my grown up clients - finding sports or exercises that are fun builds adherence to the training programme, that they're more likely to continue. I'm not the sort of trainer to throw in hundreds of burpees every session just for fun, since the majority of my clients DON'T enjoy them! Occasionally I'll include them - there's a time and place for certain exercises, just as there is a time and place for children to be able to play.Children's basic skills should become FUNdamentals after all! They need their rest in equal amounts, and of course a healthy diet to work alongside and fuel their busy schedules. In the same way we listen to our bodies and know when we need some recovery time, be sure to listen to children too, providing them with adequate sleep patterns and some rest time away from sport. LTAD provides children with a solid foundation on which to build their lifestyle, in a safe and effective manner long into adulthood, creating healthy habits for younger and older people alike; Don't dismiss the importance of play, and encourage some LTAD today!