How to make the youth fitness program safer for the kids

As a parent myself  I think safety is the most important element of any children's activity. But what does safety really mean and how do you create it as a coach? And are ‘safe’ exercise programs less fun or athletically more passive by nature? I don’t think so. Let’s look at different components of a youth conditioning program and think how the safety can be built in the activities.

1. Failing to plan is planning to fail

Safety stems from well-designed activities that consider, among other things, the age of the participants, size of the group, nature of the environment and goals of the program. Through the process of planning the coach should imagine each activity happening in the given space and make mental notes of the ‘observations’. Is the given activity too fast for the size of the space? Are there too many pieces of equipment on the floor at the same time? How should I arrange the group to avoid kids running into each other at full speed. Planning the lesson carefully is, in regards to safety, even more important for the younger groups, such as a group of 5-7 year olds. A proper lesson plan forces the coach to go through the lesson each element at a time and evaluate the need for time usage, equipment, organization and instruction.

2. Communication of the rules  - make it interactive

I like to ask the kids what the good rules for the lesson would be. Most of the time I will get all the answers from them and I don’t have to be the one telling them what not to do. The children know that they are not allowed to hit/kick/push anyone but by having them verbalize those rules, they will become more aware and more responsible. They will also automatically feel safer mentally because they know the coach cares about this issue that they might potentially be worried about. One additional rule I always add is the rule about the whistle; 'stop the activity immediately and wait for the instructions'. A whistle used effectively, and sparingly, is a great safety tool that can stop the activity and demand the attention faster than trying to shout over the noise that often exceeds the legal limits.

3. Crowd control tools that work

If the space has lines on the floor, I already have one of the most important crowd control tools in place. If it doesn’t, I carry masking tape with me to mark at least one line on the floor where I want the group to arrange themselves periodically during the lesson. The line serves as a landmark and a ‘calibration tool’ especially if the activity looks like it might start getting out of control. Lining up on a straight line next to each other seems to work in the military, so why not with kids’ groups as well.

Another important tool is the use of your voice.  You might notice how the normal use of your voice might suffer from lack of authority from time to time and it might be a good idea to try lowering your voice instead of shouting louder. If this doesn’t calm the crowds, you can also let out the “hole in the tire” sound with the extended ‘sssshhhhhhhhhhhhh’. Most of the groups respond to this fairly well.  Generally speaking, you need to have tools that bring the activity to stop quickly, whether it is the whistle or your voice or a boxing bell. This is important for example if someone happens to get hurt or there is another reason to gain the full attention of the group.

4. Safety in numbers (of coaches)

I like to use assistant coaches, such as parents, to help me with certain activities. I also don’t mind the extra eyes on the group at all times if something goes by without me noticing. Sometimes too many additional people standing on the sidelines might be a distraction, but I still prefer that to being by myself with a group of kids. The people helping out could just be older kids who want to help out and that works too, just as long as safety increases in all perspectives. It is also good to take a note that a lot of schools and town recreational programs have tightened their rules about who can be involved in the programs and mandatory background checks are becoming more of a rule than an exception. This hopefully adds to the safety of the kids as well.

5. Prepare for the worst – safety is in the preparation

Most of us do not want to run the worst case scenarios in our heads. It can be stressful to think what COULD happen if something really went wrong. The best way to deal with this is to get those fears or scenarios out of your head and on the risk analysis form. It is better to deal with them analytically and systemically than emotionally. Write down what could go wrong and how you are prepared to respond to that. This also helps you bring the necessary safety and first aid tools with you. Here is the list of things that should be considered in the case of small incidents and bigger emergencies:

  1. Always have a phone with you in order to call a parent or the emergency number.
  2. Bring basic first aid kit and cold packs.
  3. Know the emergency exits in the facility.
  4. Carry all the information about the group with you (waivers, medical releases).
  5. Avoid being by yourself with the group.

The safety measures are at their best when they are preventively built inside the program through proper programming and preparation. There are a lot of ways to increase physical, mental and social safety in the class and none of them need to take anything away from the fun and active dynamics that the youth conditioning programs should be all about.

Tommi The Trainer

Youth fitness after-school sessions in Suffern, NY

So the schools have started and the "normal" routines of life have returned. The School of Youth Fitness is also running again with the normal after school hours. The popular times of 3, 4, and 5pm are filling up but we still have a few more available times left.

During the semester 2011-2012 we want to make sure that we get kids from all different sports to participate in the School Of Youth Fitness conditioning programs. In addition to young athletes we really encourage the parents to bring children who are not engaged in sports or other physical activity. We want to teach the importance of active and healthy lifestyle in a fun and a safe environment.

This semester we are going to teach, even more than before, the skill of running. A lot of parents ask us to help with the running technique of their children and we have developed games, exercises and other motivational teaching methods to improve the way how the feet hit the ground or how the arms swing. Naturally we continue to teach and practice all of the other fundamental movement skills and motor components as well.       

If you have any questions about what we teach and coach, how we do it and why we do it the certain way, please give us a call anytime. We would love to explain the philosophy behind our youth fitness and conditioning curriculum.

Private, group and team training programs available! Limited spaces left. Call 201-677-8885 or email to book a spot.

Have a great semester! See you soon!

Tommi the Trainer 

PS: Our Suffern location is great for kids living in Northern New Jersey, Mahwah, Ramsey, Oakland and Rockland County New York.       

The secret to teaching a safe and effective youth fitness session

Have you ever tried to teach a group of 10-year olds for an hour without having a clear plan and a program? Years ago I tried it and I am lucky I survived the experience. :-) The energy of a 10-year old is amazing and harnessing that energy definitely requires some preparation in advance. 


A pre-meditated program and a plan is a secret and a must in order to teach a safe and successful session. It is even more important when teaching the youth than the adults whose attention span is a few seconds longer (hopefully) and the energy level maybe just a bit lower.

In the School of Youth Fitness I use a lesson plan that helps me in:

1. Goal setting
2. Instruction
3. Organization
4. Giving feedback 
5. Time management

Here is what a sample lesson plan would look like.

5 more School of Youth Fitness lesson plan basics:

1. Alternate high intensity (higher heart rate) and lower intensity (skill etc) activities.
2. Plan the session with periods of teaching broken up by fun games and drills. 
3. Ask questions to make sure everyone has understood all the instructions. 
4. Make the exercises challenging enough to keep everyone motivated.
5. Include flexibility, coordination, strength, agility, balance etc. within the same session.   

Planning is the key to safe, effective and fun youth fitness programs!

Tommi the Trainer

PS: Back to school, Fall 2011! Youth fitness groups register now! 
Call 201-677-8885 or email

Teaching and Training Athleticism for the Youth

TEACHING + TRAINING = SCHOOL OF YOUTH FITNESS

The School of Youth Fitness is about learning how to move and exercise in a safe, effective and fun way. First we teach and coach the specific movement skills and then it is time to train and practice them. Teaching methods and training tools support each other in creating an optimal learning environment. We want to bring back the culture of teaching and learning the skills of movement.

At the same time, we emphasize the absolute importance of the free, spontaneous playtime that is fed by the imagination and not confined by adult supervision. We call this "backyard conditioning".

Both of these environments are needed for optimal results: 1. Supervised teaching and learning but also 2. Free "backyard playtime".      

ATHLETES, NOT JUST PLAYERS!

The secret to consistently improving in a sport is “athleticism”. A solid foundation of athletic abilities and motor skills allows the sport specific skills to develop in a most balanced and healthy way. We aim to build athletes with a wide and deep foundation, so that they can enjoy their physical activity and advance in their sport as far as they choose to.

CONDITIONING FOR TODAY, HEALTH FOR TOMORROW

Appropriate youth conditioning should target and improve a) current fitness level and
b) health for the future. The most important job a youth conditioning specialist is to
help the young athlete in building a positive relationship with fitness & exercise and
a healthy lifestyle. We want to condition and train the youth for the challenges of today,
but to also look beyond and set them up for success for tomorrow as well.       

AGE-SENSITIVE EXERCISES FOR OPTIMAL DEVELOPMENT

Kids are not small adults. Their developmental stage determines the proper approach in choosing exercises and conditioning programs. The growing body is like a “sponge”, ready to absorb specific skills and physical attributes. By taking advantage of these windows of opportunity, we can develop an effective age-sensitive fitness program. Elements of movement such as flexibility, balance, coordination, agility, speed and strength can and should be trained in regards to the developmental stage of the youth.

Tommi The Trainer

School of Youth Fitness Summer 2011

Discover Movement is happy and grateful to announce the launch of Discover Movement School of Youth Fitness and Conditioning!!

The School of Youth Fitness is:

- An after-school fitness program for 7-13 years old

- Safe, effective and fun exercise for sports and life

- Essential movement skills and motor development

- Building athletes that are truly athletic!!

- A place to learn how to stay healthy and injury-free for life

- A progression that leads to Discover Movement high-school athletic development 

- Not just Speed, agility and quickness but much more

- A program where the instructors are Youth Fitness Specialists

- A school that builds a positive attitude towards health, fitness and life generally

WELCOME!!!

Tommi Paavola

PS: CALL 201-677-8885 or EMAIL to to get more information!

NEW School of Youth Fitness and Conditioning - NY & NJ

A brand new School of Youth Fitness and Conditioning has opened its doors in Suffern, New York. The school will be moving children and youth between 7-13 years of age with goals of health, fitness and athleticism.

School of Youth Fitness and Conditioning operates within the walls of Movements 4 Life -training facility at 47 Chestnut Street, Suffern, NY. Join us for the common GRAND OPENING on May 21st.

The school will be giving group lesson from the fundamentals of fitness and exercise to the mastery of movement for young athletes.

Here is the sample curriculum for the ages 7-10.

Why fitness and conditioning needs to be AGE-specific?

How to build a successful Youth Conditioning Program -article written by Tommi Paavola, Discover Movement LLC. (First published in Athletic Business magazine)

Athletes First, Players Second
Coaches are often tempted to teach and practice game-specific skills more than general athletic skills, since game-specific skills are the ones that eventually determine which team wins and which loses. Limited training time and people's high expectations of success can also lead to this exaggerated emphasis on developing sport-specific skills. Development of general athletic skills, such as jumping, landing, skipping, lunging, twisting and hopping lay the foundation for game-specific skills and is vital to becoming a healthy and successful athlete. Narrowing the variety of movement skills before the athletic foundation has been laid can risk a child's long-term development and suffocate his or her true potential.


An Age-Sensitive Approach
Coordination, balance, speed, flexibility, agility, strength and endurance are all important components of human movement and sport performance. The different stages of a child's growth and development determine which motor skills should be emphasized in training programs. For example, speed and agility progress optimally during the "skill hungry" years of 8 to 12, whereas strength and endurance become important in subsequent years. A 10-year-old boy is at his peak period to enhance acceleration speed and change of direction through games like tag or short shuttle runs. Drills that incorporate multidirectional hops on a single leg are well absorbed by children age 8 to 12.

You can read the whole Discover Movement Youth Conditioning article here.

Athletes first, players second! Movement skill development.

What are most sports made of?

Running, hopping, squatting, turning, avoiding, jumping, landing, lunging...
Balance, coordination, speed, agility, power, strength, mobility...

Most of the sports develop these fundamentals. Some sports enhance one attribute more than the other. That is why engaging in different sports and activities can improve the overall athleticism more than just by training one sport.  

 
MOVEMENT SKILL TRAINING PROGRAM       

Athleticism is an outcome of several factors. Some of them we are not able to influence (genetics etc.) but most of them we can improve. Every athlete can become faster, stronger or more flexible.

The goal of Movement Skill Training is to ensure the integrity of the movement foundation.

Movement Skill Training:  

1. Aims to find and fill the missing links in athletic development.   
2. Improves all the fundamental movement patterns and skills
3. Covers the development of all motor components such as balance, speed or strength.


Other important objectives of Movement Skill Development for Youth are:

- To support healthy growth and development and to ensure a healthy future
- To introduce supplemental movement to the most physically passive generation yet  
- To compliment the psychological, emotional and social development of the youth