Written by Bowie Matteson
In my previous post I introduced the importance weight training can have on your child’s long term outlook on fitness and its potential role in getting them and keeping them healthy. I wrote that post with their physical state in mind. Body awareness, movement quality and fine motor skills are all things that need developing in young bodies.
But the benefits of training extend beyond just the body. Weight training is a very powerful medium to develop a child’s mentality. Some may ask: How will big biceps, strong legs and a fast mile time help your kids with school? With their behavior? Their quality of life? Is weight training just another outlet to run them down and keep them under control?
Learning to lift weights responsibly is the perfect place to develop self-confidence, discipline, goal-setting and dealing with failure. We’ll cover each one:
1. Confidence: A feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.
My guess is that the first thing that came to your mind after reading that working out can lead to confidence had something to do with their reflection. The aesthetics of a fit body are part of the driving force behind the $532 billion cosmetic industry, the $66 billion weight loss industry and the $278 billion health supplement industry.
When it comes to little ones, lifting weights with the goal of improving our appearance is an entirely different animal than lifting weights to learn how to move safely and build strength. To equate physically pleasing appearances to positive character traits and healthy habits is a bit of a rocky road and not something you necessarily want to fill your little one’s head with right away (re: body dysmorphia disorder). The true value of developing our bodies is the appreciation for the incredible things it can do. The significance lies in witnessing growth and seeing hard work turn into results. This all sets you up for a better relationship with your body! (We’ll talk more about body positivity later in the series)
The beauty of weight lifting is that there is some immediate feedback, especially for those new to training. You feel the differences you’re making. You feel stronger. You feel a muscle working. You are getting faster etc. etc. In terms of measuring progress, you witness improvements in your strength when you’re able to do something you did last time but heavier, faster or for greater repetitions.
2. Discipline: A. Control gained by enforcing obedience or order. B: Orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior.
Discipline has been sold to me a thousand times as the ability to resist doing what it is we know we shouldn’t be doing. I’ve also been told it doesn’t exist. Gary Keller’s book The One Thing argues that “success is actually a short race – a sprint fueled by discipline only long enough for habit to kick in and take over”. So, what is discipline and does it matter?
Discipline does exist. The “short-sprint” to habit is actually about 66 days on average! 66 days is no short sprint, especially in fitness, where the number one excuse for not reaching our goals is usually time. Discipline is the ability to see past the shortcuts, the easy way outs and “this will do” moments. It is a skill that requires a committed effort to learning and reinforcing. The great thing about working with kids is that they are at such an impressionable age that there’s a lot fewer habits to break in order to create newer, better ones.
Lifting weights and staying active work well as mediums for developing discipline. This is for much the same reason that it develops confidence: If you repeatedly put in the work, you’ll see results and feel empowered. If you don’t, you won’t. Pretty simple. Once the importance of staying fit is established, it’s up to your little ones to commit to getting their work done. It’s up to the parents and coaches to hold them accountable and reinforce the healthy habit. They’ll have to see past the sugary drinks and TV show binges and remember the sense of accomplishment they feel after each training session. It’s that delayed gratification that gets your child thinking about the work it takes to make something great versus acting on impulse and grabbing whatever is in front of them for temporary pleasure. Being able to delay gratification for something larger is a huge predictor for success later in life.
3. Goal-setting: The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.
Writing, verbalizing and sharing goals are the habits of the most successful people in the world. It doesn’t matter how talented, motivated or educated you are, without goals you are a train without tracks. The number of measurable variables in training make it a great way to introduce kids to setting goals. 20 push-ups? 100 Jump rope? 8-minute mile? These are all goals that are easily visualized and simple to plan for. With good coaching and a committed effort, kids can get a taste for understanding the work that goes into achieving a desired outcome.
This all sets the foundation for kids to understand how to plan ahead and break big-picture visions into smaller actionable steps. Early successes with achieving fitness goals can set the ground work for getting kids to fall in love with the pursuit of goals in other parts of their life, like school or work.
4. Failure: “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” – Paulo Coelho
Failure is one of the most valuable resources for those pursuing a goal. You need 2 things to get better at anything: practice and feedback. Failure is that feedback. Those that can learn from their mistakes are the ones who make the fastest progress. Kids stand to benefit the most from early exposure to experiencing failure and managing their mistakes.
However, in today’s social climate of perfectionism and fitting in, it gets more and more difficult for people to feel comfortable trying new things. Training is a perfect setting for little ones to learn how to fail forward and use the feedback they’re getting on their movements to improve. Doing so in a group setting is even more empowering. Failing in front of others is a big step in being vulnerable and normalizing putting forth effort without the fear of judgment.
Upset about losing a competition? A race? Ask what held you back or what you need to improve on and set-up a plan to meet the mark. A good training program is going to get you to push your limits, getting you to learn what you can and can’t do and encourage you to work on your weaknesses.
Next article we’ll touch on the social aspect of training. We’ll cover what place leadership and teamwork has in youth fitness and how it can influence your children.
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