In previous posts, I have talked about getting kids out into nature and ways to help our kids become primal, remove screen time and develop into awesome humans. You can read that here, Helping kids behave better, concentrate harder and become Primal, and helping children develop a love of sport, movement and fitness. Today’s post continues the Primal Kids theme exploring the developmental benefits of physically active kids.

Children, even newborns, should be given every opportunity to move without physical restriction. Training to become an athlete starts in infancy and continues throughout life as children become involved with a variety of activities. Unfortunately this process of development most of the time does not go how nature intended. With the prevalence of screens, Ipads, phones, computer games, and on demand TV we are intentionally, or maybe unintentionally, discouraging children from becoming great athletes. This is especially detrimental when paired with the abundance of junk food available, not just the takeaway variety, but also any processed food containing sugar, grains or vegetable oils.

Instead we should be making room for play and roaming, letting children crawl, run, climb and jump to their heart’s content. (Making sure that it’s safe, of course!) According to Dr Phil Maffetone, a highly respected doctor, coach of endurance athletes and primal guru, a wide variety of physical movements are vital to the neuromuscular progress and necessities for the brain, with early physical activity ultimately making the child better at math, science, music, coordination and having better social skills.

While great health and fitness during childhood may lead to great athletic performance later in life, a key reason for a child’s fitness being so important, according to Maffetone in his 2015 book, the Endurance Handbook, is because “fitness is widely regarded as a powerful marker of current and future cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and mental health”.  What this means is, the more fitness and all round play a child engages in early in their life, the better their health, muscle and bone development, and social skills will be.

There is obviously a difference between how adults train and how children train. Children need a wide range of activities and movements. As they grow through the first decade of their life, natural development and interest will lead to participation in a variety of sports and activities. I think this is healthy for their development in fitness and as athletes. Having children try a wide variety of activities such as swimming, riding bikes, gymnastics, coordinated ball sports, running, climbing and playing on the various apparatus at playgrounds will help develop a great, functional athlete. There is always time for a child to learn and take up specific sports once they have a good grasp of co-ordination, movement through various planes and balance. All sports need these fundamentals and getting kids to stick to a specific sport or sports may be making them too one dimensional.

According to Dr. Maffetone there are two important factors when it comes to children transitioning into good adolescent athletes. These are:

  • Cross Training: From birth until about 20 years of age the body undergoes dramatic changes. Physical activity plays a huge part in this development. The more variety of movement the better the development. This he attributes to muscle and bone growth, hormone balance, immune function and brain maturation. At certain ages selected sports activities may be of more interest, such as riding bikes, swimming, running, soccer. But variety and cross training continues to be important.
  • Active Fun:  This one is pretty simple – the process of having fun whilst being active. Encouraging play, climbing, and movement. This may be the most important guideline for kids!

While I think team sports have their place for children, I don’t think we as parents need to be pushing them so hard to be great athletes at an early age. With natural love of movement, coordination and balance, kids will inevitably gravitate to sports they like. Some children develop at faster rates than others so we really can’t predict who will ultimately be a great athlete from how they are at 4, 6, 8, 10 maybe even 12 years of age. Pushing kids into training and sports may seem helpful but if the child is not on board this could be more of a hindrance and they may develop a dislike of activity.

Like Dr Maffetone says, having active fun may be the most important guideline for the development of the athletic child!

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