Transitions are tough. Many children, teens and adults alike struggle with the change in expectation, environment, and energy that are often brought on as a result of a transition. One of the most significant transitions our members (of all ages) must go through every time they walk in the door is just that — the simple act of arriving and settling.
If your box is anything like ours, it’s not only a space for strength and conditioning, but it’s also become a social community; a gathering place for like-minded people to decompress, connect, socialize, and be reminded of the many benefits of healthy, active living.
Often, much of this is done in the 10-15 minutes before class, while warming up or mobilizing. In the words of Greg Glassman, “the needs of the elderly and professional athletes vary by degree, not kind.” I believe we can further extend this idea to our pre-WOD rituals as well. No matter our age, goals or reasons for coming to the gym, we all likely enjoy the added benefits of training in a positive, social community. Kids and teens are no different.
So if we all need that time to transition into the space before class starts, to warm up our bodies, and to socialize with our peers, to what degree can we provide this experience for our younger athletes?
If left to their own devices, children and teens will likely begin raising their voices, turning the rig into a ninja warrior jungle gym, using the PVC pipes as lightsabers and, inevitably, someone will end up hurt; hurt ankles, tailbones, heads, hurt feelings… it’s not an ideal way to start a class.
Here are a few ideas to help your younger athletes access the many benefits of pre-WOD bliss:
Teach them a simple, dynamic warm-up
Use class-time to teach a 3-5 part bodyweight warm-up. For older kids and teens, you can make a poster and stick it to the whiteboard before class. For younger kids, you could draw some stickmen and arrows on a poster to remind them. When they arrive early for class, it’s their job to perform the prescribed warm-up.
Ideas for this warm-up include leg swings, inchworms, bear crawl, burpees, shuttle runs, jumping jacks, etc.
Create set spaces in your facility for different activities
Most kids and teens programs will take place after school, which means the athletes will likely need to change, eat a snack and decompress from a long day of listening and sitting. Establish a set space in your facility where they should hang out when they want to eat a snack before class. Items to keep handy here are a garbage can, recycling bin, broom, and dustpan. Trust me on that one. When they have finished eating and checking their text messages, phones and food are left behind, and they head to the warm-up area of the gym. Having these physical boundaries will help the kids stay focused on the job at hand and successfully transition to the next one.
Ensure you are prepared for class before the kids arrive
Get your WOD or session plan written on the board, set up any equipment you might need and brief your assistant before the doors open for the kids. Not only will this make you feel more confident and prepared for class time, but the kids will arrive to an organized space and a Trainer who is ready to greet them. You can then use those 10-15 minutes before class to connect with your athletes like you would any other class! Ask them how their day was, what they had for lunch, what they’re looking forward to this weekend. Establishing this connection before class will set you up for a respectful and engaged session, plus you will have a better understanding of how your athletes are feeling that day.
Have a self-directed challenge or game set up
This is our secret weapon to starting class with happy, focused and warmed-up kids. Either set up a familiar game for them to take the reins on (explain it to the athletes who are changed and ready), or write instructions on the board.
Examples of this include:
- Max effort plank, handstand, bar, hollow, or dip hold: do this in pairs with one person watching the time for their buddy
- Max distance broad jump: create a starting line and use chalk or tape to mark their efforts
- Medicine ball piggy in the middle: kids in a circle, squat and throw a light ball to someone on the other side without the person in the middle intercepting
- Skipping: simply lay out the skipping ropes and let them play
- Bean bag toss: working on accuracy while throwing a bean bag into a bucket
Decide on your expectations and be consistent
Once you have decided on a pre-WOD plan for your class, teach them what to do and consistently reinforce the expectation. If they see you letting one kid eat their snack while they watch their buddy hold plank, then they will know that breaking the rules is okay. Consistency allows kids to relax into the environment because they always know what to expect. You will earn their respect and trust, paving the way to a great session once the clock starts.
Establishing a partially structured environment for your younger athletes to engage in as soon as they arrive will greatly improve the experience of your group class. We are Trainers, not babysitters, and we have a lot to offer these kids. Not just how to get stronger, faster and more fit, but how to be respectful in different environments, how to prioritize and prepare for our activities, how to be social and have fun while in a shared, public space.
Enjoy creating a positive pre-WOD space for your kids and teens. They may not directly thank you for it, but I can almost guarantee you’ll thank yourself!