Updated: Jan 30, 2020
I get it, we all see the videos on Instagram and Facebook of the "FitFam" working out together as a family, with the young girl crushing some barbell squats or the little boy flashing some fancy ladder drill. It's easy to get caught up in the show of it all, and wonder if your kid is falling behind because they aren't training. I've gotten emails before about training four year old kid, or how to make their 11 year old leaner and stronger.
So I'm going to let you in on a little secret on how to get the best training for your young athlete for free! This training trick has tons of variations and can easily be done anywhere.
It's called the great outdoors.
Now, it might sound like I'm trying to pull your leg, but I'm being very serious. Playing outside in an unstructured way allows for development of crucial athletic qualities. With all of the training equipment, books, and tutorials you can find online or in the book store, the great outdoors is one of the best tools you have in your arsenal to raising a healthy and successful athletes. When kids spend a lot of time playing outside, they consequentially develop the following athletic qualities:
When you first kick a kid out into the backyard, they have to figure out what the heck they're going to do. Outdoor play is unique in style because the possibilities are endless. Kids have to figure out what they are going to do with the space they have be it big or small, the toys or gadgets they have laying around, and the amount of time they have. By opening up the possibilities for activity, kids can begin to explore the world and their imagination by seeing the opportunities available to them.
2. Balance and Coordination
The outdoors has a very unique attribute that most sports fields, training facilities, or parks lack: surface variation and instability. The array of terrain availability that one can get in untamed fields, woods, and backyards can offer great advantages to developing balance and coordination. When you have to carefully choose steps to avoiding tripping on a root, falling in divot, or falling over on a slanted rock, you start to develop a better sense of balance. In addition, you're also having to focus on where your foot is in time and space to make sure it is actually going where you want it to.
Climbing trees, jumping off of swings, or moving rocks/logs around to build forts have far more reward to offer on the side of developing strength than they do risk of injury. While they may seem inherently dangerous, they allow for muscular and nervous system development. When a kid climbs a tree, not only are they repeatedly doing step-ups and pull-ups, the nerve signals that a relaying back and forth from the brain to the limbs create a more efficient nervous system. When they jump off of a swing and land on their feet, they are developing strength by learning to control forces that act upon the body (like gravity). These are just examples, but they can be found everywhere. My siblings and I were constantly trying to dam the stream behind our house growing up by placing big rocks together in certain parts, which later played into applicable strength for my brother and I on the wrestling mat. It's not rocket science: being outdoors provides a lot of opportunities for natural resistance training.
The list could go on, but what is important to see is this: we often overlook one of the greatest training and athletic development methods for kids, even when it's the cheapest option available. Unless you're going to some boujie park that makes you pay to go, then playing outside is free. There's also a ton of other health benefits that you get from playing outside (there's a book on this called Unplugged). Eventually down the road, training will become a factor. But that is often not until an athlete is mentally or physically ready for that type of structured work. So before you fork out hundreds of dollars on training for your seven year old, take a moment to consider how you can get them free training from the comfort of your backyard.