Last week I worked with my youngest client, Paul. He's 8. Great kid with a head full of thick vibrant red hair and a personality just as vibrant. His grandmother is a running client of mine and she asked me if I could work with Paul on running bases. Paul is on a coach-pitch little league team. We worked on some simple speed and agility drills and I talked to Paul about the leg muscles that help you move when you run. I told, Paul these muscles had to be strong to give you lots of power to get him to first base and beyond. We also talked about arm swing and how it's important to keep your arms at your sides and how they should be pumping just as much as your legs are moving. Paul was a great student, very alert, attentive and eager (a trainer's dream).
I set up a mock "home base" and "first base" and had Paul pretend to swing his bat and lay it down just as his baseball coach has instructed him and then had him blast off to first base, using all the techniques I had just taught him. Paul did great. You could see the concentration in his eyes. I noticed he was landing with really heavy feet and there was a loud clomping sound to his foot strike. So we talked about a better foot landing that would promote a smoother stride. He had no problem modifying his foot strike and soon was running with very little sound.
So, we ended that first session with a firm hand shake and off they went to a ball game. Yep, he had a game that night. We had only worked together for 30 minutes, but I was hoping I hadn't worn him out for his game. Then I remembered he was 8 not 46. LOL!
Later that night, I got a message on Facebook from Paul's grandmother. He had hit a home run and she said he blasted around the bases with his arms at his side pumping hard, a smooth stride and his legs just a moving. She could tell he was already putting his learning to good use.
After I read that FB message, I couldn't help but chuckle. When I was Paul's age, I played baseball for 2 years. Hated every minute of it. The first year we had to wear those old scruffy, itchy wool uniforms. There I was, the pudgy kid in this itchy as heck gray wool uniform out in right field, praying hard the ball wouldn't come my way. I knew from day one of practice that I was not cut out for baseball. Of course the ball that popped up and smashed into my face didnt' help any either. Somehow I made it through a second year and even one year of football before calling it quits with sports. A short career (so I thought).
I figured I was supposed to be the fat kid in the plaid pants. You know the happy-go-lucky kid who always had a joke to tell. Back then, if you were "husky" (as they so politely called it) you had very little options for clothing. And it seemed that the designers at the time believed that fat kids looked best in plaid. Better yet, plaid pants with reinforced knees (guys you remember Toughskins from Sears?).
That's how it played out for the rest of elementary school and middle school too. My older brother played baseball and tennis while I ate twin bags of Lays potato chips on the couch after school watching General Hospital. My best friend Dennis, however, was a gymnast. I always admired his bravery to be the only male on the gymnastics team. He was probably the strongest guy in our class, but he took a lot of ribbing from the other guys.
The thing that I didn't realize at the time was that it wasn't that I wasn't athletic or didn't have athletic potential, it was that I was not a team sports person. Problem was that back then (at least where I lived) there was very little to do other than play baseball, basketball, or football.
The summer before high school I decided to lose weight. I went on weight watchers and lost a little over 40 pounds. During my freshman year we had to run the mile in PE. The previous year in 8th grade, the mile had been torture. I ran the mile in 18:20 (and yes I was wearing plaid pants). This time it was different. I ran the mile in under 8 minutes. By no means a world record, but I was astounded. For the first time, I realized I could actually do something athletic. I still didn't have the confidence to go out for cross-country or track. Even after losing weight you still feel like a fat person on the inside, even when the weight is gone.
About 5 years later I ran my first 10K. This was around the time (in the mid 80s) when road races began to gain some popularity with "average runners." I was hooked. I finally found my niche. Something athletic where I could compete against myself...or others if I wanted.
Running has taken me many places and provided me the opportunity to meet many people from 8-year-old Paul to legendary Bart Yasso. Who'd a thunk that the fat kid in the plaid pants would be teaching an 8-year old how to run bases.
Children today as well as adults have so many more opportunities to be involved in exercise. If you're a parent, be observant and foster the activities that interest your child. If you're an adult, be willing to explore different options until you find what clicks. It might be walking, running, kick boxing, or hot yoga. Doesn't matter—just get up and move!