Coaching Fitness by Being Fit

What is the most important thing you can do to encourage good fitness in your players?

a. have them run?
b. have them do calisthenics?
c. give them a home program for non-practice days?
d. be fit yourself

As an exercise physiologist, I certainly believe running, strength and home programs are important to help kids get fit, but being fit yourself is essential. Much is said about the importance of mentoring players. We think of this as being a role model, setting an example in our behavior. Modeling fitness as a lifestyle may be the most long-lasting of behaviors we can model.

  • Do you run warm ups with your players?
  • Do you stretch with them after practice?
  • Are you active on the field for drills and skills?
  • Do you partner with them if there is an odd number of players?

All of these things show your players that you’re fit for the game. I found that at about 14 or 15 years old my players started to outrun me and outgun me. So be it. That is nature’s way. But they generally acted pleased when I was on their team for scrimmages, and they welcomed me even when I wasn’t faster, stronger or more skilled. I still played. And that’s the fun of it.

Maintaining the recommended weight is an expression of respect for our bodies.

Let’s face it. If you are an youth player, who are you going to take fitness advice from? The guy with the gut who lights up a cigarette as he pulls out of the parking lot or the one who carries his own bag of balls and walks with a spring in his step?

Bob Bradley, former head coach of the US Men’s National Team, now head coach of the Egyptian National team, is a great example. This NPR article emphasizes that he’s engaged with his players on the field and off, even though most don’t speak English. He has earned the respect of his players by embracing their people and their culture in spite of extremely difficult circumstances.

They tell me there’s an obesity epidemic rolling across this country. Let’s meet it with fitness, and let it begin with us. The kids are watching.

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