6 Reasons Why Coaching Kids Makes You a Better Coach
Photos provided by CrossFit LA.
As some of you know, I worked at CrossFit Los Angeles for about seven years. During that time I founded our kids program. While I took college courses on child psychology and education, took the CrossFit Kids certification, and watched other kids programs, most of my learning took place on the gym floor and was administered by the kids themselves.
While the kids may have been the “students” I was the one who had to be the quick learner, having never before taught children and equipped only with my book learning. I learned valuable lessons from those children, which made me a better coach overall, to adults and children alike.
So, in order to give you a jump-start, here are six reasons why coaching kids will make you a better coach:
1. Kids Remember Everything You Say
It’s pretty amazing, really. I learned quickly to not say anything for which I didn’t later want to be held accountable. I consider myself an honest person, but I realized through interacting with kids that, like many of us, I had a habit of issuing vague statements like, “Sure, Johnny, we’ll do rope swings another time,” or “We’re going to have a party sometime in the spring.”
Well lo-and-behold if Johnny didn’t remind me first thing the next week that rope swings were scheduled and I had completely forgotten, because really I was just trying to get Johnny to sit down, and darned if little Sally didn’t ask a month later when the party was scheduled. Kids will teach you, fast and furiously, to not say anything you don’t mean to follow through on. Kids teach you to be clear and accountable with your word.
2. Kids Are (Bluntly) Honest
Adults are masters of double-speak and not saying what they mean. You can ask an adult to their face what their opinion is and they will likely not tell you. Kids? Not so much. Kids will tell you when you suck. They’ll question you. They’ll be glaringly obvious in their boredom. They’ll flat out tell you something is stupid. Listen to them. They’re mostly right.
3. Parents Need Coaching, Too
Being a good coach to kids means being a good coach to parents. There are as many types of parents as there are children and you will need to navigate their energies, complaints, and issues, just as you do the children’s. Sometimes the parents’ objectives may be at conflict with the child’s, and sometimes the parents are the cause of conflict in the classroom, having brought the family dynamics with them to the gym.
But if you enroll the parents in the success of the child and in how you intend to achieve that success, parents can also be the best way for your coaching to reach far beyond the gym, into the home, into the family, and really change the course of multiple generations. What if you had that reach with all your adult clients, as well? What if you could enroll and engage all of their family members?
3. Kids Will Make You Use Your Imagination
My friend Kenny Kane taught me a lot when I first began coaching kids. He taught me about finding the “magic” in things. For kids, so much of the world is brand new. Like, actually brand new. And they don’t have the vocabulary to navigate the world like adults do. So, you ask them a lot of questions, you invite them to explore things, and you describe exercises and concepts in colorful, adventurous ways. You have to imagine what a kid can relate to when you’re teaching them a movement. Are we gorillas? Are we throwing beach balls? Are we holding up the clouds? What do you move like if you’re made of Jell-O versus wood?
Being spontaneous and creative in your cuing as a coach is essential for all ages, and coaching kids gave me a daily practice in expanding my creativity and coaching lexicon. This creative thought made me a better coach to adults because I could reach them in different and new ways.
4. Stickers Are Universal Currency
Maybe this one isn’t quite so literal, but the point here is little tokens of praise and accomplishment go a long way. Kids will do anything for stickers. Kids will actually stop talking and raise their hands for stickers. Even teenagers love stickers. And you know what? Adults really like a little acknowledgement and celebration, as well.
5. You Will Discover Your Silliness
My biggest worry when I started coaching kids was that I wasn’t going to be fun enough. I actually lost sleep over the fact I might not be able to be silly. The kids might find me boring, I worried, and I feared they would say that to my face. (Because they will!) But in reality I soon discovered the biggest gift the children would give me – my silliness. Turns out I’m darn silly at heart.
The goofier and sillier and crazier you are, the more license it gives the kids to be so themselves. And laughter will ensue and learning will ensue. And if you’re in a group of adults and you’re trying to get them to take a risk, doesn’t it just make sense they might do it if you take a risk first?
6. Kids Sense Your Caring and Give It Back
Since I left LA and moved to Portland sometimes I miss the kids. They brought me little gifts – necklaces, drawings, tokens from family vacations. They came up to me at the end of class and asked if they could give me a hug. They told me I was a good coach or that they liked me. I adored those kids and was amazed by them on a daily basis. No matter what kind of day I was having, no matter if I didn’t want to teach at all, there was never once that coaching the kids didn’t put me in a better mood. It was always the most fun in my day.
The kids feel that. They feel your heart and they feel your giving. And they give it right back to you, in weird little drawings you’ll never decipher, in stories they want to share about their lives because they trust you, in their willingness to try new things you show them, in the honesty and generosity only a kid can have.
Adults won’t always be so generous with you, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t send them your caring. They get it; they just can’t always give it back. But you must give it. Kids make it obvious, but it is there in the adults as well – there is a direct relationship between the care you give and the growth your clients experience.
Maybe you don’t want to be a kids coach, and it truly isn’t for everyone, but there is something for everyone to learn from coaching kids. I highly recommend anyone whose life’s goal is to be a trainer, coach, or teacher interact with children for some period of time. They are a litmus test, they are a challenge, and they will teach you universal lessons only children can.