• Bowie Matteson

The Gym as a Classroom

With the right coach, you can turn your fitness routine into a full-fledged schooling experience.

Make the most of every coaching opportunity.

Use fitness to learn about more than just the movements.

Anyone who has worked with kids before understands the frequency of teachable moments that emerge throughout any given day. Kids are sponges, absorbing, observing, computing and re-enacting their environment. For anyone leading in that environment, it's an opportune time to instill important academic material.

And these more outside-world oriented skills can be taken aside from the character-driven, life-skill oriented teachings that good coaches, teachers and parents already enforce. While confidence and the ability to handle failure are the skills that are the heart and soul of what coaching is about, there is more academically-oriented information that can and should be taught as well.

Getting kids interested in fitness breaks ground in a number of potential learning areas:


Anatomy and physiology


Body systems

Running around and getting sweaty can serve as an opportunity to learn more about what sweat is, why it happens and how to recover lost fluids. Fast heartbeats and deep breaths may make you curious about your circulatory system.

I remember a coach asking me after a breakthrough lift:

Coach: "How did that feel?"

Me: Really good.

Coach: "Do you know why?"

I always appreciated my teachers and coaches that were able to break down material and explain each activity to the n-th degree. The beauty in this was that after having learned what was happening, I developed an eye to look for and experience what I had just learned.

Part of what makes learning body movements so much fun is that you are given unlimited practice time. Keeping your knees over your toes during a squat? Check the bottom drawer of the fridge and notice how much easier it is to stand up when you use the proper musculature. Wondering why your shoulders are always so tight? Remember how postural muscles work and how to engage your upper back. Sore from last week's workout? Know the different physiologic responses to different lifts. And the scope of this information spans to all areas of life. The better and more informed your movements, the healthier you remain later in your life.

Don't underestimate the power or influence of a good teacher or coach. My college strength coach was such an effective, informed teacher, it led me to pursue a career in strength and conditioning. Working with him has influenced the way I train with every one of my clients.

In short, to the coaches, teachers and parents of the world: Fit a lesson in anywhere you can. There's no telling where the information you share will lead the kids you coach. Instill an appreciation for and deep desire to learn more about the inner workings of what you teach and how it connects to leading a healthier, more well-rounded life. Whether it's making the right nutritional choices or knowing the difference between a chest breath or belly breath, each nugget of information you hand out should plant a seed in the child's mind.

Happy planting!

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