How do we get kids off the couch and up and exercising? Let Gecko Kids founder (and upcoming Bachelor) Sam Wood tell you how.
The Australian Government recommends that children and young people should participate in at least 60 minutes (and up to several hours) of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity every day.
However, only six out of ten children aged between five and 14 years participate in sport outside of school, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Furthermore, a recent Australian Health Survey found that 25% of Australian children aged five to 17 years, are overweight or obese.
To beat these statistics, and a growing obesity problem in Australia, there are many reasons for kids to be physically active – from healthy growth of bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons to reducing the risk of emotional problems such as anxiety and depression.
That’s why Sam Wood who founded Gecko Kids, a pioneering centre that hosts parties, after-school programs and holiday activities for kids that combine fun, fitness, sports development and socialising.
Wood is now Australia's leading kids’ fitness professional. While studying exercise science, Wood worked with hundreds of children as a personal trainer and coach. Gecko was born to allow such amazing results to be experienced by many youngsters. He is on several fitness and business boards, as well as regularly writing and presenting on kids’ health and fitness.
He has focused on building a rewarding career from helping kids to become healthy and fit.
1. Most people in the industry begin as generic personal trainers - so how did you come to found Gecko Kids?
Indeed, from 2001 – 2006 I ran my own personal training business at Harper's, Brighton, which at the time was the biggest personal training facility in the country. While completing a Bachelor in Applied Science, I began training junior athletes aged from eight and 16.
Then word began to spread throughout the surrounding schools that I worked with children and I started receiving enquires from parents wanting their children to run better, move better, feel better, increase confidence and so on. Before long I had parents collecting their children from school at 1pm or 2pm and coming to do a session with me instead of finishing their school day. I was doing 80 PT appointments a week of which 40 were with children!
I wanted to create a more child-friendly fitness centre and to my astonishment, there was nothing of the sort worldwide. So after some serious market research we opened the doors of Gecko Kids Fitness in February, 2007 – Australia's first kids’ fitness centre. After three months we had over 400 children enrolled in our programs. Seven years later and Gecko Sports now has 35 franchisees providing after school programs, school incursions and parties for over 30,000 Aussie kids every week. We are on a mission to achieve 90 franchises Australia wide and look to international expansion.
2. So what’s the most rewarding thing about working in kids’ fitness?
Kids’ fitness can make a real difference. So many children are screaming out for a great coach in their life that can be a role model, friend and mentor. You are often working with a blank canvas and you can establish some great habits and positive attitudes at a really early age that will hopefully carry them through to later in life.
3. What's the difference between training adults and kids?
Kids are completely different - and they are not just little adults - this should never be forgotten.
Training needs to be, first and foremost, fun. Children have a different mindset, and they are very much in the moment. They are training for ‘the now’. They aren't interested in getting into shape over six weeks, so they need every session to be dynamic, challenging and engaging.
They are also very different physically, so they shouldn't be using adult designed equipment, doing weights or running on treadmills until they have developed to the right size and have the right muscular development and movement patterns.
4.What are the top three characteristics of an ideal fitness professional suited to working with kids?
The first one would be high emotional intelligence, as it helps you relate to kids when they are tired, cranky or just need motivation. The next one would be a good understanding of the human body, as all kids are growing and developing at different rates and the third one would be a great personality to make training dynamic and fun.
5. What qualifications are required to be a personal trainer for kids?
Currently adult PT qualifications and a working with children card (WWC) are all that you need.
6. What advice would you offer students who are looking to specialise with kids upon entering the fitness industry?
Be aware of what you are getting yourself into and get as much hands-on practical experience as you can. Speak to people and also start training kids you know to determine whether this is for you.
What do you think about Sam Wood's advice? How do you get kids involved in exercise?
To discover more great expert tips about strength training, health and fitness, check out the rest of Open College's interview series here.
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