After ten years of coaching, managing and running CrossFit gyms one common question that I get asked from members and non members alike is “Should my child do CrossFit?” My answer 100 times out of 100 is of course “Yes!”.
As children are spending more and more time on electronic devices, are more isolated from their peers after two years of a pandemic and are now given the least amount of structured P.E. time in elementary and middle schools than ever before (4), CrossFit is not just an option, it may be the perfect solution.
Yes CrossFit when taught appropriately and when utilizes appropriate CrossFid Kids programming will teach amazing body awareness. Children will learn the foundational mechanics of Olympic lifting and gymnastics. They will create the beginning of a life filled with a healthy passion for physical activity and proper nutrition. Hopefully through this process they also have a ton of fun!
CrossFit for children and young adults is an amazing answer to help battle childhood obesity, type II diabetes, depression, anxiety, ADHD and asthma (1). The positive physical benefits through exercise coincided with proper nutrition and adequate sleep will benefit adults and children alike. This information is very well documented and very well received as common knowledge among the fitness and non fitness communities alike. If you research online you will be hard pressed to find any literature that disputes these facts. What is not as nearly well documented is the positive benefits of a Tribe or Community like CrossFit and what a sense of belonging to a this type of group, clan or team can do for a child’s mental and emotional development.
Children must learn life lessons in athletics, scouts, afterschool clubs and churches. These communities are beneficial in the development of a child in more than just their physical health and fitness, but their mental and emotional well being. When children don’t have access to these programs or teams a child’s overall health can be greatly negatively effected.
My wife and I are parents of two beautiful daughters Harper (3) and Harlow (2). These two as most gym owners kids have done, grow up in and around the gym. We have caught them jumping onto couch cushions mimicking a box jump, trying to lift things they probably should not be trying to lift, flopping around on the rings when in the gym and turning any mundane activity into a “race”. These two are CrossFit kids through and through.
The movements that my two little girls have picked up through watching myself, my wife and most of all our members happened without ever directly teaching them very much. Kids are sponges and they learn and remember a whole lot more that we realize. The movements and mechanics kids develop in our classes and camps are fun to see and I am always proud as a coach and parent to see what kids are physically capable of, but this is not what this article is about.
I have seen the most benefit to my children and in the youth that we have coached at CrossFit City of Lakes over the last decade are the “The Intangibles” that surround CrossFit and the CrossFit methodology. Children and young adults that we have had the pleasure of coaching over the last ten years unknowingly learn so many life lessons and social skills without even realizing it. This is truly where the magic lies in having your child participate in CrossFit at an early age. Not the increased strength in their squat or the ability to see them flip up onto their hands in your living room, It is what ” Life Lessons” your child will take away from CrossFit. That is the real magic.
So when you think about getting your child involved in CrossFit, remember its not just squats and burpees. It’s everything else that the CrossFit community and CrossFit methodology will teach your child.
Below are the top “10 Life Lessons” your child will learn from CrossFit, and again none of them have anything to do with the physical improvements that CrossFit will teach your child, but the life lessons and intangibles your child will take away from participating in this amazing methodology we love.
10 Life Lessons and Skills That Your Child Will Learn From CrossFit
10) - Math - Believe it or not young kids see an improvement in Math and counting skills at a very young age participating in CrossFit. Remembering rep schemes, rounds in workouts and weights used in a class all force practical application in mathematics skills. We have seen 3 year olds remember sequences of numbers “21-15-9” or the “Blue weights are 45 lbs and Green ones 25 lbs” that grown adults we have had in class for years still seem to sometimes forget.
9) - Public Speaking - Every kids class and camp we have ever held we start the hour by having each child say their name and answer a funny ice breaker question to help them get to know one another and to also help them gain some confidence in front of their peers. The act of simply speaking in a large group of 10-20 kids and adults can be terrifying for most young children. With some gentle nudges and encouraged practice shy and quiet kids become beaming with confidence and become more and more comfortable speaking in front of others. There is no zoom screens here, this is real life and our kids need more and more real world practice with interpersonal interactions to help increase and improve self confidence when talking to others.
8) - Clean Up Your Toys - Just like our adult athletes in class, our youth athletes must put their weights and equipment away as well. They must wipe them down, clean them up and put them away. The consistent messaging of taking care of their own equipment and other peoples equipment translates to the completion of chores and tasks needed to be done at home or at school.
7) - Interact With Different Types Of People- During many of our summer kids camps we have hosted we have had a wide range of youth from all different backgrounds. Ages, genders, races, sexual orientations, athletic skill levels and sometimes even physical or mental disabilities. We are all different in this world and having our youth be exposed to this at an early age is so important. In our summer camps we often see friends and groups of kids hesitant to engage or partner with kids not in their immediate friend circle. We combat this from day one where kids are encouraged to pair up for warm ups, lifting and skill sections of class and even in partner and team workouts with those that are different than themselves. The opportunity to workout and interact with peers that don’t just look and act like themselves will make them better well rounded humans for the rest of their lives.
6) - Goal Setting - At a very young age youth CrossFit athletes identify skills and movements that they can not yet accomplish. To accomplish said skills will require practice and training to accomplish in the near and sometimes far away future. My daughter has wanted to jump down from the fourth step at our house and land on her feet without having to put her hands on the ground for the last 3 months. She practices every day 5 to sometimes 15 times before we leave for school each morning. This may seem like a small task, but to her it was huge! She finally accomplished this last week and you would have thought she won the CrossFit Games. This required her to set a goal, establish a plan to achieve it and had accountability to continuously work at her goal to finally achieve it. Whatever the task small or large one that our kids want to complete, CrossFit will help teach them to set a goal and work towards it.
5) - Listening / Learning - Listening and Learning from a parent, teacher and CrossFit Coach is important to the overall development of a child. As children are spending more and more time mindlessly glued to devices, in some cases for hours a day, giving kids the opportunity to learn new physically and mentally stimulating skills are so important.
4) - Learn How to Compete (Learn to Win and Lose) - To say that you or your child is not competitive is Bull! Each and every human being has a degree of competitive fire within themselves. When properly trained and fostered within a healthy outlet, competitiveness is a strong skill that will help drive successful young adults in school, in athletics and also later on in their careers. In early days of CrossFit participation with young kids scores and results are never spoken about or recorded. Children are learning and developing proper mechanics and consistency. As children establish the proper skills needed to increase intensity competition naturally occurs. When competing sometimes you win and sometimes you lose and thats ok. This needs to be taught to our youth from the very beginning. Not that winning is everything, but that losing teaches us what we need to work on. The ability to do both and use both opportunities to get better as an athlete and a person is what is important.
3) - Punctuality - Class starts at 1:00pm….. Not 1:02pm! Unlike a normal gym setting where youth and young adults can show up and begin exercising as they feel, CrossFit runs classes most often on the hour. Our kids classes and camps are no different. Youth athletes must begin to understand time and how other peoples time is just as valuable as their time. We have had students arrive late for a class and will come up to us and say “My Mom was running late today.” Our response is then, “Well you didn’t let your Mom know how important it was to arrive to class on time today.” Hopefully Mom didn’t get the minivan stuck in a snow bank here in Minnesota! The ability to learn responsibility and accountability is so important and a little skill like being on time will hopefully carry with them for the rest of their life.
2) - We support and celebrate the last person finishing as much as the first! -
I once had a L1 Seminar Staff Coach tell me while watching athletes at a CrossFit Gym cheer on the participating athletes as they were completing a workout. He compared it to “watching a virus spread”. What this coach was referring to was the increased intensity and increased volume of athletes authentically and emotionally supporting the finishing athletes at the end of a WOD. As one athlete finished the workout, the finished athlete then became the support and cheerleader to the next athlete, this process happened over and over and over until every athlete that had finished was “infected” and continued to support and cheer on the single remaining athlete. This is taught to CrossFit athletes from day one. We support everyone and cheer on everyone no matter how fast or slow they are. We are all in it together and we all help each other get through whatever tough challenge is thrown at us.
1) - Development of Mental and Emotional Toughness -
Completing challenging tasks at any age will improve perseverance and mental fortitude. We must not run away from challenges or try to eliminate them from ourselves and our kids lives but face them. I recently read a great quote about mental toughness in the CrossFit journal where the author wrote “in medicine, the way to solve the problem is to remove it” but to develop mental toughness we must, “face it and overcome it” (5). You can not eliminate a challenge and expect to grow from it. With physical and more importantly mental and emotional toughness we must continuously expose ourselves to the stimulus to allow it to help us grow and improve.
My two daughters are very different. Harlow our youngest loves the water! She has zero fear. She would jump into the water face first at just over a year old. Our oldest daughter Harper is much more timid. When she starting out swimming would require us to hold her hand and hold on to her as tight as we could in our parent and me swimming classes. Both my daughters, but both extremely different. To improve Harper’s fear of the water, we couldn’t eliminate the stimulus, we knew we couldn’t leave the pool and never come back and expect her to feel more confident and comfortable, but rather we chose to continuously expose her in new and fun ways to allow her to gain confidence and a little mental and emotional toughness. She is still not quite a barracuda in the water, but she is getting there. CrossFit will make kids feel uncomfortable because it takes them out of their comfort zone. But that feeling of uncomfortability will help them grow into tough little CrossFitters.
- Jason Johnson
- CrossFit Level 2 Trainer
- Owner of CrossFit City of Lakes
- CrossFit Journal “Will CrossFit Make American Kids Smarter?”
- CrossFit Journal “CrossFit Kids: Practical Application”
- CrossFit Kids Training Manual
- Pew Research Center
- CrossFit Journal “Mental Toughness”