I was fortunate to grow up in a very active family, with a father and mother who appreciated physical exercise, sports, and all things adventurous. My dad, Barry, was a talented high school and college athlete, and became a very well-respected youth, club and high school coach in my hometown. I grew up in a house where everyone spent time outside playing, exercising, and roughhousing together, and my parents provided a great example of consistent healthy lifestyle choices.
My dad worked long hours but always took the time to do physical activities with his kids. He was a master at weaving fun into training activities and was ahead of his time in “Ninja Training and Spartan Obstacle Course design.” We also played a ton of traditional games like tag, hide and seek, and every variation of back yard sport that could be imagined. My dad (and mom) rarely watched us play, but took active parts in the games or in the activities that we were involved in. We spent hours doing backyard obstacle courses together, which typically involved some physical training with some chores that needed done. An example would look like this – sprint around the house, leap the picnic table without touching it, after completing 10 pull ups, and loading two cement bags in the back of his truck.
As a four-year-old, I vividly remember chasing my dad up a steep hill at a local park as we worked sprint technique and conditioning. He used that same hill to teach me to properly tuck my head while performing a somersault and to be able to control my body while directionally rolling down that same hill. I learned so much from him about body awareness, strength, agility, and technique without ever being in a formal coaching environment with him until much later in life.
My dad was a master at using play to teach fundamental techniques on movement skills and body awareness. It was at this same park that he introduced me and my friends to the “Centrifugal Force Monster” while spinning us on the merry-go-round. He would speak to us in this deep, scary voice, as he would start to spin the merry-go-round faster and faster, letting us know that the Monster was coming to get us and there was little we could do to resist him… After spinning most of us off the ride, he would then show us how to maximize our ability to hold on by showing us a hook grip, telling us to keep a slight bend in our arms, while keeping our elbows pointed toward our ribcage. The next time the Force Monster tried to get us – we could hang on the ride and avoid his wrath….
My dad was instrumental in helping me to build an adventurous spirit. He never told me to not jump off things in my back yard or to not climb the tall trees that surrounded our house growing up. Instead, he taught me how to land, roll, cut, and decelerate with proper technique. He spent time helping me design my ascent up the tallest trees in my neighborhood and helped me build the strength required to handle the tasks. We had minimal equipment at home, but we always had heavy things to lift, bars and ropes to hang from, and many things that could be used to jump on or over. My parents invested in a trampoline and some old mats and encouraged us to experiment with gymnastics and tumbling. I spent hours in informal play with my dad growing up and I know those sessions set the foundation for my sport success in later years. More importantly, those hours allowed me to develop a love for physical activity, play, and coaching that I get to use today.
As I got older, my dad transitioned from informal play and conditioning activities to becoming an amazing coach for everything that I participated in. He was a wonderful teacher and had the great ability to simplify complex ideas and break concepts down into learnable units. He helped me understand movement principles and how the body could be trained to move optimally. He was the one that told and showed me that you could improve drastically at sports with the proper plan, program, and technical work. He was a master sport psychologist and he was instrumental in me developing the emotional control I needed to become a successful athlete. He did all of this without putting pressure on me to win and deepening our relationship with the time and attention he showed me while focusing on play and sport training.
I know it was my dad’s influence that motivated me to pursue multiple degrees and certifications in Exercise Physiology and start a career as a coach and educator. I spent 10 years training, coaching, and teaching elite athletes, and that experience was life changing. Helping move a high-level athlete to a higher level was rewarding, but I have enjoyed this current chapter of my life even more, because I believe the impact can be greater.
I have been blessed to have three children of my own and have spent the past few years trying my best to emulate my dad in many areas. I love playing and being active with my kids, and I am pretty sure they enjoy the time and attention from me. I’ve even developed a pretty scary sounding “Centrifugal Force Monster Voice,” although there are less merry go rounds around to use nowadays, and an adult can get in trouble for spinning one fast enough that kids fly off. Oh well…
I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot over the past two years as I have begun designing circuit routines and ninja courses at my home. I’ve been thrilled that my kids have been inviting many of our neighbors to our sessions, and our current training group is up to about 12 kids. I’ve been impressed with how fast the kids have been learning and improving on their skills, and I am working very hard to keep the programs fun, but also structured enough so that the kids see progress. I’ve expanded this program outside our neighborhood and am working with four youth sport organizations designing practice and at-home programs for the participants; I am enjoying great feedback from the parents and many of the kids on their “homework assignments.” These assignments involve simple workouts that the parents set up and supervise, and on occasion, participate in as well. The goal is to help the kids improve their strength, conditioning, agility, and body mechanics, while doing something fun with their parents.
My intent in this blog is to share how excited I have been to hear feedback from the kids, parents, and coaches that have been participating in this program. I have enjoyed sharing my passion and reminiscing about times and experience with my dad, while hearing about the gains the kids have been making. My encouragement to any parent reading this, is to find time to intentionally develop physical literacy and play in your kids. If you need some ideas on how to start this with your own family – I would love to help.