For the past several weeks, Mikki and I have been making our position clear with respect to what we view as the problematic culture of youth sports in the US. We have punctuated each statement with a warning that this culture is finding its way into our community in the form of children’s fitness competitions. These competitions allow children under age 12 to participate—and by participate, we mean compete full bore in high-intensity workouts.
It should be abundantly clear by now that we are absolutely against this practice. And it should be pretty clear that this is not simply a pet peeve of ours. This is not just opinions and theory. We have spent the last decade developing CrossFit Kids in practice, in the gym, with children of all ages. Methodologically, CrossFit Kids focuses on teaching children fundamental motor and movement patterns. We’re talking about mechanics. It takes years of patient training for children to develop consistently good movement. It is only at that point that we advocate increasing the intensity for young athletes. Our position reflects the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the stance of every major position statement on youth resistance training, and the recommendations in every pertinent book and peer-reviewed article. Not a single authoritative voice suggests intensity before consistently good mechanics for children. Not one.
To a professional youth coach like a CrossFit Kids trainer, our position is obvious. Those who are not CrossFit Kids trainers can be forgiven if they do not understand that allowing young children to participate in fitness competitions threatens to undermine our ability to do what is best for children. In this case, best practices to Mikki and I mean cementing good movement not just to improve sports performance and overall fitness but to prevent injuries that could haunt children for the rest of their lives.
What is deeply troubling to us is that there are CrossFit Kids trainers who are allowing their young athletes (age 11 and under) to compete in fitness events; some even organized by people with no experience working with children. In publicly available videos, we have seen children as young as 7 moving dangerously over and over and over, with the only sounds from the adults being yells to go harder and get more reps. Mikki and I were shocked to see children not only allowed to move so poorly, but in some cases, forced to move so poorly.
CrossFit Kids is not a neighborhood recreational sports league that must make do with parents who volunteer their leisure time to do little more than shepherd a team through a season. CrossFit Kids trainers carry the tremendous burden of children’s welfare on their shoulders every time these young athletes enter our gyms. If they do not feel that weight they should not be running a CrossFit Kids program.