There are many reasons to offer kids fitness programs and child care within your club. However, it’s important that you and your staff are well prepared for the risks associated with developing these types of programs. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that, every year, about 3.5 million children under the age of 14 are injured while playing sports or participating in other recreational activities. Even though many of these injuries occur outside of a club setting, it is crucial to be aware of the unique safety and legal issues you could face when working with children.
Here are three types of scenarios that could happen at your club and how you can use these examples to review your policies for kids and teens and prepare for situations like these which could impact kids’ abilities to enjoy a safe, effective sweat session:
Aaron, a middle-schooler training to make the town football team, decides that he is going to start going to your gym to build muscle mass and bulk up before the tryouts begin. On his first day of training, he walks into the gym to meet with a staff member at the front desk. He asks a few questions about the equipment in the weight room and the staff member asks how old he is. He responds with his age, and the staff members informs him that, for safety reasons, he is not allowed to use this equipment because he is at a higher risk for hurting himself.
Should Aaron be allowed to use the free weights? And if so, what plans should the club have in place that would ensure Aaron is trained, supervised, and is doing age appropriate exercise?
Yes, he should be allowed to as long as necessary precautions are taken. The skeletal system has not yet been fully developed in children and because of this, children are more vulnerable to injury than adults would be. When teaching children how to use weights and freestanding machines, it is important to focus on light resistance, controlled movements, and proper technique to keep them safe. Professional healthcare and fitness professional groups agree that a supervised strength-training program that follows the recommended guidelines is safe and effective for children. There is no recommended minimum age requirement for a child to participate in a strength training program, although the child should be able to follow directions and show adequate balance, which generally occurs by 7 to 8 years of age.
Many clubs require that younger members take a class before they are able to train without supervision or may require that parents be present. Whatever you do, it is important to have a system in place that ensures that your younger members do not start training without proper instruction. To that end, it is useful to have a comprehensive policy which may include: whether the club has a minimum age requirement for allowing the use of certain equipment, whether parental permission is required, whether a safety training session with a trainer or consultant is required prior to using the facilities for the first time, whether physician approval is required, and whether staff supervision is required.