By: BJ Williston, SPARK Trainer and Curriculum Development Consultant
The start of a new year is a great time to teach kids about the value of setting goals, writing action plans, and setting short-term objectives. If you haven’t already covered the FITT Principle this year, now is the perfect time to teach it as it relates to reaching fitness related goals.
Start with considering the topic of goal setting and how you want to teach it. For students grades 6-12, The SPARK Programs provides a guidebook called the SPARKfit Fitness Lab which can help your students assess their fitness and set realistic fitness goals as well as create a personal wellness profile using basic nutrition and fitness concepts. Check out the guidebook for great lessons to help you teach these concepts.
Teaching Goal Setting Skills in Physical Education
When it comes to setting fitness-related goals, students first need to know their strengths and weaknesses. A good first step would include taking baseline measures to assess their fitness. Be sure to measure all 5 components of health-related fitness: aerobic capacity (e.g. the Pacer or mile run/walk), muscular strength and endurance (e.g. curl-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, etc.), flexibility (e.g. sit and reach, shoulder stretch, etc.) and body composition (e.g. skinfolds, BMI, etc.). Once they have their scores they should focus on the components which need the most improvement. It is human nature to want to build on our strengths rather than work on our weaknesses, so students may resist. For example, strong runners who have little flexibility may want to set a goal to be an even better runner. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a better runner, but to be more well-rounded fitness-wise, they should also focus on their weaknesses, like flexibility. When it comes to goal setting we have to take a look at how we got where we are from a positive perspective, then build a positive future on the positives of the past.
Goals in fitness should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound. Teaching students how to write goals is a valuable lesson. Give them examples as well as plenty of time to reflect on what they want to improve. A SMART goal would look like “In 6 weeks I will be able to reach 2 cm forward on the sit and reach box for both R and L legs.” They should not be vague, as in “I want to be more flexible.”
How to Reach Goals
Once they’ve set their goal(s) it is time to teach them how to reach them. This is where the FITT Principle and the Overload Principle come in to play. Use the Fitness Lab Fact Sheet “FITT What is it?!” to introduce the concept. As students build long-term fitness goals it’s important to keep all parts of the FITT Principle in mind. Frequency (How often are you active?), Intensity (how much energy are you using?), Time (How long are you active?), and Type (Which type of activities are you doing? I.e. cardio, strength/endurance training, flexibility training.) Understanding the Overload Principle is also vital to achieving their goals. Simply stated, students need to continually work harder as their bodies adjust to what they are doing now. For example, they may start with doing 10 push-ups a day to work toward increasing upper body strength, but that needs to increase as the muscles get used to that. Overload can and should apply to all parts of the FITT Principle. They can increase the frequency, the intensity, the time, and add other types of activity to cross-train. Understanding how both of these fitness principles affect them will help students in the next step which is writing their Action Plan.
Action planning involves setting up short-term objectives that lead students on their path to reaching long-term goals. They may be set as monthly, weekly, or daily objectives. Teach students to be specific and make sure these are measurable so they can tell if they’ve been achieved. Once they reach a short-term objective, they should be ready with the next one. The road to their ultimate goal is paved with the baby steps of short-term objectives. They also need to know that the road is not always straightforward. Sadly, but predictably, there will be setbacks. They will backslide, get injured, have a big school event, or a family issue. Many of these will be out of their control. They need to learn that these happen to everyone. Some kids have more barriers than others, but they all have something. Teaching students to understand this is huge. They need to see that it doesn’t mean failure if they stumble along the way. A great strategy is having students keep a Portfolio along the way. Here they can journal what types of roadblocks they are running into and how they are getting around them. Learning lessons from these will help them not just in fitness goals, but life goals as well.
Teach students the importance of social support. Who will support them on their journey? Who can they ask for advice, for rides to activities, for emotional support, and for encouragement? Write down the names and numbers of everyone who will support them. Have them come up with a list of folks they can be active with and schedule activities with them throughout the week. Workout buddies help in multiple ways. They help to ensure they workout, since they don’t want to let their buddy down, and they make workouts more enjoyable. It’s a good idea for students to join a group or team that keeps physical activity a priority such as a running club, sports team, or group fitness at the gym. They need to know that there is no reason to do this alone. Research shows they will be more successful with support. Using the list they wrote of the barriers they run into, have them write a list of the types of support they may need. Then, teach them how to get it.
Making it a Habit
Once they have their goals, their short-term objectives, and their support systems ready, they need to get busy following their plan. At first it will be difficult because these behaviors are new and different. They take extra time out of every day. Knowing that it takes at least 21 days of repeated behavior to form a habit means you need to check in with them every week or so to see how they are doing. Make time at the beginning of one class per week for them to write in their portfolios and to discuss their successes and setbacks. Have them make a list of their good habits. Examples might be:
- I walk my dog every day.
- I floss my teeth daily.
- I eat whole grain bread.
Next, have them think of some things to change for the better to help achieve their goal. Write a list of these too. Try a new one every month. Examples for healthy habits might include:
- Replace junk food with healthful snacks.
- Take a walk after dinner each night instead of watching TV.
- Drink water rather than soda.
Teaching these concepts at this time of year, if you haven’t already, will help your students to set goals and to learn how to achieve them. Remember, teaching them once is not enough. Students need to practice these many times. Be sure to schedule check-ins weekly to keep them on track. Using the SPARKfit Fitness Lab Fact Sheets and Portfolio Building exercises will help you get your students on the right path toward improved fitness.