Galway based trainer worried about children’s fitness and health

A Craughwell based coach is the only finalist, outside of North America, to reach the top ten for the ‘Coach of the Year’ accolade awarded by the International Youth Conditioning Association (IYCA ). The association is the premier international authority in youth fitness and youth sports performance training, with about 35,000 members globally.

Shane Fitzgibbon has been coaching children in sport for more than 20 years and is extremely concerned about the decline in youngsters’ fitness and health. His dedication to the profession and a large body of charity and community work was noted by the IYCA, and he was selected as International Coach of Distinction in February, and later nominated for the Coach of the Year award. The winner will be announced at a major fitness summit in Kentucky on October 16.

Mr Fitzgibbon works as the chief instructor at the Connacht Taekwon-do Academy, he is also a youth athletic development coach and works with various GAA teams, along with offering a personal training service from his gym in Craughwell.

He believes there is not enough emphasis being placed on physical education at primary school level, and is worried about children’s ability to move well and learn to play sport without getting injured. “There is no structured PE teaching in many primary schools and the damage is done by the time children get to secondary school. A lot of teachers are not as concerned about PE as they should be because it is not a subject children will be tested on.”

The trainer began working with the children of Lisheenkyle National School in Athenry in September. He does this work on an entirely voluntary basis, and indeed offered his services to five different national schools with - amazingly - only one taking up the offer of free professional coaching. “We do two hours a week and I have really noticed a difference in a few short weeks. I am teaching them the fundamentals of movement which includes things like pushing, pulling, squatting, skipping, and games. I have noticed they are getting better at squatting and push-ups already. They say they are sleeping better on the day I am in. I work with them before lunch and the teachers have told me the children have a better attention span in class after, so there are numerous benefits.’’

Importance of instilling healthy habits in children

He has a number of tips for parents to encourage children to eat healthier and advises minimising the consumption of dairy and wheat. He suggests substituting milk with water and says porridge made with water is an excellent filling breakfast. “Too many of us are opting for sandwiches for lunch. A salad with tuna, chicken or turkey is a great alternative. Make it with peppers, spinach, and avocado - anything green is always good. I always encourage parents to think of the rainbow, use colourful fruit and veg, try and hit the colours of the rainbow, it appeals to children’s imagination. Also an obvious one is no fizzy drinks - they are lethal, stick to water.”

In an era where we are surrounded by sugary convenience food, encouraging a child to develop and maintain healthy habits can take work, and indeed perseverance, but the results will be worth it. The stark reality is that one in four children are obese and the figures are on the rise “We are chasing America - and we will catch up. Parents often say a child does not like something healthy - say brocolli for instance - remember, it can take a child eating something up to 30 times to develop a taste for a food.”

Sleep is also a big part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle according to the expert. “A lack of sleep disrupts hormones and increases appetite. If children or indeed adults are tired they are more likely to eat rubbish, it is as simple as that. I would say that any electronic gadgets - phones etc should be put away at least an hour before bed as the lights from these stimulate our brain and can keep us awake.”

Finally he reccomends a good fish oil supplement to be taken every day. “None of us are eating enough fish. Adults are as deficient as children. Omega 3 fatty acids have been proven to improve cognitive function such as mood, concentration, and memory along with assisting with weight management.  Go to a health food shop and staff will advise you on a decent brand.”

+ Anybody interested in improving their mobility and fitness can check out Shane’s website www.connachtfitnessandperformance.com

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