Ask the Expert: Brett Klika (SPIDERFit Kids)

Brett Klika, is the founder of SPIDERfit Kids and is regarded as an international expert in the field of inspiring kids to be active for life. He has teamed up with previous “Ask the Expert” guest, Shane Fitzgibbon to host a Certified Youth Physical Literacy Specialist training in Galway, Ireland on May 18th and 19th. You can find out more about this unique training at www.spiderfitcert.com..

1)What has led you into youth sport?

Sports has always been a centerpiece of my life. Preparation and competition have shaped every aspect of who I am, and have essentially become an extension of my personality. In my teen years, I discovered that I could create a career using sports to inspire other young kids.

This discovery lead me to major in Exercise Science in college and pursue a career in coaching. After college, I become an intern strength and conditioning coach at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, but still worked with kids on the weekends. After my time at the Olympic Training Center, I moved on to work with professional athletes in the private realm.

Despite the high profile athletes I began to work with on a daily basis, my heart was still drawn to working with children. I always felt this was the group I could make the most long-term impact with. As my career progressed and more diverse opportunities began to present themselves, I decided to commit my time and energy to helping shape young lives.

Many coaches are eager to work with kids once they reach a stage of increased maturity, in and around puberty. From a developmental standpoint however, the early years, 3-10, represent some of the most critical for physical development. This is the group of kids I’ve committed to helping both directly, and through educating other coaches.

2) What has been your biggest influence in your practice in youth sport?

Aside from my own powerful experiences with youth sport, there are a few significant influences that have shaped my approach.

The first influence was when I started training kids in the private sector (outside of schools and universities). Instead of merely seeing kids for a semester or a season, I would work with the same child over the course of many years. I directly witnessed how development took place both naturally, and with the right influences. I saw how talented, yet over-burdened and over-specialized athletes with high pressure parents would burn out early. I also witnessed the athlete, parent, and coaching approaches that lead to long term success and participation in sports.

Reading Eastern-block approaches to long term development was also highly impactful. In contrast to the growing popularity of early sport specialization in the United States, texts like Jozef Drabik’s “Children and Sport Training” had a tremendous impact on my tactical approach to working with kids.

3) What is your particular area of interest?

My particular area of interest is helping kids age 3-10 create a foundation of fitness and physical literacy so they can participate and perform in physical activity for life.

4) How do you think this particular area applies to youth athletes? 

As I mentioned before, most coaches prefer to jump on the youth training bandwagon when kids are more mature, usually around puberty. This is understandable, as working with younger children requires a tremendous degree of patience. Younger children have shorter attention spans, they are easily distracted, and have a lower level of coordination.

However, the early years of development represent the greatest opportunity to facilitate both skill development and the right mindset associated with sports and physical activity. When skills are introduced, practiced, and mastered at a younger age, performance capacity is increased as children age. This may result in competing at a higher level, or merely having the interest and ability to remain active after their sports career is over.

5) What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Throughout my career I’ve been lucky enough to have access to brilliant mentors, both personally and professionally. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received as it pertained to my coaching career was from my mentor Todd Durkin. He told me to “quit asking for permission”.

Early in my career I was acting as if there was some external limiting factor as to how I could scale my impact with kids. I was timid in my pursuits, somehow always believing I wasn’t smart, experienced, or talented enough for anyone to care what I had to say. In my mind, it was as if I believed I needed to be in the industry “x” years, or I had to work with “x” athletes, or I had to be “x” age for my experiences to be valuable to others.

Once I moved passed this limiting mindset, and adapted the idea that I had to share my experiences in order to help others,  I was able to exponentially broaden my impact in the youth sports space. You don’t need permission. You need a vision.

6) What advice would you give to coaches working with youth athletes?

Have fun with them. You are not going to create elite athletes overnight. Understand and actually embrace some of the inherent developmental limitations with kids. Things don’t have to be perfect. Your job is to connect them with the long term process of development. Young kids need practice, not perfection. Shift your training focus from next weekends’ tournament to how confident and competent they will be with a broad toolbox of physical skills when they’re 16.

7) Can you recommend any particular resources for youth sport coaches?

Of course I’m biased in telling you that  SPIDERfit Kid’s Youth Physical Literacy Specialist certification is one of the most comprehensive resources available for working with young kids. The International Youth Conditioning Association and their resources have also been highly influential with youth sport coaches. Vern Gambetta’s  Athletic Development: The Art and Science of Functional Sports Conditioning and Jozef Drabik’s  Children and Sports Training: How Your Future Champions Should Exercise to be Healthy, Fit and Happy are definite must reads for youth coaches. Mike Boyle has always been a mentor of mine, and while he doesn’t focus on youth sports, his simplified and logical approach to athletic development provides a great program framework.

8) Where can people find out more about you and your work? (Social media links, websites, Ireland course link etc.)

First, you can check out our website at www.spiderfitkids.com. We post videos and other educational resources to our Facebook page, Spiderfit Kids, daily so make sure to follow us. We’re hosting our Certified Youth Physical Literacy Specialist training in Galway, Ireland on May 18th and 19th. You can find out more about this unique training at www.spiderfitcert.com. Make sure to click on the “Ireland” link at the bottom of the page.

A huge thankyou to Brett for his time and expertise. Previous “Ask the Expert” guest and good friend of mine, Shane Fitzgibbon is hosting the Brett for the SPIDERFit Kids certification in Galway, so please get involved and support this great initiative!

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